MELISSA JAHNKE: MY JOURNEY TO BECOMING A SKYDIVER – AFF LEVEL 5

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

August 3, 2014 AFF (5×1)

This week has been so trying. I have had such a hard time emotionally lately, as every ounce of my being has such a hard desire to go to Jefferson, and skydive. I received my USPA membership card in the mail, which helped lighten my spirits and I was grinning from ear to ear! Its one step closer to becoming a licensed skydiver! I also received one of the neatest uplifting videotexts from Bo and everyone at the drop zone saying “Hi”. It gave me the energy to get through the rest of the week when I didn’t think I had it in me.

I offered for my daughter to come along with me to WSC this time. I knew she would fit right in, and it would be a good memory for both of us. She is so proud of her mommy, and I love watching her wave to me when I take off. Then she runs out to me after I land and gives me the best hug ever! We packed up the Jeep and were once again southbound.

The conditions were perfect for a jump, and I checked in at manifest as soon as I could. Bo and I worked on forward movement technique, and other emergency procedures. I did my gear checks, planned my landing pattern, and I was on a load within and hour, and totally excited to start working on forward movement and more spins. We were to altitude and I climbed out counted down, and let go. I had a slight sensation of falling backwards and my body took over. It took a second or two longer for me to gather my senses, and I did a circle of awareness and relaxed. I was flying in front of Bo, saw his smile and he motioned to me to “come close”. I tried and the next thing I knew, I was on my back! I thought to myself, “oh crap!…. altitude-breathe- roll out of bed” and just like that I was back to the belly to earth position, well.. sort of. The only thing was I couldn’t control my legs, and my body once again went to flight or fight mode. The harder I tried to correct it the faster I was out of control. Bo quickly grabbed me, and straightened me out. I did another circle of awareness, and was stable. I did a spin, and it was time to pull. My chute opened and I took a huge breath.

There were calm winds, and I was able to play with the canopy more than times in the past. I just kept doing turns left and right to hang in my planned holding area. I just love being under the canopy! I was able to fly in to about 800 feet when I heard Bo on the radio giving me directions how to land with out the wind. It seemed that I was coming in so much faster than times in the past so I was glad to have his assistance. I flared and ran it out to a stand up landing! I was so relieved to be on the ground. I was over come by emotion; I had to fight back the tears!

I collected myself, and then reached for my canopy lines and parachute. My daughter was running out to give me her big hug! She was proud of me even though I wasn’t proud of myself. I could tell Bo was disappointed also. I couldn’t figure it out, and I was frustrated with my performance. I put my things away, watched my video, and even though it wasn’t my best jump, I still got a hug from everyone.

Bo and I sat down to debrief what happened on my skydive. I was afraid of what he would say. I felt as though I had let him down. I was let down. He broke it down to my “flight or fight” and the importance of the circle of awareness. I am learning each and every jump exactly what the circle of awareness entails. It seems at though each jump, I get one more piece of knowledge and experience to help me in future skydives. I told Bo that I was so happy to have gotten the chance to perform the “roll out of bed” technique because honestly I was afraid of having to ever do it. Now that it is behind me, I know what to do, and I am confident that I can do it. I told Bo that I was sorry for not doing a great skydive, and he corrected me and told me that I really need to just enjoy and trust the process. Nothing is going to happen over night, and this takes time. It takes mistakes. That is how we learn. There is no other license in the world that you can attain with as little as 25 minutes of practice. If it takes me a little while longer, that’s ok, and there is nothing wrong with it. I need to relax, and “be a lover, not a fighter”. I need to stop being so performance driven, and just rewire my brain to feel what I need to do.

There is so much work for me to do, both in the sky and on the ground. For me, skydiving is a mental game. I am learning so much more about myself than I even thought possible, and I owe it to a great instructor and group of people that truly look after me and want to see me succeed. I feel so blessed to have found such an amazing place to attain my goal! My daughter and I mingled with the good company, and enjoyed some laughs. We turned into “hotel Jeep Cherokee” and we were cozy as two bugs in a rug.

August 4, 2014 AFF (5×2)

My daughter was up for an adventure so we walked out to the target landing area. It was about 6:10am, and the sun was just starting to peak from around the trees. There was a slight layer of low-lying fog lingering on the grass, and the sun was shining through it just perfectly. It was absolutely heavenly! I captured some peaceful pictures, and knew the day was off to the perfect start.

We ran into town to load up our supplies for the day, and when we went to leave, the Jeep decided not to start. I couldn’t find a mechanic, but wasn’t about to let it ruin the day. The sky was blue, and the winds were calm. I knew that people would be getting to the drop zone shortly and I would come up with a plan later. I called Alex and she sent Milan to be my “night and shining armor”, and he gave us a ride back to the drop zone.

When we walked into the hangar, everyone was very concerned for us, and how and what we were going to do. I was completely blown away by the amount of help they were all willing to contribute to get my daughter and I home. Charlie, Bo, Alex, Jocelyn, and especially Jenny Buck all went out of their way to help me out. I had nowhere to go, and no way to get there. It was made very clear that we are a family, and we take care of one another. I was beyond flattered at their gestures. It took me a while to settle down and get ready to jump. I knew I was in good hands and everything would be all right! I helped Bo for a little while with an AFF class he was teaching, which helped me get my game face back on. I centered my thoughts, and I was ready to redeem myself from the jump the night before.

