Sometimes life is about taking a leap of faith, and this time for me, it was about taking that leap from 13,500 feet.
Skydiving never seemed scary to me, at least not until I was in the doorway of the plane, feeling the wind on my face, about one second before I was about to exit the plane and enter a whole new world that I never imagined. I had seen the planes going up and the pulling of parachutes whenever I drove past Orange, VA on the way to see my sister at the University of Virginia, and on the way to my four years of undergrad at Virginia Tech.
They looked so peaceful, those parachutists, as they floated down from above. Looking up through the clouds from the ground, you can hardly imagine what freefall would feel like; you can’t even experience it second hand while someone else jumps because you can’t see it.
A year ago, my friend Forrest put the idea of going skydiving in my head. He had never been but it was on his mind. I didn’t have the money to go at the time, and I was about to go back to Virginia Tech for my senior year of college. In the spring of this year, I decided to put skydiving on my list of things that I would do before the end of the summer. It isn’t a bucket list; it’s just a short-term list of “goals.” Skydiving wasn’t something that would go on my bucket list, because I somehow just knew that if I went once, I would want to go again.
For me, skydiving was like hitting a restart button. Here I am, twenty-two years old with two college degrees and still searching for a job. My summer unemployment has given me the time to have fun and figure myself out. I already knew myself to be a risk-taker, never really afraid of anything in life except for “real life” and how hard I knew it would be once I graduated.
Waiting to skydive is like waiting for an opportunity in life to knock at your door. It teaches you patience. When I showed up at noon on Sunday to take my jump, I never realized the amount of patience I would have to have. Three planes full of licensed single divers and tandem divers went up and dove, but the fourth plane landed with all tandem divers still on board. It was a little after 1:00 p.m. The clouds just weren’t cooperating. It became a staring contest between the sky and us.
Fast-forward to 7:00 p.m., nine hours after my arrival, and almost twelve hours after others did. The clouds had finally decided to let us go up, but we didn’t know if we would be coming down in the plane, or by parachute. Half of their group was able to go in the morning on the three successful jumps, and the rest of them had to wait as they were in the fourth and fifth groups.
Normally the manifest will give you a 25-minute call, in which you have that time to get your jumpsuits and your harness on, get on the plane and head up into the clouds. We were given a 15-minute call, and it was go-time. My videographer, who would be jumping right before me with a camera and video camera on his helmet, interviewed me before we got on the plane.
Before I knew it, we were soaring up above the clouds and I was doing “rock, paper, scissors” with Liz, a woman who had waited all day to jump. All of us had created camaraderie as we waited for the clouds to let us go up. I got to decide whether I would jump first, or second. I was the youngest jumper by at least 10 years, but I chose to jump first. Once on the ground, Diane said I gave her the courage to jump; her fifteen-year-old son waited for her on the ground.
You can only jump from 13,500 feet because any higher and you need oxygen. As I left the plane, the rush took my breath away, in the best way. I was flying. I put my arms out for the minute of freefall, and waved and smiled as Lambert, my videographer filmed me and reached out to spin me around. It was the longest and most rewarding minute of my life. After seven hours, and twenty-two years of waiting, I finally felt 100% alive. I went through a cloud and caught my breath as the cold wind blew past my face.
The chute activated and everything went quiet. I talked to Jim, my tandem instructor, also known as the guy attached to my back. The best part about waiting seven hours and finally jumping, besides the actual jump, was seeing the sunset before my eyes as I came down from the sky. I could see the Skydive Orange facility and specs that looked like my parents down below. Jim and I chatted about the jump, when he would tell me to stand up as we landed, and I told him that I knew once I jumped, that I would want to go again.
As we approached the ground, I pulled my knees up to my chest to prepare for the landing. Inches, or maybe even centimeters from the grass, Jim said, “Stand up!” I did a stand up landing and felt like a professional. Seven hours of waiting and about seven minutes of skydiving changed my life, and perspective. It’s funny to think how small we truly are in this giant universe, even when you’re looking down on everyone from 13,500 feet up.
I took my leap of faith; now it’s your turn.
The largest tandem skydiving center near Northern Virginia, Washington D.C. and Maryland.