Ever since I was young, I’ve been the adventurous type. I constantly seek new experiences and never let “no” get in the way. I’ve never had the mentality of letting life come to me; I’ve always chased it. I’d see something I wanted to try and go after it, whether it be acting in movies (I was in two), doing stand-up comedy or excelling in my career.
There’s nothing like the bonds soldiers forge during their service to our nation. Perhaps the hardest thing in civilian life is separation from that brotherhood. It leaves a hole. I think every veteran feels that. But when a veteran battles post-traumatic stress disorder, the feeling is even stronger. It’s like nobody but your buddies understand, and they ain’t there.
I was sitting in my easy chair after work watching the local news when I saw an alert on the screen reporting a small plane crash at a local airport. My two business partners, who were brothers, had planned to pilot a small plane to pick up a customer that afternoon, so I was immediately concerned. Later that night, I learned that it was their plane that crashed and that they both had been killed.
Logging three jumps before my senior year in high school probably did more for my general outlook and wellbeing than anything else. I’m not saying that jumping was the only thing that got me to think more positively about my future, but it certainly was one of the things that helped me to plan ahead and be more prepared for the next day and then the day after that.
When I was a child, I thought that I could fly. In my dreams, I hovered in the living room and floated out the door into the street. I hovered like a dragonfly in slow motion as I examined the trees and architecture of my neighborhood up close. I didn’t realize that it was a dream; it was so intense, I believed it really happened. I blame this weird dream for my delusions of flying.
I have an intense fear of heights. My hands sweat on carnival Ferris wheels, during cliff scenes in movies and in my office (I’m on the 44th floor of a downtown building). Whenever I mention this, people just shake their heads in disbelief and say, “How did you skydive?” My answer is simple: a very persistent friend. And I will always be thankful his persistence paid off.
I was an adrenaline junkie until I had a severe stroke in 2006. Last year, when I heard about a guy who was raising money to take people with disabilities to a wind tunnel, I was very curious. I didn't think that flying in a wind tunnel was possible for someone as immobile as I am, but I contacted him to see what he thought I could do.
I took my first-jump course in Iowa in 1983. But those were college days, which meant no time or money, so my jumping didn't really take off until the summer of 1986. It was because of skydiving that I met Tim. Tim took his first-jump course in 1987, and we started jumping together.
I am by no means a skydiver, but skydiving did truly change my life!
After I had a heart-crushing breakup, my friend Jenn told me how she once went skydiving to feel alive again after hitting rock bottom. Completely devastated, I agreed, and we made tandem appointments at Freefall Adventures (now called Skydive Cross Keys) in New Jersey. Little did I know that fate had plans for me.
“This whirring carousel of images accompanied the start of the very last hour of my 45-year voyage through life. Its final phase, which commenced on the third of December, 2014, at nine minutes before noon, would be spent suspended in midair in a wicker basket dangling in the shadow of an enormous 40-meter-tall balloon, now rising silently but steadily toward the stratosphere.
I knew this moment would be critically important for the future I’d envisioned for myself.”
I have found that shedding my ego is easier now that I have become a skydiver. There is so much fear in this sport, especially at first. The cool thing about this is that every time I jump, I train my mind to compartmentalize fear.
One afternoon in the fall of 1988, I quit my job as head of marketing for a bank and broke up my marriage of 10 years … all within a 30-minute span. Not long after that, I took up skydiving.
I hit 50 alone and depressed. My life was not what I expected or wanted. There were some big issues, and I realized I needed to step outside my comfort zone. As someone who always wanted a foot on the ground and needed to know where the next foot went, I thought a skydive might shake up my world. And it certainly did!
“What on Earth—or in the sky—was I doing?” I asked, staring at RwandAir’s confirmation email for my flight to the Kenyan coast to begin AFF. Instead of the excitement that accompanies a trip to white-sand beaches and warm waters, I felt trepidation. Fear.
In 1962, on a demo for a company picnic—a water jump in Palm Beach, Florida—I was nearly arrested by the Secret Service for "trying to assassinate President Kennedy." As an aeronautical engineer at Area 51, I volunteered to test eject from the Mach-3 SR-71 Blackbird spy plane in June of 1964. (Lockheed, the Air Force and the CIA turned down my offer.) My crop-duster tow plane caught fire and was out of control and going down in flames when I bailed out at 700 feet and landed in a tree next to the forest fire started by my crashed airplane.
There’s a moment that happens in skydiving where my mind calms and the only thing that exists for me is the present moment. I always have some nerves as I climb to altitude. The objects of my anxiety run the gamut from second-guessing gear checks and dive flows to unfounded fears of disappointing strangers.
I frequently said that for my 50th birthday, I wanted to make a skydive. Just before my 48th birthday, my son, who had recently achieved his A license, said, “Mom, don’t wait. You are going to love it.” A few weeks later I took my first jump and knew I was going to do more.
Jumping out of an airplane was never on my bucket list. Well, honestly, I never had a bucket list until May 14, 2016: the day I completed my first tandem.
Since I was a kid, I’ve dreamt of flying. I would have dreams that were so vivid that I could feel the zero-G sensation as I flew in my sleep. As a boy, I would climb onto the roof of my house and jump off with a towel stuffed in the back of my shirt, yelling, “Superrrrrmaaaannnnn!” Thankfully, I never broke any bones, because the secret would have been out, and my parents would have killed me once they learned of my dangerous hobby! No matter how much I tried to hide it, though, all the early warning signs were there that I was an aviation addict.
I first learned of skydiving in 1961 at the age of 6. The television show “Ripcord,” about two guys who provided almost entirely fictitious parachuting services, aired that year. My older brother and I didn’t mind the implausible events, because we didn’t watch for the stories. We wanted to see the show’s stars in freefall, and those scenes were all real, taken with helmet cameras and from airplanes.
Fear does not stop death; it stops life. Learning to skydive has taught me this lesson and helped shape the person I am today. I was never one of those people who had always wanted to skydive. No bucket list, dare or any amount of peer pressure was going to get me to jump out of a plane. In fact, I had never even considered skydiving until my husband made his first tandem. He was hooked immediately and got his license that same year.
I was born with a heart condition. I've always known that I would have to get surgery to replace a heart valve, but the prognosis was that this would not be necessary until I was around 60 years old.
When I started skydiving, it was the first thing I had actually done just for me. In 1997, I made one tandem for my 30th birthday. I fell in love with skydiving, but I was a single mother of two children and my most important goal was to raise them.
July 22, 2013, was the day that changed my life. A week earlier, a coworker and I had received a briefing that a new drop zone was opening in our patrol area. The owners had invited troopers from our station to come out and make a tandem skydive.
This adventure all started around my 60th birthday, in March 2009, while talking with my co-worker, Abby, who has the same birthday as I do (though I’m 30 years older). We were trying to come up with something special to do. I mentioned that I would like to jump out of an airplane before I got too old to do it. Abby said that she had always wanted to do it, too, and we made a pact: I would do it if she would.
(More articles being added every day!)
USPA 5401 Southpoint Centre Blvd., Fredericksburg, VA, 22407 (540) 604-9740 M-F 9am-5pm Eastern (540) 604-9741 firstname.lastname@example.org