I checked in at manifest, and was introduced to another AFF student, Ericka, who was a jump or two ahead of me. It was so nice to have another girl in AFF! I listened to her stories of how her journey was going, and we began getting our things ready to jump. We did our flight planner, our safety gear checks, our emergency procedures, and cheered on other tandem students getting ready for their very first skydives. Before I knew it, my name was on the board, and I was suiting up. My daughter was “helping” anyone in the hangar who needed help, and just soaking up all the energy. I loved seeing her interact with these awesome new friends I have! They all took such good care of her.

I got my hug from my little mini me, and off I was, down the taxiway with Bo, Milan, Dan and a tandem student going up for his first jump! He was anxious and excited and I was so happy for him! We did another safety gear check, and boarded the plane. I entered the plane with my back to the pilot, buckled my safety belt, and once again before I knew it, we were all in and off into the sky! Once we reached altitude, I was able to watch Milan get his student ready for the infamous leap of faith. I was kind of reliving what it felt like to me on my first tandem jump. It was a few moments later and the door opened, and we all cheered for him on climb out. Then whoosh, and they were gone. Bo grabbed the door and closed it, as we had a little more altitude to gain before we could jump. Bo had me perform gear checks, and he quizzed me on some hand signals. When it was time, he instructed me to put on my helmet and goggles, and prepare for exit. We planned to let me climb out a little early so that I could get acclimated to the process a little long than the times earlier. The most stressful points of a skydive are the plane take off, the climb out and deploying the parachute. I was open to trying something different, and rather enjoyed this extra time to transition. I hung on the strut for about 2 minutes before my count down. The air was so cool and refreshing, and I just loved the smell of the airplane exhaust.

I turned to check in with Bo, and he said wait. I looked ahead, took another deep breath, smiled, waited a five or so seconds, and looked back at him for approval. He said wait. I did this process about five times, which felt like an eternity. I remember thinking to myself I didn’t think it would be this cold! Finally Bo smiled back at me and gave me thumbs up! I counted down, “Check-in, Horizon, Up, Down, Off…” and I arched and looked up and was in free fall once again. I did my circle of awareness, and made small subtle movements to correct my body position. Bo motioned to me “come here”. I straightened my legs, pointed my toes, and leaned forward, and slowly got closer and closer until I reached out and grabbed his arms! I don’t know who was smiling bigger, him or me! He released me. I checked my altitude, did another circle of awareness, and then I repeated the motion again, slowly extending my legs, pointing my toes and I leaned toward him, and this time, slightly smoother than the last I was holding his hands! We released and I did a circle of awareness. I was at 6500′ and had enough time to do one more maneuver. He motioned for me to turn left, and I did. Just like that, a perfect turn left, without hesitation and I stopped center. I checked my altitude, and waved off and pulled my pilot chute! Another beautiful canopy was flying over my head! I was clapping and dancing in my harness! I was so happy!

Earlier, Bo explained the wind pattern was similar to the evening before, so our flight pattern was to be similar than the last one. I knew what to look for on the ground, and where I should be at what altitude. It was neat to look around and see the different landscapes. I was able to practice turns, lots of them. I would hold them a little longer each time and thought it was so cool how I could feel and hear the canopy increase in speed. I did several flares trying to find the “sweet spot” in the landing flare. The sweet spot is when you flare and it creates a pendulum motion with the canopy creating lift. It is essential to master to land safe and lightly. It wasn’t until my final approach that Bo talked to me on the radio. It made me feel good to have gotten myself to the final leg of the landing pattern without assistance. I flew near the hangar and I could see people looking up at ME! I continued down the taxi way as I had planned, and when I was about center with the target I made a left turn towards my landing area. I looked up and got the whole picture, and tried not to anticipate flaring early. Landing in calm winds is a whole different ball game, and I was grateful to have Bo there just in case. I stood up again! I was so happy I had redeemed myself on that skydive! Bo gave me a hug, and had to go back into finish teaching his AFF students. My daughter came running out to give me the world’s biggest hug, and was eager to hear how my jump went. She was taking pictures of me, and even helped me carry all that parachute fabric back to the hangar.

When I got back to the hangar everyone was there to high five me, and hear how my jump went. They complemented me on my landing, and wanted to see the video. We all gathered around the computer and watched my video, and everyone cheered when they saw I made a successful dock. I guess in this world of skydiving, when someone does something for a first, they have to buy beer. Apparently, I will be buying a lot of beer from now on.

There is still so much work to be done, but I know that I am further than where I was a month ago when I started! It is so empowering to have a great jump, and wonderful people you look up to congratulate you! I love this sport more than anything I have ever tried in my life. Every time I enter that hangar, I feel I am ‘home’ in a sense. It is a sacred place for me. Everyone is friendly, happy to teach me, and answer my questions. Its like I have become part of their family, and that humbles me beyond words. They all helped me in such a caring manner to get my vehicle issues situated. Jenny Buck went out of her way to offer my daughter and I a place to stay for the night, and then drove us where we needed to go the following day to get my Jeep running. I am forever in debt to her for doing such a wonderful gesture! I love this place, these people and all that it stands for. I want to make them all proud and dedicate this journey to all of them! When it gets tough at work, or I have the feeling I can’t do it, I think of all of them, and their journeys before me, and it inspires me to keep on going!

Now hurry up weekend, so I can get back where I belong. In the sky!

~Blue Skies!

New to the Melissa Jahnke series? Read about her journey or pick up from where you left off here:

AFF Level I
AFF Level II
AFF Level III
AFF Level III part 2
AFF Level IV

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

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