The full weight of my decision to jump out of an airplane on my 28th birthday did not hit me until I was 14,000 feet above the ground and strapped to a man named Ray. A few months earlier I had romanticized skydiving on my birthday as a metaphor for conquering my fears and accomplishing my goals. But now as I survey the dizzying landscape outside the hanger’s window, I’m trying to remember why I thought this was ever a good idea. I am not brave and I hate heights. It is not natural for humans to plunge to earth at 120 miles per hour. As the door to the plane opens, I watch as the three skydivers in front of me plunge like lemmings off a cliff. As I walk the plank to my assisted suicide, I try to stop Ray from pushing me forward by grabbing the interior edges of the plane. I am glad that the engine’s loud roar is masking my total freak out complete with tears, snot and guttural sounds. And to think I could have treated myself to a day at the spa for my birthday for the same price.
The cold air smacks my face and without warning Ray and I are nosediving and then tumbling through the air. I hate this and all I want is for the parachute to open. But then we are kind of soaring through the atmosphere and I still hate it but I don’t feel like I am going to throw up all over myself anymore. I shake my head back forth as if to say: this is not real. And then I feel a tight pull upward as our parachute opens. As my instructor points to our view of the Atlantic Ocean and the tiny ant-like world below, I am amazed and in awe. I did it.
A few people have asked me if I would ever do it again, and without hesitation I tell them no. I am not an adrenaline junkie and I have no desire to traumatize myself on that level ever again. But I think it’s something everyone should do once. So if you are also considering a similar way to punish (or liberate) yourself on your birthday (or any day for that matter), here’s a few words of advice:
Check out the turf
I recommend checking out the skydive facility the BEFORE Jump Day. This might help ease some of your anxieties and allow you to better visualize yourself as Tom Cruise in “Top Gun” (the suits are very similar). I came to Skydive DeLand a few months earlier when I wrote about an 85-year-old woman who was skydiving for her birthday and that pretty much sealed the deal for me. As I watched her land gracefully with her instructor, I thought “If she can do that so can I!” While I was there I discovered that Skydive DeLand has an outdoor bar and a viewing deck, which was perfect for my friends who came to watch me. Also, check out other people’s experiences by reading online reviews of the facility at Dropzone.com.
The only advice that matters is your instructor’s
The majority of people who have never skydived will tell you that you are going to die. Impress them with the facts! According to the National Parachute Association, 2010 was one of the safest years for skydiving with 21 fatalities. You have a better chance of getting killed by lightening, a shark or in a car accident than you do from jumping out of a plane with your parachute properly secured. So don’t listen to anyone but your instructor, which is easier said than done. Your mind will be racing, which makes it hard to remember anything your instructor is telling you. But there was one piece of advice I’m glad I followed. As we climbed higher and higher into the altitude I turned to Ray and told him I was about to throw up (which is really inconvenient because there aren’t any little puke baggies on these planes.) He told me he wasn’t going to let that happen and proceeded to walk me though some deep breathing exercises, which made a world of difference.
What’s that saying about don’t worry so much about life because you aren’t going to get out of it alive anyway? Even though every logical impulse in your brain is telling that you are going to die, don’t forget to have fun. If I could go back I would have tried to focus more on the fact that I was getting to have this rare experience that made me feel like a tiny human in the throes of nature. It’s the closest to flying humans can get and the view is just stunning. Embrace it because it’s over in minutes. Before you know it you are on the ground with a drink in your hand sharing your war story to an audience of friends. And if you have the option of purchasing a video and photos, do it. Your parents will want to watch it if no one else does.