The day I landed in Winter Haven, situated amongst hundreds of acres of open landscape in the heart of central Florida, the sky above the landing strip formed a thick layer of clouds because the day provided the usual amount of moisture to create them. Behind me my ‘better half’ breathing heavily from the rush of adrenaline, nevertheless my own heart beat cannot be deemed normal by any means. I had remained composed despite the situation; acceptance and complete surrender were my only thoughts. The climb, on an elderly Twin Otter Aircraft with the words Air Fiji on the outer casing of the engine, was accompanied by a resonating rumble and the altimeter topped out at 13,500-feet.
I gaze out of one of the seven little windows lining the aircraft; anxiety, adrenaline, and picturesque views of a green horizon, blue skies and thick clouds.
I am reminded of my younger days, when my grandmother would look up to the sky and tell me how she would love to lay on a plush pillow of clouds. We spent hours pointing out abstract interpretations and creating storylines to accompany these sky creatures. Now I am going to actually be plummeting through the cloud coverage at a rate of 120 miles per hour and will be able to tell her exactly what it was like to feel them upon my cheeks.
A friend and I had decided to do it, enough talk and more action! We were going to jump out of a perfectly good plane, tandem, and enjoy every moment of our sixty-seconds of free fall. We drove an hour east with the top down on the Mustang from North Tampa to Winter Haven; hair blowing in the wind, adrenaline rising as we think about our day ahead and nobody to stop us or convince us otherwise.
The lady in the electronic GPS informs us, “Right on Airport Road…your destination is .3 miles and is located on the Right-hand side.”
A long silence as we drive up to the hanger…park, put up the convertible top, get out of the car and we take a moment to stretch.
“Wow, we’re here…you’re not going to back out on me are you, Kyle?”
“Of course, not!” he reassures but flips the question back on me; “You are up for this, right?”
I just glare at him with one of my many animated facial expressions, “Phshhh…I have been waiting a lifetime to be able to jump out of a plane.” Not really sure if I was trying to convince him or myself though.
I must admit the unknown is always a little scary at first; you don’t really know what to expect but you do know that you definitely plan on going through with what lies ahead.
Why exactly, you may ask?
First: Your Reputation is at Stake! You cannot commit to something, get other people involved and then renege on commitments made. It’s the ultimate failure! At least try that something new and determine afterward if it was something you found rewarding or something you will probably never do again. Move past your fears and take on the world but don’t quit before you have just begun.
Second: Your Capabilities are beyond what you Give Yourself Credit for. Starting out you may feel comfortable doing something crazy simply because that expert instructor has ensured you that nothing will go wrong. As you become more comfortable with your abilities, devise your own path and find out where your limits lie!
And, Third: Extreme Adventures are a way to Recharge and Wake the Senses! You have time to think about yourself, your life, the view from that prop plane or the mountain you’re standing on; the people you associate with, the path you are on. Fear drives you to evaluate the bigger picture while you drown out those everyday burdens and focus on what is really important…Living in the Moment & enjoying Life!
Enough of this philosophical talk…I am sure you are dying to know how the title of this post is associated with my first Skydiving experience.
Accordingly, Kyle and I sign our lives away, meet our USPA certified Instructors, get a debriefing on the art of skydiving and begin to gear up. David “Buzz” Bazzoni will be my ‘significant other’ today as he will be the lucky gentleman strapped to me during the duration of our tandem jump. As I wiggle into my suit and the equipment is prepared, helmet fitted and goggles in place, I am ready for my first jump.
The intercom comes on: “Fifteen minutes till departure!”
Wow, this is all going so quickly and we will be up in the air in no time.
