How Skydiving Changed My Life
by Carey Peck
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.
By chance, a friend mentioned jumping. Being newly free, I thought, “Why not?” So the next weekend, there we were at Skydive Perris in California. One thing I remember about that first jump is being in the door, looking down two and a half miles. The other thing that I remember is that the second I landed, I looked up and wanted to get right back into the air.
Skydiving became an expression of freedom. My default mode has always been “busy,” and a prominent family and a corporate career made personal relationships rare. This is not a complaint, but I became aloof, and it was difficult to be close with people. Skydiving was different: There was an egalitarianism that made me happy … elated, really. There was nothing better than to go to the drop zone and leave off my worries and commitments and crowded schedule. So the sport became doubly important to me because everything else was put away, and I entered a rich new life. I loved the discipline and rigor. I loved the meritocracy, and I loved a world where nothing else mattered. It made the DZ a haven.
Of course, I went into default: I strived for and flew on several big-way world records, organized the Parachutists Over Phorty Society series and started a demo business that is still going. Some things don’t change.
For me, though, the deep desire, unheeded for 40 years, was to emulate the courage and independence of my boyhood hero, Charles Lindbergh. Reading his book about the trans-Atlantic flight—and later reading biographies and his well-known skydive essay—inspired me for life. Many years later as a skydiver, I visited his grave on Maui and I wept at being there. I have felt that same emotion for all my brothers and sisters in our sport.
Whuffos only think of danger, but one surfing friend got it. He realized it wasn’t about risk, just as facing the ocean is not the point of riding a wave. That was the ticket. For me, skydiving was the only way to get out of my everyday life and truly be on my own. To clear my mind of everything else, I needed the focus skydiving demanded. I did interviews with skydivers for two years, asking the question of why we do what we do. The first thing was that most skydivers never intended to be skydivers. That was never in the life plan. The second thing is this unnamable compulsion to test ourselves in this wondrous way. Everyone I talked with felt ennobled by our sport. For me, the discipline of doing big-ways was to attempt perfection again and again, like Zen. Most of the time we fall short, but there have been so many perfect, real and magical moments. The journey has been endlessly and profoundly rewarding.
Two stories: Once while chasing the 300-way world record I was jumping at Skydive Cross Keys in New Jersey and a good friend ended up in the trees. He had an invitation to the record, which at the time I did not have, so I envied him. That night when I went to see him in the hospital (I’ve done that a lot over the years), he was furious that he’d blown his slot getting injured. My reaction was that I would have taken the injury—swapped places—to have that invite. Bones heal.
Second story: Years later, I was with friends at a record event at Skydive DeLand in Florida, and when the clouds closed in, the team was released. Five of us ran out to a plane and decided on the ride to 4,500 feet that we’d launch a star and then have an accuracy competition. It was windy and everyone was off target, but I was determined to win so I swooped hard—way too hard—hit the target dead on and broke my ankle and tibia. People often ask me why, and I tell them that I won $50. The honor in skydiving is forever.
Carey Peck | D-12367