MELISSA JAHNKE: MY JOURNEY TO BECOMING A SKYDIVER – AFF LEVEL 11

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

August 16, 2014 – AFF 11

Everyone at work can tell that I am going to be skydiving in a matter of hours. I am rocking out the radio loudly, and moving quick and efficiently. “Today is going to be a great day”, I keep repeating to myself. I try not to spend too much time staring at the clock, and just enjoy the momentum I have going. My regular customers come to see me, and are eager to hear about my stories. Many of them tell me I am brave, or crazy. Either way, they always leave with a smile, and a sense satisfaction knowing that they know a skydiver!

I am spending as much time as I possibly can at the drop zone lately. The summer is growing shorter very quickly and I know I have limited opportunity to really make this dream a reality. My family is 110% behind me, and they have patiently stepped aside to watch me glow. My daughter has a waterpark birthday party to attend, so once again, I will be heading south solo. I arrange with my grandfather to stay at his house about an hour or so away from the drop zone. We plan to share an early breakfast date together, and I will continue on back Jefferson.

I arrive at the hangar and instantly am rejuvenated. Although I was weary from an early start at work, and a 3-hour drive, I was ready to jump! The vibes were good, and I could tell that there was a very busy day of jumping. I overhear someone say that they have beaten their record of tandem students in one day, at 44 people!! It appears as though I am not the only tired. I check with manifest to get a coach, and we have a load together right away. This will be the last load of the day, and everyone is so excited because of the big beautiful puffy clouds that are in the sky. Jordan generously delays having his beer so that he can come coach me on a jump. I am very appreciative, because without him, I couldn’t do it. I fill out my paper work, and turn it into manifest. We cover spot turns, and plan out the canopy pattern. I gather my rig, and perform the safety checks. I grab my helmet, radio, goggles, and jumpsuit. This jump is going to be the best! I walk out of the hangar and watch some of the tandems come in and land.

It is time to gear up, and I notice that this load will be all girls! (With the exception of Jordan, and our pilot.) How cool is that? I get to jump with “girl power”! “Rablat Chris”, Jocelyn, Laura all plan to jump and pull high to fly around those beautiful clouds. Jordan is stuck instructing me, but reassures me that this will be such a beautiful jump! Pilot Jim leads us all out to the plane, and I do a final gear check. I ask Jordan to double check my reserve pin, and AAD. He gives me two thumbs up and we are all ready to go. I am the last one in and am in my favorite place next to the door. I shut the door and lock it. We begin heading down the runway. My face hurts I am smiling so big!

Pilot Jim runs the entire runway and then just as our wheels leave the pavement, all the girls have their arms in the air like they are on a roller-coaster, and Jim pulls up fast and hard. Whew, butterflies in my tummy and I smile and laugh! The girls all shout “whoo hoo” and start giving high-fives! This is the coolest thing I have ever done! Girls totally know how to have more fun! The ride up is so beautiful as the clouds are refracting light in a heavenly sense. They are huge! Everyone is in awe staring out the window in pure excitement that this is really happening right now! I just know this will be a great jump, and have no insecurities at all!

We begin to rearrange for climb out, and do one last gear check. We exchange high-fives, and good wishes. It is almost time for door opening, and I look ahead out the window at an indescribable view. There is something peaceful about being this high in the sky. The sun is lower and all the clouds are completely illuminated in perfect way. I wish so badly I had my camera! Jordan gives me the cue to open the door, and I check with pilot Jim. Jim nods, and I yell “doooooor”, and open it right up. I take a moment to look down and I see the drop zone instantly. I used to get lost up here, but now it seems as though I am getting my feel for where I am up there. I feel my hand in the wind for a moment, and then Jordan cues me to climb out. The wind isn’t nearly as chilly, and actually feels rather nice. I step down onto the peg, arms spread nice and wide on the strut, and I look forward at the amazing view in front of me. I look to check in with Jordan, and he nods and smiles. I look forward, “horizon, up, down..” and I step off perfectly! I can feel that this was rocking!

I check altitude and adjust my heading to find Jordan. “Where the heck is he?” I am thinking to myself. I can’t see him. I keep doing a circle till I finally see him up above me! “Oh, hey, there you are.” I smile, and he signals to turn. I do a spot turn, and then check my altitude. A spot turn is where you keep your eyes on your heading as long as possible before you have to turn your head around again to see the heading, similar to the way a dancer does their turns. Jordan cues me right, and left, and right, and left. I check altitude every turn in between, and really feel the difference as I develop more confidence in the turns. At 6,000′ I turn to track, and enter into the tracking position. I feel myself buffet a little, and correct my heading as best as I know how. I return to my stable position at 5,000′ and watch my altimeter for pull sequence. At 4,500′ I wave off and pull my pilot chute and a beautiful square canopy is inflating over my head. “WOW…. That was AWESOME!” I look around to see if any other jumpers are near me, and then rearrange my harness.

I can see Jordan flying his canopy below me, and I see the girls way up in the clouds already under their canopies. They look like they were having so much fun. I hear Bo on the radio and I hold in my pattern as planned until it is time for my final landing pattern. We have planned for a left hand pattern, and I am fairly confident I can do this standing up this time. I am in the shadow of these big beautiful clouds, and find this canopy ride to be so peaceful. I hear Bo give me slight corrections, and I watch for my final angle. I can see Jordan and Bo on the golf cart, both are watching me as I prepare to land. I look up and get the big picture. I smile, and take a deep breath, and I wait, wait, wait, and neck, and…flare. I stand right up!!! I do a little happy dance, because I didn’t have to do a PLF again! I gather my lines and canopy and look up at the girls who are making their way in. I walk over to the golf cart and watch them as they land one by one. It is so neat to see other women in the sport dominated by men. I am inspired by their influence, and I am thrilled that I just jumped with them!

We walk back to the hangar together and everyone is helping to park the planes inside and wind down for the evening. Jordan debriefs me and everyone watches my video. I am proud of my kick butt stable exit, and had to double check that it was actually me! Everyone counts the turns I made one after another! I smile, and try not to let them make it a big deal. I feel so good about myself, and just love this new confident person that skydiving is bringing out of me. I ask Bo if I can finally get checked off on packing, and he motions to the canopy, “go”. I am thrilled. I go over to the packing area and begin to pack ever so carefully.

Bo comes over to inspect and watch me roll the nose. He gives me a tidbit of advice, and then steps back to watch from a distance. I am very careful to do this entirely correctly, as I really want to be checked off on packing. I stow the lines, and make sure to take my time. Before I close the container Bo comes to inspect and watch what I do. He gives me experienced advice on how to make it easier on closing, and quizzes me on different things to look for, and consequences of not correcting them. I finish packing the rig, and he tells me, “good job.”

There is a wicked game of Bimini ring going on, and some wonderful smelling food on the grill. I wander out to hang out with everyone. It doesn’t seem the same with out Alex around, as she has been on vacation this week. I miss her dearly, and cannot wait to show her what I have learned. It has been a wonderful afternoon, and although the evening is going perfectly, I can’t stay too long, as I have promised a breakfast date with my grandpa, and can’t keep him waiting.

I enjoy the epic game that the boys are playing, and just bask in everyone’s coolness. Before I know it, its time for me to head out and call it a night.

AFF Level I – The Beginning
AFF Level II
AFF Level III
AFF Level III part 2
AFF Level IV
AFF Level V
AFF Level VI
AFF Level VII
AFF Level VIII
AFF Level IX
AFF Level X
AFF Level 12
2nd Solo
AFF Level 13
AFF Level 14
AFF Level 15
AFF Level 16
AFF Level 17
Almost There!
Check Dive!

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

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