Friday, February 22, 2008


I'll never forget the first time I went skydiving. This was way back in grad school with some friends of mine who were a lot more adventurous than I. But I went along with them. We went through something like 4 hours of ground school learning what to do, what not to do, what to expect, etc. At its conclusion, just before we went up into the airplane, we were given 2-way radios so we could ask for help or advice from the instructor if we needed it. Then were told the radios only worked 50% of the time!


Fortunately, I was one of the last to jump since I was one of the lighter ones in our group. Seeing fear in the eyes of my guy friends who went before me actually made me laugh and gave me courage. Hey, if they could do it, so could I and if we all die together, that's cool. God, was I stupid back then.

It was a static line jump, meaning the chute was pulled for you when you left the plane. All we had to do was guide ourselves down some 3,000 feet, find the skydiving school and then the gravel pit where we'd practiced how to fall while in ground school. Wait a minute, where the hell did the school go?

But once out of the plane I had something more pressing to worry about. My lines were twisted and my chute hadn't deployed completely. This often happens too, we were told, and the usual solution is to just kick out your legs and try to untwist the lines, which I did as calmly as I could in a state of near panic. I tried once, nothing happened. Holy sh*t.

I knew if I couldn't get the chute fully deployed I could try flying it as is with a couple closed end cells, if SSS (S-S-Say what? I'd forgotten the acronym). Or, cut away and use the emergency chute, which was a round chute that would drop me faster and produce a much harder landing. At least I probably wouldn't die.

I tried kicking out again, much harder this time, and the second time, thank goodness, it worked. WHEW!!

My colorful ram-air chute filled as it should and I began gliding downwards gracefully with a near-max heartrate. I could see others going back and forth and spiraling below me. It was a gorgeous blue sky day and the wind was tickling my face. Never have I felt more alive in my life.

This is cool! This is so totally cool!! THIS IS SO TOTALLY F*CKING COOL!!!

I floated for a lot longer than some of my friends who I could now see were already on the ground. I could also see the gravel landing pit, which looked a lot smaller from the air than it did on the ground. I clicked the radio on to get some last minute encouragement from the instructor.

Static. Of course.

OK, it was all up to me now. I'd gone through the motions in ground school and knew what to do, but had I ever come close to doing anything like this before, say, from even just 30 feet? Nope. GULP.

Carefully, I steered myself in for the approach. If I was too high, I'd have to come around and attempt the landing again, if possible, or land elsewhere guaranteed to be harder. And if I was too low, well, prepare for some hurt too.

It looked like I was coming in at about the right angle and at the right height but hard to tell being my first time. I pushed aside thoughts of how I sucked at things involving alignment and aim, like bowling, golf, basketball ... What have they got to do with skydiving anyway?

Steady, steady ... I seemed to be going in slow motion though I knew I had to be moving quite fast. Really weird disconnect. Maybe because my heart was about to explode?

Then about 10 feet from the gravel pit, I flared my chute which slowed me down and allowed me to land right in it with a near perfect tip-toe landing.

I'd done it!

But even with this experience, and many more that I've made some analogies with to this, I still have difficulty going outside my comfort zone. It's a constant battle, I must admit, and sometimes it can seem there are just too many obstacles or too many fears. But with each step I take, I become the person I want to be.

Thank you, RunningGeezer26.2, for the T.S. Eliot quote: "Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go."


Wendy said...

Very good post, Shirley!

jen said...

Wow, what a post! I think my heart was racing just reading it. You're very brave.

Sorry you didn't get picked for the Team Evotri- good luck with the other slots. I think making and sharing that video was a pretty cool thing in itself though! :)

ShirleyPerly said...

Thanks! I'm thankful to have had friends in school who did pull me away from the computer once in a while. Not sure if it was bravery so much as it was just being young & dumb. But often I think we, as adults, have too many hangups.

Susan said...

Excellent, my friend.

Were it not for you, I'd probably never "pull my chute" and try to tri!

Runner's Anonymous said...

I had a similar experience about....holy crap!....17 years ago! (and now a moment of silence as my age and mortality sink in)

I went soaring in California. You know, the plane with no motor thing. Probably one of the most tranquil and adrenaline pumping things I've ever done. The tranquil part was just the basic soaring. I describe it like standing 3000 feet in the air. The adrenaline came from doing a trick called a wing-over.

The trick starts by pointing the nose directly at the ground to build up speed. I defy any roller-coaster to match this. Then you point the nose directly up at the sky and climb again but before you lose too much speed you jam down hard on one of the foot pedals, controlling the rudder, and flip the plane sideways back towards the ground again. During the flip, you're weightless. To quote someone recently...REALLY F*CKING COOL!!!!!!

Anyway, if you get the chance to go soaring...take it! If they did it in my neck of the woods I think I'd go several times a year.

Rural Girl said...

Holy cats. I'm not real keen on heights. You are awesome!

Maddy said...

Amazing Shirley!

Petraruns said...

What a story girl! I've always wanted to do this but this has given me the push I needed..

And I'm with Jen - I think your efforts for Team Evotri were very inspiring and perhaps opened up some doors for you?

peter said...

Wow. I'm not with Petra on this one, this was a heart-stopping story (nice finish--perfect tip-toe landing) and I can leave the adventure with you (and her)! Die together with those macho males finally showing fear? Naw, we can do better than this! Nice post!

akshaye said...

Great post! I'd be mortified if my chute never opened. But you're so right.. I've never felt more alive than when I'm trying something I've never done before. That mix of anticipation and fear is something else. Love the quote!

P.O.M. said...

Oh. I love it!

I, too, am afraid alot of getting outside my comfort zone. I battle it almost everyday.

Cliff said...

Hi Shirley,

There is one lesson I learnt from triathlon: there is no comfort zone =D

CewTwo said...

I am constantly amazed by you!

Never would I jump out of a perfectly good plane!

CewTwo said...

I am constantly amazed by you!

Never would I jump out of a perfectly good plane!