The challenge of jumping out of a plane when you are 4'9" & over 4,000 feet in the air...
|I’m a worrier…
Yes, you read that correctly. Worrier, NOT warrior. Although, on second thought, I have been accused of being the latter also at times, but I won’t digress, yet.
My grandmother used to call me a “worrywart”. When pressed for a definition she only said that it was “a little critter that worries about everything so much they’re afraid to enjoy themselves because something about doing that worries them, too.” She was right because by the time I was 6 years old I had started worrying all the time about many things…where I would be going to school, would my tonsils grow back, where would my next “stable” home be, would Shari Lewis come back on Saturday morning TV.
I still carry that burden…always worrying about what could happen so that I’m not caught off my guard or blindsided without preparation for all the different possibilities and scenarios that might play out. I have learned to enjoy myself, but cautiously. I guard my privacy and independence, and, although I’ve learned that I do deserve to be happy, I still feel the need to protect myself which is sometimes counterproductive. I have even learned that sometimes things happen and no amount of preparation truly gets you ready for it. Sort of.
So, how or why did I decide to take up skydiving, you might ask? I haven’t a clue, really. I’m only glad I did.
I didn’t have a death wish or anything. I think I just wanted to let go my worries, for a short time and let the gods be in charge. I had always wanted to do it. I remember watching a show on television when I was a little girl called “The Paratroopers” and thought how neat it must be to just jump out of a plane and simply float to the ground. I think it was also at a time in my life when I realized that my caution was allowing other people who had less courage than me have way more fun than me.
I started skydiving back in the early ‘80’s…before amateurs were doing the tandem jumps they do today. I had to do at least 7 jumps connected to a static line that would automatically pull my ripcord. After those jumps I would be able to do free falls without the static line. No, I wasn’t planning on doing more than one, but, it was good to know.
I was supposed to meet a friend of mine who had already completed one jump but she didn’t show up. This fact could’ve been my “out”. I am very stubborn, though, and when I make up my mind it’s very difficult for me to back down. No one has to challenge me. I seem to have a tendency to throw my own gloves down.
I got there at 6 am and sat through a 5 hour class on basic aerodynamics, how to handle our parachutes, and practice falls from platforms that weren’t very high. The premise was to learn how to hit the ground properly. Hmmm…there’s a proper way? I better pay attention…
I was almost done with the class and would have to be suiting up for the plane when I saw my first foster mom (now stepmom), Barb, approaching. She wanted to watch, had a camera, and, I suspected, had been asked to be there at my father’s request. She was more excited than I was and had even brought a camera.
After putting on my jumpsuit, boots and helmet, the jumpmaster helped me with my parachute which was heavy. The parachutes we were using were the old-time ones…just like I used to see on TV. These were used by the military and were referred to as “old dogs” because they are so reliable. There was also a small “reserve” chute strapped to my abdomen and an altimeter. I had already learned about the malfunctions that could possibly happen when the chute opened (or not) and how little time I might have to manually throw this reserve chute out and hope that it would catch the wind properly. There were even names given to the malfunctions. My favorite is the “Dolly Parton”…just use your imagination.
All set! On to the plane.
It was a small plane that had been gutted inside with only tightly strung cables to hang onto. There were five of us, counting the jumpmaster, and since I was the smallest I had to get in first and scoot to the the smallest part of the fuselage in the rear. The plane was so small we were packed inside like sardines and when we finally took off it was as noisy, yet exhilarating, as I had thought it would be.
Each time someone left the plane it rocked from side to side and then you could hear the end of their used, dangling static line banging against the side of the plane until the jumpmaster pulled it back in again.
When it was finally my turn the jumpmaster fastened one end of the static line into the floor of the plane and the other one to my ripcord. At the time, I only weighed a little over 100 lbs….my parachute weighed about 50 lbs…it was very difficult to hold the upper half of my body upright without the balance of my legs so he was helping me by guiding my shoulders. I thought I was okay when I finally sat in front of the door and hung my legs out. I was wrong. When he gave me the signal to jump by tapping my helmet with the palm of his hand and let go, the weight on my back made me fall backward into the plane. Geez, I was supposed to fall out, not in!
The jumpmaster asked me, yelling over the roar of the plane’s engine, if I was sure I wanted to go through with this. I uncharacteristically nodded and told him the next time he would have to push instead of just letting go…a jumpstart, as it were. This also proved to be helpful because I couldn’t hold onto the wing strut AND reach the footpad that was on the wheel strut in order to push myself out and jump like everyone else did. His push would allow me to grab the wing strut and pull myself out in a standing position, almost, and shove off this way…and I did…in about 2 seconds…head first.
I quickly spread my legs and arms and arched the way I had been taught so that…One… I was hitting the wind symmetrically and was in the right position…Two…right hand reaches for the ripcord…Three…fake pulling of the ripcord as the static line does it for me…Four…look up to make sure the ‘chute has opened without a malfunction. I added Five all by myself, “Lord, please don’t let me see a “Dolly Parton” firsthand.” Four seconds and I was drifting in the air.
It worked!! We had started at 4,000 feet and here I was floating down in the sky, chilled by the sweat quickly evaporating from my body into the air.
And…it was serenely quiet. I looked down and it was beautiful. I had picked a really bright day with a beautiful blue sky and I could see for miles. Looking past my feet I could see a gaggle of geese flying below. I could also see that I was slightly off-target and played with the ‘chute to try and steer a little closer. I was so taken in by the beauty of the experience I didn’t see the jumpmaster flying around me to check and make sure that I was okay.
As I got closer to the ground I realized I needed to let up on the pulls to slow down and as I did I relaxed my knees and kept my eyes on the horizon. This gives you perspective on how close you are to the ground. I hit the ground a little hard but did exactly what I was taught which minimized the impact. As soon as your toes touch the ground you must roll to one side…toes touch, then bend your knees, roll on your hip, then your shoulder. I added a step on this first landing and touched my head to the ground, too. Hard. Thank goodness for the helmet!
I quickly gathered my ‘chute and hopped into the waiting pickup to drive back to the drop center and meet with my jumpmaster.He would “grade” me in my jump log and give me any advice for my next jump…NEXT JUMP??? Mmmm…well, maybe…He was a pretty nice guy. He told me he had been worried about whether I was going to be able to pull myself out of the nosedive I had to take but I had demonstrated a real ability to improvise and get myself out of trouble, and, he’d be willing to be my jumpmaster again…well, duh. He also told me to use what I learned and to make sure I let the next jumpmaster knew I needed help out of the plane…double duh.
He marked my log with “Slow start, good arch”, which I guessed was some kind of code to other jumpmasters to determine if they wanted to jump with me.
When I found Barb she was talking to an old-timer who was showing her a scar on his leg from a bad jump he’d had many years ago. He was trying to talk her into jumping…not a good way to go about it.
When she saw me her eyes lit up. Barb is a bargain hunter, which is the bane of my father’s existence at times. She was excited because she had found out that if I wanted to jump again that day I would only have to pay half the going rate. Such a deal, how could I pass THAT up??
Alright, so, I did it again. This time it was easier. In fact, each time it got easier. Over the next couple of years I made it to free falling and then some.