I was the only one in the class, which I was a bit relieved. This way I figured I could go at my own pace, which was fast (I admit, I can be a bit impatient… something you probably should not be in this sport). The instructional course was mostly common sense, so we breezed right through it. To be honest, I was actually quite surprised at how “easy” I thought it to be, but decided to really drill all the procedures in my head, just in case something went wrong. I’m notorious for being a klutz and being disorganized (blame my ADHD), and emergency procedures are the last thing I want to screw up.
As I geared up, my phone started to blow up with calls and texts. “Are you ok?” “There was a death at a nearby dropzone. Call me.” “Did you jump?” I shivered, and my mind went blank. A death? Near me? Well there were a few ways I saw it. Either I was next to go or he took my place. (DISCLAIMER: Accidents in the sport rarely occur as a result of equipment failure or just plain bad luck. It’s important to never think for a moment that you are 100% safe. Always stay current on your knowledge and skills. Make sure to never stop practicing your emergency procedures and always stay humble).
I decided to forget it and gear up. I was there and the plane was ready to take off. I couldn’t go back. I wouldn’t go back. I would regret it for the rest of my life. So, with a blank mind I put on my jumpsuit, altimeter, goggles, helmet and magical backpack and set on my way. I remembered what the jump master said – “SMILE,” so I obviously faked it and boarded the plane.
The first jump in the Accelerated Freefall (AFF) course has 2 instructors holding you, one on each side. Relatively easy; all I had to do was pull the damn thing and release my parachute. Sounds easy enough, but when the parachute is on your back at 120 mph things can get tricky.
The engine roared as we got closer to the plane. The air seemed still, almost peaceful. I checked my altimeter again. Made sure I knew all of my handles, just in case. We boarded the plane in a single file line. On the plane my instructors asked me simple questions, such as “What does this hand signal mean?” and “What do you do at this altitude?” All I could think about was PULL and my emergency procedures.
13,000 feet. The moment of truth. I was first to go, as the rest of the plane were tandems. I remembered being a tandem. Seeing them, and the joy they had as they were about to make their first jump reminded me why I was there. It also made me feel like kind of a badass, but only for a bit, as this sport will knock the ego right out of you. I loved the sport and wanted a challenge.
“Are you ready to skydive?”
The green light on the plane went on, and we all nodded to each other. “Bring it,” I thought, as I moved towards the door. Breathe. Think zen thoughts. Nah, too hard. “Ok let’s do it!” I screamed. My instructors held on to me as I gripped the handle. I gave the signals, and let go.
I felt weightless. I felt freedom. I felt… happy. I could not stop smiling as the wind smacked my face, my skin rippling as I plunged to the Earth at 120 mph. I looked at my altimeter, did a few practice pulls, and pulled the chute around 5,000 feet.
Within a split second I felt pulled up in my harness, and watched as my parachute opened perfectly. No line twists, no malfunctions, just a perfect opening under a clear blue sky. I screamed a joyous set of my favorite four letter words as I flew the canopy back to the landing area, and felt a sense of accomplishment like never before. My landing was uneventful and at the same time perfect; I flared at the right height and walked it out. I could not believe I had actually done it, and left that day more confident and fueled by adrenaline.