How Skydiving Changed My Life
By Pam Potzer
“Your grandpa was such a whuffo,” my mom once told me. “Don’t get me wrong, he was a daredevil of a pilot, he used to fly planes underneath bridges. But when I showed him a picture of me—his daughter—hanging off the strut of a Cessna, he said, ‘Well that’s just stupid; that’s not what airplanes are for.’”
My mom, Criss Potzer, D-15836, made her last jump in August 1994. Two years later, I was born. Three years later, my dad, Bob Potzer, D-15622, made his last jump. Even though I was too young to remember waiting for my dad to fall out of the sky, I grew up with pictures and stories of the days my parents jumped.
Growing up, I would constantly tell my parents that one day I’d skydive, too. They’d always tell me how expensive and dangerous it was, I think because a part of them did not want to see pictures of their daughter hanging off the strut of a Cessna.
Eventually I went off to college and dreamed of finding a club to help me navigate the path to my A license. Unfortunately, the skydiving club that was once at my university disbanded because everyone had graduated, so I decided to focus instead on other adventure activities and became a raft guide for the Cache La Poudre river. Very soon after accepting my raft-guide job, I learned that a skydiver and university student, Jason, had revamped the club and that a drop zone had opened up just minutes away from campus. I could not have been more excited.
I saved every single tip I made that summer, and on my days off I would go hang out at the drop zone with my mom’s 1992 rainbow Javelin to practice packing. By the end of the summer, I had enough rafting tips to afford my AFF courses, so I booked my ground school and called my parents to tell them the good news.
“Wait … you did what? Can I come?” was the response I got from my dad.
I remember the whole drive down to Colorado Springs with my dad. I think a part of him was excited I had gotten into the sport he loved, and a part of him was terrified his child was following his adrenaline-junkie footsteps. His days of being a static-line instructor were coming back to him as he started going into rants about skydiving. He’d point out flags along the highway and quiz me on which direction I would face to land.
After hours of ground school, I was getting geared up for my first jump and thinking to myself, “My childhood dream of being a skydiver is really happening.” My dad even had his video camera ready to film my landing.
Who knew my first cutaway would be on my first jump?
I remember pulling down my left toggle, then my right, then seeing my right toggle fly away into the wind. My next thought was, “Whelp, probably shouldn’t try to land without my right toggle. Guess I need to cut away.” As soon as I had my reserve over my head, I looked around and could not find the drop zone anywhere, so I wound up landing in this random rancher’s field.
I had no clue where the drop zone was or which direction to walk, so I went over to the road and stuck my thumb out, hoping for the best. Eventually this car pulled over and two lovely rancher dudes stepped out and asked me why I was in the middle of their neighbor’s field with “a tarp.” After explaining to them that I was a lost skydiving student, they helped me over the barbed wire and drove me back to the airport. Because I was the last one out of the airplane, no one at the drop zone knew where I was for about 20 minutes. My poor dad aged a few years.
On the ride back home, he called my mom and said, “Criss, your daughter may have you beat. I know you went to your first boogie at 11 jumps, but Pam here decided to have a cutaway on jump one,” and then turned to me and said, “Well, Pam, I can now confidently say you have what it takes to be a skydiver.” I went out and did my second jump the next day. This time my mom joined us in the fun.
It makes me so happy that skydiving is a part of our family again. I have dreamed since I was a little girl that one day I would be a skydiver, too. Now that dream has come true. Who knows? Maybe one day my daughter will send me a picture of her hanging off the strut of a Cessna.
Pam Potzer | A-90432
Fort Collins, Colorado