Jump! How I Found Myself at 14,000 Feet

Nancy J. Schaaf has self-published two books on her family genealogy and several articles in national magazines such as Woman’s World, Ft. Myers Southwest Florida Magazine, Everton’s Genealogical Helper, Family Tree, Nostalgia, and the Christian Courier.

essay_parachute

When I was in my twenties, I wanted to parachute.

For many reasons, it was something I never did. Life went on. I graduated college, became a teacher, and married. The years passed until life as I had been accustomed to stopped. I was 60 and divorced. I was lost. Who was I? I remember being asked what I wanted for Christmas and could not even come up with an answer. I did not know what I wanted. I was alone. I didn’t know who I was for so many years I subjugated my desires. What do I do? I begin a journey of finding myself. It starts with a first step. But, in my case, it was a first jump.

I wanted to skydive. I recognized that at this point in my life, I did not have to explain and seek approval from parents or a husband; I was my own person. So I decided to seize the opportunity and make that jump out of an airplane. This risky adventure really proved to myself how strong and gutsy I am.

I made reservations at the nearest licensed facility and arrived on a sunny, cloudless morning. I thought, “It is a perfect day for a jump.”

The first item on the day’s agenda is a briefing. I choose a tandem style jump, as it is the best for a first time jumper. There is very little training required and you are strapped to an instructor by a tandem harness. After viewing a short video describing what to expect when jumping, I sign the papers that said I would not sue nor would my family sue the facility if anything went wrong. I proceed outside to an elevated structure where I am taught the technique for the initial jump from the plane and how to land.

Next, it is time to select my jumpsuit. I choose a bright orange jumpsuit that looks to be short enough for my 5’ 2” frame. It fits perfectly. “Surely this is a good omen,” I tell myself. The assistant equips me with a harness which is buckled around my body. I am all dressed up and definitely have a place to go.

As I walk to the tarmac, I realize that it is just long enough that one could reconsider. “Nope, not me,” I think. Feeling elated that I am finally going to jump, my only concern is that it would feel just like being on a roller coaster, and my stomach would lurch into my throat.

As I approach the plane, I become more excited. I am sure it is the adrenaline rush. I meet my instructor and all of us—three students and three instructors along with a videographer climb aboard and join the pilot. There are no seats and we all sit on the floor of the plane with each student in front of the instructor. I am buckled to my instructor’s harness and told not to loosen the buckles. That is a safety rule that I am definitely obeying.

The plane climbs to 14,000 feet, which takes about 20 minutes. I listen to the hum of the plane’s engine as it climbs higher into the atmosphere. When we reach the correct altitude, my instructor and I are the last to jump as the videographer goes first followed by the others. We scoot to the open door, sit on the ledge with my feet dangling, and as I look down at the earth, I am excited, happy, and fearless. I am about to experience an incredible adventure. I realize that I am definitely going to leap out of a perfectly good airplane. The instructor tells me to have fun, counts to three, and we leap out of the plane!

We freefall for about 60 seconds. It feels as if you are floating over a very strong fan. The feeling of my stomach in my throat does not happen. The wind is
noisy, and my face moves just like the flapping jowls of a dog with its head stuck out the car window. I am smiling and feeling the cold as it is about 25 degrees
cooler at that altitude. During freefall, you are travelling to the earth at 120 mph. What an exhilarating feeling!

I see the curvature of the earth and the ground rushing toward me. The 60 seconds goes by quickly. The instructor pulls the ripcord, and I am jerked upward, and all becomes silent. It is so quiet that my instructor and I are able to talk and hear each other easily. He lets me control the chute and we do spins and float along the air currents. I am ecstatic as I fly!

As my instructor and I near the ground, I am reminded to pull my legs up and we smoothly land on our butts. As we sit on the soft grass, I laugh with joy and want to immediately do it again. My first jump is an awesome adventure! And best of all, I found myself at 14,000 feet. I learned that I choose how I want to live. It is my life and I alone decide my path. Now that is thrilling!