The unathletic athlete

With a marathon running mother, the benefits of incorporatingsports into my life were undeniable.

I was tired of wheezing up the stairs and I was tired of movingaway from volleyballs. I wanted a challenge. So I decided to goskydiving.

The fact that I did it is really only amazing to myself. Nowjust about anybody can go skydiving if they want to. Responsibleparents take the plunge, grandmothers who are looking for a thrill,eighteen-year-olds who have two hundred dollars to spend; everyoneis doing it.

After a short Internet search I decided to go to Skydive Oregonin Molalla, a place that was recommended to me by friends who hadgone skydiving. It had a website that looked trustworthy, plus ithad cool pictures.

I called and scheduled a date, and before the Big Day I spent anevening in a state of minor anxiety. I eventually calmed myselfenough to go to sleep, but once morning came that anxiety kicked inagain. I wondered what it would be like, whether I would find theplace, whether the so-called “most amazing thrill of your life”could be bought for two hundred dollars.

I put my contacts in the morning of my skydiving date anddressed myself with my usual t-shirt, jeans and tennis shoes. Ipulled my hair back so my tandem skydiver wouldn’t experiencesevere hair whiplash in the sky.

After a thirty-minute drive I was finally there. I went inside,said hello and filled out the waiver and liability form that everytandem jumper has to fill out. Basically, if I had died, SkydiveOregon would not have been held accountable.

I decided to ask one of the veteran skydivers a couple ofquestions to satisfy a little journalistic curiosity. Why do peopledo this, why do you do this, how long have you been doing this, whyhurl yourself out of a plane miles up in the air?

Skydiver Ted Farnsworth, who’s jumped 3,600 times, says mostpeople do it for the thrill, the challenge, to make a checkmark ontheir list of things to do before they die.

So is it true that it will give you the biggest rush of yourlife? Farnsworth says he doesn’t get a rush anymore. In fact, hestopped getting a rush after his first jump. He skydives justbecause he likes it. And the “rush,” he says, is not the same forevery jumper.

“Every person has a different and unique reaction.” Skydiving,he says, is like nothing you could imagine.

I waited for every other tandem jumper to finish filling outtheir “I won’t sue your ass” forms and then all of us went to ashort training certification with Dan Self, who would later be myprofessional tandem skydiver escort in the sky.

We were ushered into a small room and were taught the art ofarching. When you jump, you put your arms and legs out and up, yourarms at a slight angle. We learned how to control the parachuteonce it was pulled out, left for left and right for right. I alsolearned that almost every skydiver at Skydive Oregon had beenthrown up on at least once while tandem jumping. Gross.

Finally I was in the plane, and finally we were up in air.

Farmland was below us, growing smaller and smaller as we flewhigher. A lone skydiver to my right lifted up the metal door andexposed us to the cold wind outside. A Fed Ex plane flew below us,and I found that with the hassle of air traffic Fed-Ex is approvedas cool by skydivers. I felt like I was part of their cool clubwith this bit of inside information. And then, at 12,000 feet whenthere’s no nearby air traffic, two solo jumpers hurled themselvesout of the plane. Poof, they were gone. Oh Lord.

Dan and I move forward, attached by tandem gear, and we sit onthe ledge, legs hanging over the side into air.

I’m not scared. I feel safe…I feel ready…here wego…jump.

Oh my God. Oh holy fuck. Whoa…now this was something. I didn’tknow what kind of a something but it sure was something I had neverfelt before.

Wind was rushing at me, pushing my goggles into my eyes. It wascold and it was loud. I remember I had to arch and hold my armsout. Done. I was trying to think, probably too much. What was this?I couldn’t describe it because I had never felt it before;freefalling through the air was never on my list of accomplishmentsuntil now.

I was skydiving. How cool. And then after an all to brieffreefall of exhilaration and panic and wonder the parachute waspulled out

I was expecting to feel what friends had told me I would feel,the biggest rush of my life. Farnsworth was right when he said itwould be like nothing I could imagine, that every person has adifferent and unique reaction. I did not get the biggest rush of mylife, but I was far from disappointed.

I had just exposed my body and mind to elements it had neverencountered. I had just jumped out of a plane and free fallenthrough the air at a speed of 120 miles per hour.

Sure I was hooked to a licensed professional, sure I was oneamong many, but damn, sitting on the ledge of a moving plane andlooking at the ground far below you and making the decision to say”what the hell” and hurl yourself out into the sky is totallyempowering.

Dan let me steer the parachute for a while, left and right,making circles in the air until I got a little queasy. And then wereached the landing field right next to the building I had parkedat earlier. It was a perfect landing.

And that was it. It was all over. I had spent more timewaiting in the visitor area then in the plane or in the air.Although it may have not have lasted long, it certainly left animpression. This, I thought, could be the beginning of a beautifulfriendship with trying new things. If I can do this then maybe,just maybe, I can do other things too.

A special thanks to everyone at Skydive Oregon, who were verywelcoming and professional. It was a pleasure to be in theircompany and they made my adventure one worth having.


How to find a reliable place

-Contact the United States Parachute Association (USPA), whichrepresents skydivers in the U.S. It promotes safe skydiving throughparachuting training, rating and competition programs. All USPAGroup Member skydiving centers also have to follow USPA BasicSafety Requirements, which means providing training only byUSPA-rated instructors and using USPA-required equipment.
-Do a parking lot test. Go to the place to see if it looksreputable and safe.
-Call the company you’re interested in and see how helpful theyare. Ask about their planes, equipment and safety record.