I am a very average person. I have chosen a stable career path in the exciting world of accounting. I am an average athlete. Sure, I can be a little adventurous. I have gone ice climbing, skiing, on mud runs, etc. But skydiving was in a different league. It was something I always said I would never do. I have a lot of fears. I am a little scared of heights. One time I cried getting into the ocean with fish because I was so afraid. I won’t step a foot in a haunted house. Skydiving was in that realm of impossibilities.
My fiancé and I were planning a trip to New Zealand for our wedding in November. As I was searching for adventures in the area, I quickly discovered that skydiving is very popular in New Zealand. Jonathan, my fiancé, suggested that we give it a try. I was very hesitant.
I started doing my own research. I looked at the statistics and researched the safety features. Dan, one of our coaches at Axistence, once told me it was more like flying than falling, which intrigued me. Every day, I started feeling more confident that this might be something I could do. I told Jonathan I was interested but I wanted the opportunity to back out while I was on the plane. I didn’t want anyone to force me out. At this point, I started searching for videos on YouTube of first time skydivers. More specifically, I wanted to watch people face their fear of jumping out of an airplane. I found a video of a girl who looked terrified on the plane. I saw the fear in her eyes. Then, I saw her jump out of that plane. After that, I saw pure joy. I knew then that this was something I had to do.
A brief time after I made the verbal commitment to skydive in another country, we found out that Dan was planning a gym outing to skydive locally. I was nervous about the New Zealand trip and asked Dan if he thought it would be a good idea to get the first jump out of the way here. I didn’t want my anxiety to be so high while on vacation. He said it was a great idea. Within days, Jonathan and I were signed up for our first tandem jump with Mile Hi Skydiving. Every time I thought about skydiving, my heart would beat faster. I don’t even like being on an airplane – how was I going to jump out of one?
There were weeks in between the time that we signed up and the actual jump. Those weeks went by slowly. We took a couple of trips out of state. As we were taking off in the big commercial planes, I remember looking out the window and thinking, “Is this how high we will be when we jump?” The anxiety continued to grow. I started dreaming about skydiving. Fortunately, they were all good dreams. I continued to watch more videos of people conquering their fear of skydiving. I was reading blogs about skydiving. Basically, I was obsessed with information, hoping it would alleviate my anxiety.
The night before our scheduled jump, I met up with Jonathan to go on a run. My stomach was already fluttering. I didn’t think I would sleep a wink that night. Surprisingly enough, I was able to fall asleep. The second my alarm went off, I was wide awake. The day had finally arrived! At this point, I wasn’t sure what I was really scared of. I think my number one fear was that I would chicken out. I didn’t want to have any regrets. If the whole group went and I didn’t, I knew I would always regret it. I heated up my breakfast but was only able to eat a few bites. My stomach was in knots. I wasn’t sure if driving would be a good distraction or if I was too distracted to drive. My mind was racing. I felt so many emotions before we even left the house.
I decided I would drive. I remember Jonathan pointing out the sunrise, but I didn’t even care. I was so in my head at that moment; thinking about how this day would go for me. Jonathan held my hand in the car and told me he could feel my nervous energy. We put on some happy music and continued the hour long drive to Longmont.
We filled out the paperwork and the staff told us they might be able to squeeze us in soon. Our names were called within minutes. We were transported to a building where my photographer, Patrick, greeted me. We changed into flight suits. Then it was time. I was confused and felt a little rushed. Wasn’t there some kind of training? I hadn’t even met the guy that I would be jumping with yet.
My tandem jumpmaster, Brian, and I were the last ones on, which means we would be the first ones out. As I stepped into the plane, I realized I was going in through the very door I would soon be jumping out of.
The plane started moving and the panic set in. This was all happening very fast. This was the smallest plane I had ever been on. We lifted off. I closed my eyes and focused on my breathing. Someone asked me if I was doing okay. I think I said yes, but I really wasn’t sure. What was considered ‘okay’ in this situation? Was I the only one panicking? Jonathan was the first one on the plane, so we couldn’t communicate at all. I was trying so hard to stay calm. Then I started shaking, which was quickly followed by tears. I sat there silently with tears streaming down my face.
This was when I realized that I was surrounded by the greatest crew ever. Sitting at the end had its advantages. I was across from Brian and three videographers on our flight. The crew distracted me with stories and did my pre-jump interview, and before I knew it, everyone started shifting around.
The awkward part comes when your jumpmaster asks you to come sit in his/her lap. I didn’t really mind – I would rather be attached to the person with a parachute. The door of the airplane rolled up and suddenly it all became very real. It was loud and windy. Time slowed down and sped up simultaneously. I was told to squat down so I wouldn’t hit my head on the way out.
