When Dallas Observer intern and contributing writer Sarah Calams told us that she was going skydiving over spring break we A.) ruined her holiday by turning the experience into a reporting assignment, and B.) hugged her hard and tight. She's a slip of a thing and we'd half-expected her to be plucked off by birds prior to completing her descent. For those of you considering taking that 2.5-mile step off an airplane with only a glorified bed sheet as protection, here is her story.
I've talked about it my whole life, put it on my bucket list and figured I would get to it -- when I could. But then my one-year anniversary rolled around and my boyfriend surprised me with the gift of possible extinction through skydiving -- the greatest present a gal could get.
When spring break finally came, I booked it. I arrived bright and early Saturday morning, I'd already done my homework and completed a six-hour, first solo jump instruction course -- I was ready to finally plummet out of that freakin' airplane. What the world saw that morning was a totally psyched college student about to embark on a helluva adventure, but inside I was quietly freaking out. I had that nervous pee feeling -- you know the one you get when you're either channeling your inner daredevil or just doing something incredibly stupid? Because what could happen, right? Just an extremely fast and unpleasant plunge to my death. No big deal. (Cue scary skydiving videos of main shoots not opening and malfunctions galore.)
I was expecting an adrenaline rush, possibly death, but what I got in return was something much more soothing.
As we reached 13,500 feet, the door to the plane started to open. I wasn't as nervous as I thought I would be. What was freaking me out was how intense the wind was up there. I was given my signal to take my position in the door, arched and *spoiler alert* I stepped out of the plane with one foot. There is no actual "jumping" when you're a student.
If a fear of heights is what's kept you from trying skydiving, you might reconsider. When I prepared to jump out of the plane and looked down, I didn't see thousands of feet of falling -- instead I saw the ground and it looked like a map. My brain didn't process it as distance.
And there I was -- freefalling and losing altitude, fast. My two instructors were on my left and right side making sure my form was correct and keeping me steady in the air. I couldn't believe how strong the wind was; I could barely pull my feet out in their proper position.
Freefalling is incredibly loud, fast, chaotic and I don't really remember much about it. Maybe that's a first-time thing. Your only form of communication during freefall is by hand signals with your instructors. At 5,500 feet you pull your main shoot, and pray it opens up correctly. After mine did, everything around me got really quiet. I was gliding in the air, just me and a 2,000-foot descent of incredible view. I felt relaxed, soaking in the atmosphere.
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At 1,000 feet you start your landing pattern based on wind direction, then you reach your target and finally you begin to exit the sky and transition to earth. The one thing that eased my fear of this process was strapped to my chest. It was a radio to ground control that guided me in for safe landing.
Skydiving changed my mindset at two-and-a-half miles above the earth. From standing in an open airplane doorway to finally landing on the ground, I realized something about myself: I can do anything I want to and do it well. So while I expected a shot of adrenaline from the experience, I also received a sidecar of tranquility and a better understanding of my own capabilities. Not bad for a day's work.
If you're interested in skydiving, but don't know where to go, I went through Skydive Dallas. The staff was knowledgeable, friendly and had it down to a science. The sky and I will reunite again soon. But before then, I'll be searching for another adrenaline rush to fulfill my obsession. How do we feel about race cars?