Skydiving wasn’t even on my Bucket List: that list of things to do before you die.
But here I stand: feet together, toes on the edge, knees bent, arms crossed and hands grasped to the straps. “3-2-1-GO,” yells my instructor who is harnessed to me and out we jump- plummeting at 125 mph toward earth. I kick my feet backward, close my eyes for a second or two, and open my heart. I want to enjoy this.
Immediately an immense wave of butterflies hits my stomach and then, just the rush of the wind. Opening my eyes, I see the world 14,500 feet below, and it’s beautiful.
I’ve just jettisoned out a Beechcraft King Air at the Florida Skydiving Center in Lake Wales, Florida. Before the jump, Buzz Bazzoni, head instructor, explained the procedures and safety rules to fellow students and me.
“Oh my gosh,” I scream, smiling now. “This feels amazing.” Not the most profound statement, but hey, I’m freefalling in my first tandem skydive, adrenaline pumping.
My senses tingle, on extra alert, reminiscent of the day my car was hit and spun in an accident. Each sensation registers simultaneously. I see, feel, smell, hear and taste the air as it pushes on my cheeks, making them flutter like a comic book character.
Pat Martin, my certified Zen-like guru, releases the drogue chute, a small thin parachute meant to slow down tandem jumpers, so their combined weight doesn’t allow them to fall too quickly. Later the drogue is used to deploy the main parachute.
What an odd sensation being tightly conjoined to a cute guy, his body smashed against my back. No, it’s not sexual but actually quite comforting.
Pat had to record at least 500 jumps and spend three years in the sport before he could receive his ratings and qualify as a Tandem Master. He must also be FAA medically certified, like a pilot. I feel I am in good hands.
Liz Sass, a videographer I hired at the facility, free falls as well. She approaches from midair, diving down. How she does this I don’t understand. She reaches out and grabs my hand, called “docking”, then swings me around. I’m having fun and not feeling scared. Liz makes me wave, throw a kiss and generally keeps me busy while I drop two miles. I feel like Peter Pan flying over hundreds of lakes in Central Florida. Gee, there’s a sports stadium and over there, the orange juice factory.
Pat checks the altimeter on his wrist. He does this often. He uses his fingers to count down, informing Liz when he will open the chute.
Shazam. Up we shoot like a human champagne cork, as if rebounding off a trampoline. The big Set-400 colorful canopy opens and billows above us.
Now our bodies hang more vertical. Margie Barron describes it, “as a bird on the thermals, just floating down.” The breeze keeps us aloft. I feel almost weightless, except for the pull from the chute on my shoulders and from the harness. It’s lovely up here.
Wispy, marshmallow puff clouds dot the air. Pat announces that we are about to go through one. Whoosh. I’ve always wanted to jump on a cloud.
Slowly we circle around; I see the drop zone, a grassy field. I look down and get a bit dizzy and queasy. I decide to gaze at the horizon instead.
I try to lift my legs out in front of me, like I must do for landing. Dang–a rather challenging task; should have done my ab exercises. Pat says to hold on to the ribbing on my jumpsuit, which makes it much easier.
We’re now close enough to yell to others on the ground; they respond with cheers. We zoom down and softly bump the ground, the heel of my shoes digging up a divot of grass. Whew- I take a deep breath in and let it out with relief.
Liz runs up to interview me. “What was the best moment?’
“When the parachute opened.”
“Did Pat take good care of you?”
“What are you going to do next?”
“Go to Disney World.”
Well, actually I am going to call my family and tell them I jumped out of a plane three miles up and survived. Not only that- I loved it. They had no idea I went parachuting and will certainly be surprised, as I have a fear of heights.
“Hello, Jay. Guess what I just did? I went skydiving,” I cry.
My husband replies, “No you did not, you would never do that.”
My teenage daughter grabs the phone. “Mom, are you crazy? What were you thinking?”
My head is still in the clouds. I feel as thrilled as I did when I gave birth to each of my four children. Hormones zip through my body, the euphoria continues. I am empowered.
Yes, I earned lots of bragging rights; but when the newness dies, and the story has been told, it comes down to personal power. I opened myself to the world and took a chance. I soared to a new place and was fulfilled. I have touched the sky, found joy and I am alive.
Leonardo da Vinci, that Renaissance genius said, “, once you have tasted flight, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you long to return.”
And I do.