How Skydiving Changed My Life - Sarah Crowley

by Sarah Crowley | A-67923 | Yosemite National Park, California

In October 2012, as my ground school date neared, I was filled with a level of fear I hadn’t known possible—a sort of hysteria—but implosive and oh so quiet. When the day (Halloween, appropriately) arrived, the fear didn't vanish, but it at least shriveled to something manageable. In retrospect, I suppose that pre-jump terror was not just a meditation on my mortality or the thought of breaking bones but a deep intuition that I just might change ... the horror of that.

I’ve still not submitted to all the transformations required, but some. I no longer view life in such a narrow way: Skydiving makes me feel as though I can fly, for heaven’s sake! Being alive and enjoying each day is a shocking sweetness attributable (I think) to jumping out of planes. And it may have helped my confidence a tad. At some point on this path, my habit of self-contempt started to seem boring, even insincere.

Before I began skydiving, I had the misfortune of falling in love with rock-climbing while living in New York City. When I lived on Manhattan, entrenched in its grit and merciless lack of nature, I daydreamed ardently of escaping to prettier lands: mountains drenched in snow, flowery meadows, strange deserts ... anywhere but New York. I eventually moved west to Los Angeles. And in 2007, after a year of ego-dismantling events, I moved to Yosemite National Park in California.

I accepted a cocktail-waitress job at one of the hotels. Living in a national park isn’t for everyone, but in many ways I thought I’d won the lottery. My rent was cheap. Mostly I worked in the evenings, so my days were free. I had oceans of granite on which to play. And after several months, I found myself mingling with climbers who for some reason were ... skydiving? And with this training, these folks apparently planned on using the cliffs, but not to climb. Then, near the anniversary of my first year in the park, I had the unwitting privilege of seeing two BASE jumpers jump. It was during the summer, in June. It was dusk. I was sitting in one of the meadows. At first, I wasn’t sure what I saw. Birds? Kites? Witches? Then the parachutes came out, roaring.

I kept my desire to leap off cliffs a bit closeted at first, even to myself. It seemed such a fantastic and odd wish. And for some time, I cozily tucked that wish inside, not breathing a word. Until that June night, I had little reference point for BASE jumping. It simply intrigued me.

When I signed up for an AFF course at SkyDance SkyDiving in Davis, California, as a first step toward my goal, I had no concept skydiving would completely allure me to the point that the goal of BASE jumping would recede, then nearly vanish. I had experienced three tandems before coming to SkyDance and was one of those bizarre people who wasn’t immediately smitten with the sport. I’m embarrassed to say that before performing my Category A jump, I viewed skydiving as a thing to endure. A stepping stone. And then I experienced my Cat. A.

So, how do we describe our sport to the uninitiated? Words seem kind of hollow, but let’s try: exquisite, sacred, electric, rad. Yet if we wax poetic about the beauty of skydiving, it seems important to acknowledge the silliness, too. Gravely serious, wholly ridiculous; I think it’s both. Regarding the non-skydivers in our lives, we must try to be tolerant and not gaze too smugly while cringing as they liken our interest to drug use and make the term “thrill seeker” sound appalling. Humans condemn things they don’t understand.

Perhaps my initial attraction to that other activity often denounced by humans was meant as a seed. I still think the idea of leaping off cliffs unspeakably beautiful but for a number of reasons (for now), I’ve deleted that wish. Sometimes the path we think we’re on is not the path at all, as though the universe cares enough to tease, to trick. We take the detour and stay.


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Sat, 07/15/2017 - 16:02

The best of these stories I've read so far. Thanks.

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