Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Elevation: My Skydiving Adventure

It's 3am and I couldn't sleep. I felt as if a thousand butterflies were swimming in my tummy, or more like birds. I'm no adrenaline junkie. I don't even ride ferris wheels because I have vertigo. I kept berating myself why the heck I agreed to SKYDIVE?! I was even tempted to go online to check the fatality rate of the sport, but decided against it. I finally dozed off an hour before my alarm sounded.

We were at Skydive Chicago a week before for our tandem jump. Unfortunately (or fortunately for me at that time), they had to cancel due to heavy clouds and high winds. We took the 20 minute tandem class though, where they teach you the basics and verify if you're qualified to jump. I was feeling confident then after seeing a couple of old people in the classroom. They were, give or take in their 60s, which reminded me of  the movie, "The Bucket List".

So with hardly no sleep, I found myself ordering a muffin with hash browns and  a cup of hot cocoa at McDonald's. Before I was able to digest my breakfast which could also have been my last meal, I was signing my death warrant. They gave us waivers which detailed how we were fully aware of the risks, that we wouldn't be holding the skydiving club liable for any untoward incidents, and that we had adequate health insurance to cover any medical assistance we may require. Putting my signature in that piece of paper makes me question my sanity even now.

I am doing this with my husband and a group of friends. At least, I would be in good company...just in case. We chose to avail of the tandem jump (US$209) with video services (US$119). The cost of video services may sound absurd but that's because an additional professional jumper would fly side by side with you just to take photos and capture your excitement in a video footage.

Our expert tandem instructors discussed with us individually, the dynamics of skydiving --- from aircraft exit through free fall, parachute deployment, descent and landing. They made us don jumpsuits and because the color of mine was purple, I didn't complain even if it smelled a little "off". I also had the altimeter on my wrist, which will measure how far I had fallen and at what speed. They asked me to tie my hair and gave me a pair of goggles to protect my eyes from debris and other particles. The instructors would wear the parachutes but we would be the ones to deploy it by pulling the ball from their pocket. Just jump, check your wrist and release the chute when the altimeter indicates you're at 5,500 feet. It sounded so easy, except we're doing it all in bird territory.

After 30 minutes, we were ready to embark on what we all agreed to be our greatest adventure ever. The plane was ready with its engines running. The cameras of our freefall photographers started rolling to record our pale faces and forced smiles. The moment I set foot inside the plane, I knew there's no turning back.

All 7 of us with our respective instructors and photographers were squeezed like sardines inside the aircraft. The plane ascended to the altitude of 13,500 feet in about 15 minutes. But it seemed like a lifetime to me. I couldn't count the number of saints I called and prayers I said while my instructor repeated his lecture on the importance of constantly checking the altimeter and deploying the parachute on time.

My husband, before his jump.
When the plane door opened, the sound coming from the engines mixed with the roar of the gushing wind was deafening. Everything was a blur to me from the time I saw our first companion jump and disappear in a nanosecond. Humans looked like bugs being sucked up by a vacuum from up there. I suddenly had the urge to kill my husband for convincing me to agree to this.:) But he just disappeared off the plane and I was already strapped to my instructor for the jump.

Then, it's my turn. In the split second before my instructor pushed me to oblivion, I saw for the very first time the spherical shape of the earth. And it was the most beautiful view I had ever seen.

It almost brought tears to my eyes, but my glands never had the time to produce them for I was already shouting at the top of my lungs. But I didn't hear myself. It made me wonder how the heck people talk to each other while falling from the sky in movies. Another myth busted! Of course, I never thought of this until I was safe back on the ground.

Up there, I was just panicking while falling at over 120 miles per hour. I will forever hold a grudge against Skydive Chicago for forgetting to mention how difficult it was to breathe from up there.:) For the first 15 seconds, I was just struggling to get enough air into my lungs. When I was finally able to breathe, I began waving a little at my photographer who kept pulling my hand so he wouldn't fly too far to record my adventure. It was a little hard to smile while my cheeks were flapping in the wind.

After almost a minute of free-falling, I was violently jerked up and back when the chute deployed. Then it dawned on me that I never once looked at the altimeter and had completely forgotten about the parachute. If this was a test to get a skydiving license, I would definitely flunk it. Or if I was alone and didn't have my tandem instructor, I won't be around writing this article.:)

That orange ball was the one I failed to pull to release the parachute.
At least, I remembered to say cheese and smile for the camera.

The next 7 minutes were the most peaceful ones I had in my life. It was so silent up there and the slow canopy descent gave me time to wonder how beautiful our world was. The contrast of the blue sky with the green foliage and gray structures on the ground was perfect. It was like being sandwiched between two majestic heavens. For me, this was the real thrill.

My instructor was considerate enough not to talk to me while I appreciate this fleeting moment. Then I realized it was almost over when I  began to notice the other jumpers beneath us.

If the crazy first 45 seconds of falling took forever, the 7 minutes of gliding in peace ended too fast. Our rapid approach to the ground was exhilirating. One minute we were falling then my butt was hitting the grass field in a perfect landing.

With impeccable composure, I stood up for a glam shot but fell down when my feet got caught in the parachute. After a minute of getting tangled in the middle of the big balloon, I was finally out and posing with my husband and instructor.

I'm absolutely glad I did this stuff 2.5 years ago, before I became a mom. There's no way in hell I would be jumping 13,500 feet from the sky again...till I am 60.

Skydive Chicago
3215 East 1969th Road
Ottawa, IL USA 61350
Phone: 1-815-433-0000

Link Within

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...