The plane is ready to go, we walk a short distance to board and my camera-man is following my every move as he asks me questions and makes sure to capture my ear-to-ear grin. “Yes, I am ready to go! Guide the way…“
The plane takes off as we climb to the exit altitude and I keep an eye out on my altimeter: 4,500…9,000…11,200…13,500-feet. Buzz reminds me along the ascent about form, monitoring our altitude and other important details to keep in mind during our dive. I ask questions just to gain that extra knowledge and a better understanding of what he keeps an eye out for during his jumps. He securely straps us together and the doors open; experienced jumpers begin to escape first and bodies pour out of the exit door of the aircraft.
We approach the door; my camera-man dangles out of the airplane and then jumps while catching our dramatic exit from a safe distance ahead. Good exit and body position but I cannot help but looking down the majority of the time. Buzz grabs my face signaling to me to smile for the camera.
The view and the wind in my face is one of the most magnificent feelings I have ever experienced!
You don’t feel like you are falling at all either; no stomach drops like those times when you hit high speeds in your car up-and-down rugged roads, or when you reach that peak of a roller-coast and then plunge suddenly. When skydiving you do not pass anything and the landscape below looks so distant which makes it hard for your brain to reference the high intensity speeds you are actually reaching.
The camera-man and I grab hands and do a few 360-degree spins and after only 40-seconds Buzz motions for me to look at my altimeter and take note that we are at 6,000-feet.
Buzz then pulls the container open at 5,500-feet, the free-fall is over and we will just parachute down to the drop-zone, right?
Correction, the adventure is not quit over!
The main parachute has a partial malfunction with a bow-tie line over the parachute. Above our heads it is a sight to see and Buzz knows this kind of canopy cannot be safely maneuvered while attempting to land the two of us.
Within moments, he managed to cut away the main parachute and we began to free-fall yet again for maybe 2-seconds in which I completely feel my stomach actually drop this time. The reserve chute opens and for a few more seconds Buzz is moving around making sure everything is good to go and we are able to peacefully glide down to the drop-zone.
“You were really calm; I am surprised you did not panic,” Buzz remarks to me.
“Well, the way I see it: If I begin to panic, move around and make things more difficult for you than what exactly have I accomplished?” I respond back.
We can see the main chute drifting in the wind, heading north of the drop-zone. He takes note of where it has gone and remarks that he has to retrieve it once we have landed. I maneuver the lines right, a hard left, and then practice flaring. We spend another five or six minutes in the air before he takes over and we successfully land standing under a Blue & Orange reserve parachute!
“You got two free-falls in one, you’re a pretty lucky girl,” he states excitedly and with a humorous tone. “For this to happen on your first jump, just think you got that out of the way and you are safe for a while at least!”
Buzz informs me that with 4,000+ jumps under his belt he has only had three situations where the parachute needed to be untangled and this was only the second time he had ever had to fly under a reserve canopy.
“So, what you are trying to say is you will never forget me, right?” I lightheartedly joke back.
I embrace Buzz and thank him for making sure I had a safe jump and then continue to tell Kyle all about my skydiving experience once he has landed. Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better instructor! Quick to respond, handled the situation accordingly and I felt like I was in good hands the entire time.
The camera-man asks me “So, do you think you will come back for your AFF training?”
And before I give him a chance to breathe my eyes open-wide and I respond, “Yes! I can’t wait to come back.”
An ambulance greets us at the main office, as well as the local Winter Haven Fire Rescue team.
Winter Haven is a small town and I am more than sure they were up for a little excitement. Especially since cut-a-ways and skydiving incidence are not a common occurrence. And they are located just up the road from the Florida Skydiving hangar.
“We saw the parachute plummet just north of here but we were unsure if the skydiver was safe. We figured we would come up here as a precautionary measure in case someone needed assistance,” states the Fire Chief.
After I inform him of my parachute malfunction and the cut-a-way; he tells me how personally he loves to skydive.
“Yep, my wife and I jump together on our days off together!” he divulges to me. “I hope you will be back and this does not keep you from doing it again.”
“I will be back…very soon,” I promise him.
I would have to say my overall experience was nothing short of amazing and this incident just made the adventure even more exciting. I couldn’t have planned it better myself and definitely makes for a great story.