I have no idea what compelled me to seek out skydiving. A thrill? A rush? Overcome my fear of heights? But one recent Saturday afternoon I found myself 50 miles down the road in a small town of San Marcos, Texas, home of the Skydiving Academy.
As I drove up I told myself that there would be plenty of time during training to get my bearings, to settle the butterflies in my stomach. A man called Skeet greeted me as I entered the musty old hangar. His rough hand swallowed and crushed mine. He was reassuring in a brusque kind of way. This was a man who knew what he was doing, I thought, who had jumped hundreds of times before.
Training started with the folding of the parachute. Skeet showed me the delicate origami-like art of getting the bright orange nylon into the small bag, with all of the cables laid in a pattern on top. We then talked for a few minutes about safety. I was to let go of the plane when asked and to keep my arms and legs from flailing as we fell. That was the entire course of training. Less than twenty minutes after walking into the hanger, I was following Skeet and about eight other people into a small single engine aircraft with the inner seating torn out. We sat on the floor of the plane as it rumbled down the makeshift runway and rose into the air.
We circled the airport a few times as we got higher and higher. A red light came on in the cabin and everyone got up. I was standing next to the open window and could see the tiny cars moving down below. My stomach sank. I gripped the rail as hard as I could.
The other eight jumpers all went out the door and began their freefall. Skeet stepped up to me and asked if I was ready to go skydiving. At that point I wasn’t sure I could go through with it, but his strong voice commanded me to turn around.
He strapped himself to me. We were jumping in tandem. He would do everything; I would just be along for the ride. He told me to step out onto the strut of the landing gear and he came out behind me. We stood there, wind rushing through my hair, and he said, “Are you ready?” As I started to answer ‘yes’ Skeet let go of the aircraft and we accelerated into freefall, and the word turned into a long exhalation of excitement, “Yeeeeesssssssssss!”
We were flying. I could still see the tiny cars below, but now I wasn’t scared. My heart was racing, but I kept my arms crossed over my chest like I was instructed and my legs as straight as I could. We hurtled through space for about half a minute — which felt like a lifetime — and then Skeet pulled the parachute open.
Everything came to an abrupt halt as we sat suspended above the world. I could see my feet dangling thousands of feet above the earth. My fear of heights never kicked in, instead I was giddy and euphoric. Skeet let me pull the guide straps on the parachute and move us gently from a left-hand turn to a right-hand turn. I could’ve stayed up there forever. It was a beautiful day. As we coasted down I felt like Superman.
Skeet landed us in field a few hundred yards from the hangar. He bundled up the parachute in a ball and carried it as we walked back.
“Well,” he asked, “Do you want to do that again?”
“Yes…can we go again today?”
He didn’t have any open slots that day. I went home dreaming of owning my own chute so I could get a “ride” for $50 any weekend they were open. There’s something about that freefall thrill that stayed inside of me, that lights up all my circuits when I close my eyes. It broke my fears of heights, but it gave me something too, a confidence I could not find anywhere on the ground. I realized my fear of heights was in some ways a fear of everything—a fear of moving forward, a fear of trying something new, a fear of the unknown. I understood that conquering a fear means not just having the fear and taking action anyway, but coming out the other side with more grace, more insight more courage and a greater appreciation of how extraordinary life can be.
I’m booked to jump next Saturday, and the Saturday after that.
Read our complete ‘Earth, Water and Sky’ adventure series on The Good Men Project
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