MELISSA JAHNKE: MY JOURNEY TO BECOMING A SKYDIVER – AFF LEVEL 14

Friday, November 21, 2014

This week has been filled with bright emotion, as I am within 10 jumps of my check dive! I am centered, and positive, and my momentum is unstoppable. This mental state I am in has my perspectives heightened, and everything seems beautiful, and fragrant. I am in love with life, and nothing can bring me down. I can tell skydiving has literally changed my outlook on everything! I feel so free!

My daughter turned 10 years old yesterday! Hard to imagine ten years ago my life changed with her coming into my life, and now she is watching her mama through the trials and tribulations of reaching a life goal. We have a family trip planned to the drop zone this weekend, and both my husband and she will be along to cheer me on! I have also invited my good friend Devonda along for an introduction into the AFF program. She has expressed much interest in skydiving and possibly becoming licensed as well! It is so awesome to have a close friend who supports you be inspired from what I have done! She, along with her husband plan to make their second tandem skydives as close to sunset as they can! I am super pumped, and can’t wait to get to the drop zone.

Devonda and I plan to drive down early and get to the drop zone by 8:00am. Instead of my usually 3 hour drive, this time we will leave from Appleton, and only have 1 hour and 45 min of driving. It goes quickly, as we are giddy and excited to get on with some skydiving! Music is pumping, and we are both so eager to get to Jefferson. Our husbands plan to come later in the day with the kids so that we can focus on our learning, and not have to worry about distractions. We get near Jefferson, and the fog was so thick! We are both hopeful that it burns off because there is skydiving to be done!!

By the time we get to the drop zone, there is a beautiful blue sky peaking out of the fog, and the sun is starting to peak through the clouds! Our excitement is boiling over as we watch Bo, Milan and Alex pull in! I jump out of the Jeep in open arms, and greet them all with a bright smile and lots of hugs! It feels so good to be back, and I am so happy to see Alex, as it has been nearly three weeks! I reintroduce Devonda, and we all go into the hangar and start getting things ready for the day. I offer to help pull the planes out to the taxiway. One by one I greet them, tell them “good morning”, and pull them out to their prospective places on the taxiway. The hangar smells so good, and I love waking up the airplanes. It is such a beautiful morning, and I can see the way the sun is starting to shine brighter and brighter. Today is going to be a great day!

Once the planes are out, Bo starts working with the new AFF students. I gather my rig, and start filling out my flight planner for my jump. Alex promises me she will finally be on a jump with me, and I am so excited to be jumping with her. I haven’t jumped with Alex since my very first tandem skydive three summers ago! I look up to Alex with grand stature, and hope one day I can be just like her! She is a world record skydiver, successful business owner, and overall amazing person! I want to make sure that everything is perfect! I want to be ready so I start doing my gear checks, and I gather everything I will need for this jump. This jump I will be doing another dive out, which I am so close to getting right. I have been practicing all week, visualizing what to do, and how to do it. I will also be performing fall rate technique to dock. The winds are light, and variable from the southwest, so I know that this will be an awesome jump! Tandem students start filing in, and the excitement rises!

Alex puts us on the second load, and I watch the landing patterns of the tandems instructors and their students before we go up. Manifest announces our 10-minute call, and I know just what to do. I get my gear on and perform a second gear check. I grab my altimeter, helmet, goggles, and radios. I walk outside the hangar to watch the tandem canopies coming in to land, and observe their landing patterns. We will be riding up with another tandem student, instructor and videographer. They plan to exit at 10,500ft and we will continue our ascent to 12,500ft. We make our way out to the airplane, and I perform one more gear check. I ask Alex to check my reserve pin, and main pin, and she does and pats my rig so I know I am good to go. I board the plane guarding my main handle, and sit in the ever so familiar spot directly behind the pilot. I buckle my belt and wait as the rest of the group loads. Alex is facing me in the rear of the plane, and I am trying hard not to show my emotions. It is a mix of pure excitement and nerves to be jumping with Alex. I want this to be an awesome jump, and can’t wait to show her how much I have learned while she was gone! Alex can see right through me, and tells me to relax, and enjoy it. She tells me not to focus on performance, and to let go and have fun!

I sit back and enjoy the ride. I go over the jump several times in my head and then I describe to Alex exactly what my jump will consist of. It seems like a short ride and we are to the altitude for the tandem student to get hooked up. I watch as they prepare for their exit. Every time I am amazed as I watch the different tandem instructors and videographers prep their students for their jumps. They communicate with their students and explain every detail so there is no surprise. They carefully and mindfully hook up their harnesses, and double check every detail. I am so grateful to have such a great drop zone to learn at. I hear the plane engine slow down, and not too long after that I hear “door”. The door opens, and the plane is filled with cold, fresh, high altitude air. Alex and I shiver, and watch as they quickly and smoothly exit the airplane. “Whoosh” and they are gone. The pilot banks the plane and the door comes down. Alex jumps up and fastens the handle. I get up to my knees and begin looking out the window to see if I can spot them under canopy.

It is a quick ride up to our exit altitude, and I have Alex check my gear one last time before we open the door. She pats my rig, and tells me I am good. I have my helmet and goggles on, and I am ready to jump. Alex tells me one more time to enjoy it, and not worry about performance. She smiles, and tells me “have fun!” Once again, the pilot slows the motor, and nods to Alex to open the door. The door flings up and the cold breeze once again fills the plane. Its skydive time! I spot out the door for a moment with Alex, and then she nods to me. She quickly and easily climbs out and I follow right behind her and wait in the door. I place my foot on the step and lean out towards her. I check in, and lean in, then out and drop into freefall! I correct my heading right away, and came the closest to doing a perfect dive out yet! I smile at Alex and can see her bright smile shining through her facemask at me! I feel relaxed and completely aware and alive!

I adjust my fall rate by flattening out my body, and can feel myself “floating” up to her. She signals for me to adjust my legs, and I come in and dock! We both smile! I check my altitude and she drops below me as we release. I adjust my fall rate by arching and then straighten my legs to move forward for another dock. I reach out to grab her and float right up. I adjust my fall rate again and then move in to dock again. I grab her arms and grip tight! I docked again! I am smiling so big! I check altitude and turn to track for 1000ft. I look to check my altitude, and then at 4000′ I wave off and pull my pilot chute. I watch Alex turn to track away from me, and then look up to watch my canopy open. The end cells are closed, and I pull down on the rear risers a few times. They still don’t inflate. I unstow my breaks and slowly flare and then ease up and the open right away. “Whew!” I think to myself. I do a few practice turns and figure eights. I love how responsive this canopy is! I hear my friend Devonda on the radio and she says “hi”. I do a practice flare to acknowledge her. I know my planned canopy flight and can see Alex on the target with her canopy lying beside her. She tells me what a great skydive we had over the radio, and I smile so big! I know my checkpoints and where I should be at what altitude. As I come in on my final leg, Alex tells me that I am doing fine, and that I am clear to land on my own. I look up and get the big picture. I take a big deep breath, and I smile. I know the whole AFF class is watching me, and I want to nail it! I wait, wait, wait, flare to half, and then all the way down and I stand up! “Ladies and gentleman, she just stood up the 210,” says Alex over the radios! I am smiling so big my face hurts! I collect my canopy and walk over to Alex and give her a big hug and tell her, ‘thank you”. She congratulates me on my jump, and together we talk about the skydive as we walk to the hangar. I can’t believe how awesome this is, and how every time it is getting better and better! Alex debriefs me and then gives me some pointers on body position and exit. She clears me for the next level, AFF 15- fall rate to dock, and spot turns to dock.

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

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