How Skydiving Changed My Life
By Tomasz Kozlowski
“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.”
—The Story of a Thousand Fears
In 2007, at the age of 38, in the hopes of resuscitating a childhood dream, I began AFF training. After finishing the course, I challenged myself to keep jumping: Next I would jump 12 times (or double the six jumps the completion of my initial training had required). Unsurprisingly, those 12 jumps were just the beginning of the next chapter of my existence, for skydiving sucked me in. My life became triangulated between the logistics of family, work and the next drop zone.
In 2012, I received a proposal to participate in a skydiving project, the culmination of which would be a three-person formation jump from the stratosphere out of a hot-air balloon. Two years of physical preparation were accompanied by a gremlin horde of nagging psychological anxieties attempting to undermine my resolve. But in December 2014, everything went according to plan, and by the time we touched ground we had set two European records: a 35,150-foot and a 30,721-foot freefall.
Soon after landing, I had an unforgettable conversation by telephone with Mirosław Hermaszewski, a retired Polish Air Force officer and astronaut, who in 1978 became the first Pole in space. Hermaszewski gave me one bit of advice which stuck with me. “When I returned from space,” he said, “I immediately wrote down what I felt at that moment in time. Do the same thing immediately after returning home today, because tomorrow it will all go away; tomorrow, the picture will look entirely different.”
Taking Hermaszewski’s advice, I chronicled the jump across two pages of descriptive detail. A month later, I wrote another two pages, and then two more, and then a few more, and so on until half a year later the pages became a memoir, “The Story of a Thousand Fears.”
Having published the book, I was convinced the entire print run would end up languishing in some dusty warehouse. However, I began to receive the first of some 1,500 letters from readers who had appreciated the candor with which I had described struggling with the sorts of universal anxieties they themselves were familiar with.
Although conceived as a factual account of jumps, my book had ended up becoming a more generally inspirational one for readers with no skydiving experience. It also began to serve as source material for the speeches I was giving in my professional capacity as a motivational coach and speaker, in which I encouraged individuals to overcome their doubts and anxieties not by trying to suppress them but by proactively using them as signposts on the road to success and fulfillment
But this wasn’t the end. A book about past jumps actually became the platform for future skydiving-related endeavors in a way I could never have predicted nearly a decade earlier during my AFF training.
In 2016, when I was 47 years old, I made a new resolution: In 2019, at which point I would be 50 years old, I would attempt 50 jumps in one day. A glaring contradiction leaped out to challenge me. “Wait a minute. You encourage people to inhabit the here and now,” I reminded myself. “You urge them to seize the moment and to hurtle themselves beyond the confines of their comfort zones. And yet here you are scheduling your own seizable moment for three years down the road. What a hypocrite!”
I condensed that timeline and started training for the following summer, when in my 48th year I would jump 48 times. But this time around, it was important to me that the feat have more relevance than its numerical connection to me. I would dedicate each of the 48 jumps to a person suffering physical hardship—such as a cancer patient or someone with a broken spine—with the goal of soliciting charitable donations for each jump that would go toward providing the selected individuals with financial support. Via those 48 jumps, I was able to raise $50,000 in donations.
On a personal level, achieving my goal of jumping nearly 50 times in one day was of great significance to me. But most enduringly, the 48 jumps ended up transcending themselves and ultimately became more about forging a lifelong link to 48 individuals.
Right now, I am in the process of preparing for a planned 100 jumps in one day, over the course of which I hope to raise $250,000 in charitable pledges to finance the purchase of 100 customized, specialized wheelchairs for handicapped Polish children in need of them. This is the next challenge, the next horizon. One hundred jumps. One hundred personal links.
Skydiving has undoubtedly changed my life. But it has also become the vehicle by which I can positively affect the lives of others, one dedicated jump at a time.
Tomasz Kozlowski | C-44356