“Can you skydive three people who are paralyzed today?” inquired my friend Charlene Vine to Bill Dause, the owner of The Parachute Center in Lodi, CA. “We have been trying to skydive in Monterey for the past few days but they can’t seem to get their stuff together here for us.” “Yea sure,” Bill responded warmly, “no worries, just get out there. We will be jumping all day.”
“Let’s go for it!” I said after a full-out inaccessible weekend, starting with a hotel that messed up on reservations which resulted in emergency camping at a challenging campground. “We’ve come this far. We have to at least try,” I laughed. I was determined to skydive for my 30th birthday, wanting to experience the feeling of flight, so the three of us got on the road to head 160 miles inland with the high hopes that The Parachute Center would make skydiving happen.
The difference in temperatures between the two locations was drastic—Monterey was chilly in the low 60s and Lodi was tipping towards 100 degrees. After removing some clothes, we headed inside to get started. It was busy. Tandem jumpers were carefully untangling the cords to parachutes and repacking them. It was not long after all the paperwork was completed that Charlene, Steven, and I were escorted into the fitting rooms where one guy dressed us in the proper safety harnesses. This included one additional adaption to keep legs together for the fall down and the ability to lift one’s legs up for the landing. After we were all geared up we were greeted individually by our assigned tandem jumper who explained the simple directions to be followed. “…And then the parachute is supposed to open but one never knows,” laughed my tandem jumper nicknamed the ‘Tall Russian Guy.’ “And don’t forget to have big smiles cause it’s fun, yes!”
As we waited for the plane, Charlene remained calm as this was actually her second time skydiving. When the plane arrived we were the last onboard. The tandem jumpers easily worked together to hoist us onto the plane, leaving our wheelchairs on the ground. During the process, I lost a shoe but was kept safe until I touched the earth again. Being the last to board meant we were the first to jump. The plane climbed higher and higher to reach the 13,000 marker. The Tall Russian Guy’s watch monitored the progress, “When this (pointing to his watch) reaches 13,000 we go out but now we take deep breaths and enjoy the view.” It was hot in the airplane so it was decided that the door would be pulled open to help with ventilation. Everyone on the plane appreciated it and Steven got the best ride of his life sitting right on the edge, strapped to his tandem jumper.
It was time to go. Without any formal announcement, Steven plunged out of the open door—out of sight. Then a second later Charlene was out of the plane followed by myself. Right before it was my turn the Tall Russian Guy instructed me, “Leave all your fear on the plane. And then big smiles!” As I took a deep breath the Tall Russian Guy lunged forward from our seat and into the open air. A burst of wind rushed all over me, ferociously ripping at my clothing. My mind could not process what was happening—it was great. We were falling but felt more like floating.
Hurling back to earth with legs flailing about we danced with gravity for a full minute flying at speeds over 100mph. Then the parachutes opened gracefully, like flowers blooming on a nature documentary sped up for effect. For the remaining descent, we floated as dandelions in the wind, swaying in all kinds of directions, until landing in a soft grass field. No broken bones, everything was intact. Wheelchairs were brought over immediately along with strong men to assist in getting back into them and I am reunited with her shoe.
So would we do it again? Yes. “Traveling extremely fast using your body as a vehicle without any energy is an exhilarating feeling,” Steven grins. The best thing about skydiving Charlene adds “is the rush that you get from putting it all on the line and jumping out of a plane. But once that is over the sense that you are flying is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. It’s spectacular!” Yes, there’s nothing else like it agrees the owner Bill who has thus far jumped over 36,000 times. “I’m still having fun,” he says, “[Skydiving] is more of a peaceful feeling than a thrill-seeking situation. With today’s equipment, technology, and training skydiving is accessible to everybody.” How many people in wheelchairs is it possible to skydive at the same time? Bill estimates that if every person had a cameraman he could fit ten per plane but more is possible and of course, the plane takes many rides to the sky per day.
I wonder why more don’t want to experience skydiving. Having a fear of heights is one thing but what about everyone else? What we build up in our minds is never what actually happens. They are just thoughts. Skydiving is not what you think.