ERICKA BAILEY: THE DIARY OF A NEW SKYDIVER

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Skydiving is often a “bucket list” item that people want to do before they die. I can see why- flying through the clouds, trusting that your parachute will deploy and magically descending back to earth is an incredible out of this world experience. Why would you want to try it only once!? I did two tandems in 2013 and each time couldn’t shake that feeling I got from my body and heart. While at Wisconsin Skydiving Center, I watched the regular skydivers go up, play in the sky under their parachutes and land. They had a camaraderie that was contagious. On both occasions I thought to myself, “That is living!”

I kept thinking “What if that could be me?” I am a 32 year old mom, full time social worker, who enjoys knitting and weight lifting. Just a totally normal, regular person who couldn’t stop thinking about jumping out of planes. I could not shake that feeling. I have always believed in following your heart and taking a personal risk for growth. I thought to myself “I can always back out if I think it won’t be for me” so I signed up for the very next AFF class offered. My entire family was skeptical.

In order to drive to WSC for my first AFF class I had to NOT think about what I was going to do – jump out of a plane attached to no one, pull my own parachute and somehow parachute back to the landing area in one piece. I felt out of my mind but I kept driving. I arrived full of smiles and butterflies and was greeted by enthusiastic staff; I felt like I was being welcomed into a home or club. The day began walking with Bo taking us to the middle of the landing area and looking around at the sky and ground. “This is where it’s going to end,” Bo told us. “Begin at the beginning.”

The AFF class was a full day of information overload, and I felt at times very confident and at the same time, afraid. All of this is exciting and fun, and in the back of my mind I kept thinking, “I’m actually going to do this in the air!” I was invigorated and terrified. Parachuting is what was most scary to me. Falling from the sky seemed like a no-brainer, but getting my parachute back to the ground seemed like a whole other ball game. A certain amount of skydiving can be taught on the ground, but most of it needs to be learned in the air. When I was practicing cutting my main chute and deploying my reserve for emergencies (done by simulating the activity dangling from a harness within the hangar) I encountered my first mental block. I was going too fast. “There are no excuses, you do not have time for excuses,” Bo told me seriously, “You are either going to get this, or you will become a ghost.” No pressure there! I still struggled. Laura (coach) told me something that helped it click for me “Take a deep breath, after cutting before you pull. Just take a breath.” So I did, and I did it well.

I’m not a super hero, I’m a mom. I take care of people for a living. I’m not a daredevil. But I couldn’t get that feeling out of my heart- that this was what I wanted, no, needed to do. This would be living.

Skydiving becomes real when you put on the jumpsuit (not an easy task finding a good one for a short, muscular girl like me). After seven hours of ground school I was going to jump out of a plane accompanied by two coaches and actually do what I have been practicing for. I was suited up, helmet on my head, goggles around my beck, strapped in with two radios and a parachute (they are pretty heavy things!) and I felt like a superhero. I felt free, fearless and terrified. I can look at the pictures of myself in the back of the plane and see the fear in my eyes. I also can remember grabbing Alex’s hand when she saw my face, and her saying “You can do this.” Then I knew I could.

When the door of the plane opens you have to take a deep breath and turn off your brain. Don’t think about what if, don’t think about yesterday. All you have is now.

Once you jump, you can’t go back. You commit, you have to put your faith in your equipment, instructors, yourself. It becomes just you and the earth and sky. I was scared, but I took a breath and reminded myself why I was in that place.

Faith is a powerful word, and if you have it in spades, you can open your eyes and let go. You will land in the middle of the dropzone landing area, in one piece. You will be greeted on the ground by caring, genuine people and welcomed into a very special club for whom this kind of freedom is a way of life not just an idea. You will kiss the ground like I did and say “I want to do it again.”

I never felt as wonderful about my own accomplishment, personal power and personal limits as I did on that day. I completed my first AFF and I proved to myself that fear doesn’t have to hold me back, or keep me on the ground looking up at the sky. I cannot wait to see what my next jumps will be like. I’m nervous if I will be good, or if I will be told to take up bowling. I know that there is so much more I have to learn. I do know one thing for sure- I’m not a superhero. I’m still wobbly, and timid and afraid. But I earned my wings.

A lady smiles while in free fall during a tandem skydive.

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