SLOAN COLUMN: Take a flying leap? You betcha
Spectacular. Amazing. Breathtaking.
Those are the words that immediately came to my mind when asked what it was like jumping out of a perfectly good aircraft traveling 13,500 feet (roughly two and a half miles) above the earth at a speed of 140 miles per hour.
Call me crazy, but gazing out the door of a PAC 750 skydiving plane as I’m about to make my first tandem jump was quite literally the stuff dreams are made of. The experience far exceeded anything I had imagined.
After 40 years of waiting, I can now officially check skydiving off my bucket list. Why did it take so long? The honest truth is I’m not sure. All I know is the long wait is over and it was so very much worth it.
This chance to fulfill a dream began in November of last year. The day after Thanksgiving to be exact. A post from Piedmont Skydiving in Salisbury, N.C., popped up on my Facebook feed and announced a limited time Black Friday special. I decided it was time to take a flying leap and purchased the jump as an early Christmas present to myself. I could take the jump anytime during the next 12 months. I actually began to believe my dream could truly become a reality.
As a young Marine assigned to 2nd Recon Battalion, I rappelled and SPIE (Special Patrol Insertion/ Extraction) rigged out of helicopters. I even jumped out of a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter from about 75 to 100 feet into the Atlantic Ocean as part of a SCUBA training exercise in Key West, Fla. These experiences are what likely planted the skydiving seed in my brain.
After a two-and a half hour Saturday morning drive from Hartsville to Salisbury, I checked in at Piedmont Skydiving. Was I afraid or scared? Not in the least. Was my heart racing? You betcha.
I filled out the required paperwork, which included waivers that needed to be signed twice and initialed a dozen times. I strapped on my harness, pulled my goggles over my head, and awaited instructions from JK, my experienced skydiving partner.
“Are you ready, Bob?” JK asked as we made our way to the plane.
“Brother, I was born ready,” I responded, trying hard to constrain the widening grin on my face.
In my mind I had imagined I would be the first in the plane to jump. I presumed this since the crew was aware of my previous experiences in the Marine Corps. As it turned out, I was the last of 16 people on the plane to take the leap. I’m grateful it turned out that way as it made the experience even more memorable.
The line moved quickly. In seconds I had made my way from the rear of the plane to the open door. I could feel the cold wind as it rushed through the opening and into my face. As instructed, I hung my legs over the ledge and peered downward.
In that split second, I was stunned by the view. It was a moment of sensory overload combined with remarkable clarity. Spread out two and a half miles below me was God’s marvelous creation. It was phenomenal.
There are singular moments in everyone’s life where the experience is engraved on your soul. You will never forget it. Years can pass, but when you think of that moment it all comes back. It seems so real you can literally experience it all over gain. I have been fortunate enough to experience a handful of those moments. This was one of them.
JK nudged us off the plane. Arching my back, I had one arm stretched outward and the other with a tight grip on my shoulder harness. The wind whipped around. You could feel it tugging at your skin. Did it make your stomach ache, like riding a rollercoaster or carnival ride? No. Did it feel like you were falling? No. Did it feel like you were flying? Pretty darn close.
The freefall itself lasts only a minute and a half. It goes by quickly, as you can imagine. I did my best to stay in the moment and take it all in. It still went by way too quick.
At about 5,500 feet, JK released the parachute. There was a slight jolt, but nothing more than maybe a quick stop at a stoplight. After that, it was simply a matter of enjoying the view. I removed my goggles. JK and I talked a little as we descended on the drop zone. He even let me use the straps to steer the parachute, which was very cool.
As JK and I returned to earth I raised my arms in triumph and screamed “Yess!” What a moment! What an experience!
Through it all, I don’t think the grin ever left my face. More than a week later, I can watch the in-air video, see the photos, or simply think about fulfilling my skydiving dream and the grin returns to my face. I’m not sure it will ever go away.
Oh, and did I mention that before I left Piedmont Skydiving I purchased a second jump? Hey, you only live once!
Folks, go taking a flying leap. It is so worth it.