Ever feel the need to do something crazy? This semester in particular having been incredibly demanding (to the point it has been slightly worrying), I recently felt the need to do something to reclaim my life and assert myself as being more than just a passive robot—showing up where I’m needed, doing what I’m told and trying not to collapse every second of every day. So when my friend Sonata suggested skydiving as a fun Saturday activity a couple of weeks ago, every fiber of my being screamed YES.
What better way to assert control over your life than to look death in the face? Skydiving lived in the depths of my mind as something I always wanted to do but always had too much trepidation over to actually commit to. In the right headspace to say yes when Sonata asked, we found ourselves the following Saturday at Skydive Palatka in Central Florida, ready and willing to jump out of a perfectly good airplane.
Somehow I managed not to think about it too much in the week preceding our jump. When they sat us down to watch instructional videos and fill out paperwork, I started to get nervous. There was simply something about seeing the liability clauses on paper that made it a little too real for me. I never knew there were so many ways to assert the concept that you could die taking part in an activity.
When they finally called our names and paired us with our tandem jumpers, they informed me that I would be jumping out of the plane differently than the other tandems. “For any particular reason?” I asked my instructor. He proceeded to explain that we were going to have more fun than anyone else because we were going to backflip out of the plane.
The horrific mixture of fear, nausea and pure excitement that overtook me at that revelation nearly knocked me flat. My rational mind knew this turn of events should make me back out, but the part of me that longed to feel alive again pushed itself to the forefront. If I backed out, now I would never stop regretting it.
If I lived to tell this story, it would certainly be one for the books.
We boarded the plane and I was attached to my instructor during the climb to peak altitude. At this point in the day, I thought I would’ve cried, vomited or backed out but somehow I managed to steel my nerves. After all, I had come this far. Backing out now didn’t make sense. All of the instructors on the plane were incredibly cool and kept talking to the newbies, presumably to keep us from freaking out.
I watched as the plexi-glass door at the back of the plane rolled up. The intensity of the wind rushed in as my instructor told me to scoot up the bench towards the door. My heart in my throat, I recalled his instructions and grabbed the bar at the top of the doorway, crouched into a slight squat and placed my feet at the edge. He tapped my arms to let me know it was time to grab my harness at which point I heard, “Ready, Set, Go,” right before I arched my body and flew out of the plane.
The first 10 seconds were both the most terrifying and exhilarating moments of my life. As I fought the wind to gain control of my limbs, during what was surely the most uncoordinated backflip in recorded history (from myself, not my instructor), I felt the rush of the wind on my face at 120 MPH as we free fell towards the earth.
I have no words to describe the unusual calmness that came over me as we leveled out and I acclimated to the sight of the earth below. It felt as though I was floating and falling all at once, an inch from death and yet never more alive than I felt in that moment. I couldn’t quite tell whether my heart had stopped or was simply beating out of my chest.
The videographer who jumped with us reached his hands out towards mine. As we locked arms he spun us through the air in a vortex of oxygen, velocity and pure life. After free falling for about a minute, my instructor pulled our chute. I was jolted out of my strangely calm reverie.
It took a second after the parachute caught us for me to realize we hadn’t crashed and died. Then it all became even more peaceful. Without the intensity of the wind, I pulled my goggles down around my neck and fully took in what we were flying over. I saw cars the size of ants and trees like blades of grass. So far above what I was normally down below I realized the smallness of my daily worries.
Maybe it sounds cheesy, but from up there it all seemed so petty. I looked death in the face and lived to tell the tale. Why should papers and meetings strike fear into my heart? How could I take the time for daily anxieties when I willingly jumped out of a plane 2.5 miles off the ground? As we neared the field where jumpers landed, I longed to go back, to experience for one more moment the exhilaration of the wind on my face, the freedom of falling without fear.
I will forever remember November 5, 2016. On this day I back flipped out of a plane at 13,500 feet. On this day I confronted my fears and my mortality and overcame them both, if only for a few moments. On that day, I gained some much needed perspective, the likes of which you can only gain while plummeting towards the earth. And it was also, hands down and bar none, the absolute best day of my life.