The Adventurers: After the Jump…


A first-time skydiver chronicles her flight.

Written by Lindsey Lowe

 

Several weeks ago, I was (oddly) standing in an operating room, watching an open-heart surgery, so that I could write about what it was like to see the human heart. For a time, I stood next to the anesthesiologist, who asked, like everyone else, if I was an aspiring cardiothoracic surgeon. “No,” I said. “I’m a writer.” He told me that I had a cool job, and when I remarked that yeah, I did, and I was also scheduled to jump out of a plane in a few weeks, his eyes lit up. “Oh, I’ve done that,” he said. “Any tips?” I asked, mentally noting that this was a strange place to have this conversation. But I’d asked everyone for tips, from my dentist to my mom (her tip was, “Don’t do it.”) There, though, in an OR, I got the advice that changed everything. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “The thing is, you’re going to be scared. You’re going to be scared in the weeks before. You’re going to think about it at night. You’ll get more scared as you get closer, and the plane ride up is the worst thing. You’ll get over to the open door of the airplane, and everything in you will be telling you not to jump.” He paused there, for dramatic effect, I think, and then he looked at me. “My advice is to jump anyway.”

In some ways, he was right. I did get more and more nervous as the days got closer. Because of the winter weather Alabama experienced this winter, we had to continue postponing the adventure, waiting for a sunny day. In the office, I told the story about how when I was a little kid, I refused to jump off of the diving board in swim class until the very last day, and even then, I required four pairs of floaties to make the leap. I told them about how I was peer-pressured onto my first roller coaster when I was 13—so desperately wanting to appear brave—but that I got off feeling like I’d uncovered some kind of secret. And even though this all came about because I brazenly volunteered myself as the adventurer who would go skydiving before I even thought about what was coming out of my mouth, I told them time and again that I could do it.

I was surprised, though, at how calm I grew a few days out. Perhaps it was because I had resigned myself to not backing out, or because I was pretty sure the adrenaline rush would be worth the what-if-the-parachute-doesn’t scenarios I had entertained. Maybe it was because I decided that whatever happened just happened; maybe I’ll never know for sure. But the closer I got, the more I wanted to jump. The closer I got, the more I began to see that this whole thing is like life: If you want to get to the falling, or the flying, you must jump. You simply cannot stay in the plane and get the rush. You have to jump.

The day of my jump, it was 60 degrees and sunnier than it had been in weeks. B-Metro’s creative director, Robin, and I made the drive to Cullman, Ala., where the people of Skydive Alabama had agreed to throw me out of a plane. I arrived on slightly shaky knees, but otherwise ready to make it happen. In a brilliant stroke of luck, I seemed to be the only person jumping that day; it sped up the process, and it also meant that everyone there, besides Robin and me, were totally used to free falling. There was a contagious it’s-no-big-deal attitude, which made me believe that it was, in fact, no big deal.

I watched a four-minute video that reminded me to try not to punch my instructor mid-air, since he was responsible for my life. I stepped into a jumpsuit and a harness and listened as my instructor reminded me to try not to punch him mid-air, since he was responsible for my life. And just like that, we were walking across the tarmac toward a tiny plane with a door that could—and would, I assumed—be rolled up.

I climbed in, chatting with my instructor, Eddie, and our videographer, Luke. I had read online that the plane ride usually took 15 minutes, but I decided to ask how long we had anyway. “Six minutes, tops,” Eddie said. “That’s what I thought,” I said. We went through the procedure again—no punching—and then, six minutes later, Luke rolled up the door and motioned us over (Eddie and I were harnessed together.) “Hang your legs out,” Eddie said, and, as if this was a completely normal thing to do, I hung my legs outside the plane. We were 10,000 feet above the ground. 15 seconds later, Eddie jumped for both of us. And I fell.

I had imagined that moment a lot in the weeks that preceded it. I was sure that the free fall would feel like it was lasting forever, that all I would be thinking about was whether the parachute would deploy, that I would forget to look down. I’d had a theory about the whole thing: Skydiving would be like falling in love, I thought. In both situations, you expect to feel like you’re flying, but you actually feel like you’re falling. I decided to expect the falling, so I wouldn’t be surprised. And I’d be sure to worry about that parachute.

I was wrong: It was exactly the way flying must be. Without any point of spatial reference, and with understanding that there no way to regain control, I was, for the first time in my life, simply existing. I didn’t think once about the parachute until it opened, jerking us around as it saved us from the plummet. And when it did, and I could talk to Eddie again, I said, “That was so short!” He laughed. We talked until we reached the ground, where we performed a textbook slide-to-stop move. I stood up, as alive as  could be. And immediately, I thought about what I would write.

I knew there would a lot of words, but that only two would matter. I knew exactly what I needed to say.

Jump anyway.

A big thanks to the tremendous team at Skydive Alabama, who made this jump possible.

3 Responses to “The Adventurers: After the Jump…”

  1. Wonderful story. Even more wonderful message!

  2. Gerald Batchelor says:

    Great Story!! Will there be a second jump?

  3. Bridget Simpson says:

    Awesome story and message!! Gave me chills reading it.

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