I can’t remember if I voluntarily stood up and walked to the door or if my jumpmaster forced me over to the door. All of a sudden, I was out of the plane. It was magic. I remember thinking to myself ‘this must be the part where we are upside down.’ Then I thought ‘oh yeah, I need to bend my knees.’ Within seconds, I felt stable and I started looking around. I saw Patrick floating around us capturing video. It was incredible to see another person just hanging out in the air with us. The wind was intense and I could feel my nose burning a bit. It didn’t matter though.
The view was breathtaking. Brian did a 360 degree turn, and I remember thinking ‘I’m not ready for this’ but then immediately wanted more. I remember seeing Brian check the altitude several times, and I had a sense that this part of the adventure was about to end. I felt a bit of a jerk as my body changed from horizontal to vertical in just a few seconds. The wind calmed and I heard the words “Oh my God!” come out of my mouth. I was in awe over the entire experience. I continued to shout from pure joy and excitement. How was it possible to experience so many emotions over the course of one minute? From fear and anxiety to excitement and bliss. It was like my heart had gone on the ultimate rollercoaster ride.
I thought that the parachute ride down might be a bit scary, but my adrenaline was still racing. I never felt any fear the remainder of the way down. I was taking in all the beauty around me. The mountains to the west, the pattern of the roads below me, the other people slowly descending to the ground with parachutes. It was peaceful and calming. Brian let me steer the parachute a little. Of course he never really let go, but at least it felt like I was in control for a brief moment. He turned us to the right and to the left. He pulled a little harder in one direction and we spun around. I loved every second of it. I didn’t want it to end. He pointed at a small circle on the ground and told me that was where we were going to land. It looked so small. Slowly we approached the ground. I was excited to share my experience with the others but was also sad it was ending so soon. As we made the final descent, Brian told me to lift my legs up for the landing. As we touched down he told me to stand up, but my legs didn’t seem to work. I slid in on my feet gently and we were down. He unstrapped me and Patrick was waiting right in front of us. I was impressed the landing was so gentle and precise. I completed my final interview with Patrick proclaiming how much I loved it and wanted to go again. He said I had the biggest smile on my face and that I was “beaming with pleasure” as soon as I left that plane. I knew in that moment that it would not be my last skydive.
I saw Jonathan across the field and ran up to him. He embraced me and swung me around. We made it! The rest of the crew from Axistence gathered as we took off our harnesses and flight suits. There was excitement all around! Each one of us enjoyed the experience in one way or another. We waited for Dan to complete his jump and made our way back to the trailer for a bumpy ride back.
The high from that jump lasted for weeks. I felt like I was on top of the world. I had so much excitement that I had a hard time sleeping. Every time I closed my eyes, I pictured the moment jumping out of that plane. I watched my video every day, hoping to recapture that feeling. Never in my life had I gone through with something that I was that scared of. I embraced my fear and felt so alive. I decided that I couldn’t wait four months to jump again, so I scheduled a second jump just one month from the first one. I started contemplating the idea of the Accelerated Freefall (AFF) course – the course that teaches you how to jump solo. But I had to do at least one more tandem first.
Last weekend, I found myself sitting on that small plane again. I was sitting across from Brian getting ready to jump out of the same plane. I had some nerves, especially once we were on the plane. But I was not nearly as nervous as I was the first time. In fact, I was more excited than I was nervous. We went through the same process as before, except this time Brian told me I could pull the parachute cord. How exciting! I wasn’t the first out of the plane. We shifted our way down as each person jumped out. Then it was our turn. My heart started beating faster. We shuffled to the door and I looked down, reminding myself to keep my eyes open the whole time. I had no problem looking out this time. In fact, as I looked out the door I actually wanted to jump out of it. Three…two…one…jump! We were out and the feelings came flooding back. Except this time, I was able to take in more of the experience. I looked up, down, and all around. The mountains seemed clearer than before. We did several 360 degree turns, and I loved every second. Then Brian gave me the sign to get ready to pull the cord – a tap on the shoulder then a count down from three. I found the cord and pulled on one as he directed. The parachute opened and we began the final descent.
This time I had questions. I asked him what he was doing and how landing works. He pointed out some things to me that I hadn’t noticed before, like the arrow in the landing zone that tells you what direction to land in. The landing was smooth and we were able to walk it in with no problems. I told him I would be back. On the truck ride back to the skydive center, I was contemplating a third tandem or the AFF course. I was quickly persuaded to just go for the AFF by some other skydivers on the trailer. I made the decision to go for it. Hopefully, I will be a licensed skydiver soon. I am excited to see where this journey will take me.
I hope I can inspire others to face their fears because that is where magic happens. Live your life with passion and excitement. Stop waiting on the sidelines and get out there to be an active member in your life. You might be amazed once you embrace your fear.