MELISSA JAHNKE: MY JOURNEY TO BECOMING A SKYDIVER

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

June 29, 2014
AFF JUMP 1
I will forever remember this day for as long as I shall live. I have found a missing puzzle piece that I’ve been searching for. Who would have thought that skydiving would have such an impact on me and who I am? I had done my homework, and researched all the drop zones in Wisconsin in which I could train. I researched their training techniques, and researched the risks involved with the different training methods. I read three books about skydiving, and watched too many YouTube videos to count! I checked the USPA credentials that each facility had, along with accident/ fatality ratios. It was an easy decision. I had done 3 tandem jumps over the course of 3 years at Wisconsin Skydiving Center, aka AtmoshAIR, and I was familiar what to expect there.

Their stellar attention to safety, and amazing passion for skydiving and life was incredible. I researched price, and drive distance, and even though I found a drop zone that was 100 miles closer, and cheaper in cost, I knew, that I couldn’t go wrong with Bo and Alex! I didn’t tell anyone what I was about to embark on, I knew I would have a better chance at explaining what I was doing after I was safe and sound on the ground, with a video to show what I had just accomplished.

I woke up at 4:00 am in the morning and made my way through the darkness, got dressed, brushed my teeth, and grabbed my bag. I couldn’t be late, and even though I couldn’t sleep a wink that night, I actually wasn’t tired. I did a quick double check to insure that I was not forgetting anything I would need, even though I was only going for the day.

I punched in the address on my iphone’s Google Maps app, loaded some good tunes, and off I was. 2 hours and 50 min: 200 miles to Jefferson, WI, where I would make my very first AFF Skydive jump! The clouds were misting a light rain on and off, but Alex said rain or shine, so

I was committed to any possible out come. I re-read the book “SKYDIVERS MANUAL” the week before, so I had an idea what we would be doing, but never did I think that I would learn so much. As I was an hour and thirty minutes into the drive, the clouds began to break, and I watched a beautiful sunrise peak through the clouds!

I got there plenty early enough, and met the other AFF students, each on their own journey. I got all signed in with Alex, signed my life away, and paid for the AFF 1 class. It was official. This was happening! It was the first time I ever got to see all three planes in the hangar. I just loved the planes. I remember the way the han
gar smelled so good, like Cessna’s do, and the way the planes all seemed to be “happy” that I was there. I knew right then and there, this is where I belong.

We got started with our lessons right away. We covered aircraft safety, and proper exit technique; we practiced cutaway drills, and free fall form “dirt dives”. We practiced ripcord pulls until we were sore, and before we knew, it was time for lunch. Bo covered so much information and I remember thinking to myself, there is no way I am going to remember all of this stuff! But I listened attentively, and enthusiastically. This was actually happening, my dream of becoming a skydiver was on its way. I remember listening to Bo explain all kinds of things with skydiving, and he was so passionate about his lifestyle of being a skydiver, I noticed he actually had goose bumps when talking to us a few times throughout the day. I knew the moment I noticed that, I had definitely chosen the right place to learn. I smiled to myself, and made sure to pay extra attention to his important details.


We were all so eager to learn, we kept on learning straight through the day. The winds were trending on the higher side so we were placed on a wind hold. I remember Bo walking us out to the target landing area to “feel” and watch the wind strength, direction, and trends. I remember lying on the target, looking up at the clouds. Bo was describing how the clouds would move differently than how we felt the wind on ourselves. He explained this phenomenon, and why it was so important to a skydiver. How it could potentially save your life to understand the winds, and how it reacts to ground obstacles, and creates turbulence. I had always noticed this, but never applied it to something I would need to know and understand in such great depth. I was just in awe by his knowledge, and felt so privileged to be learning from this man.

As the day went on, it was looking as though we’d actually be able to jump. I didn’t care if I had to drive home in the middle of the night, this was happening! I watched another student get suited up and head out to the plane. I was so happy I didn’t have to go first! I tried to visualize the skydive, and everything to do, not do, and relax. I kept praying to have a stable, square, and steerable canopy. I finally had an idea of where and how to get to the target, and was hoping so hard for an easy stand up landing. I had no idea how this would go, how I would react, or if I could do this! Bo told us several times throughout the day, if he didn’t think we were ready, we would not be skydiving.

The time came, and I was all suited up. I had done several equipment safety checks, and had my skydive planned out. I was so ready for this! We walked out on the taxi way to our plane. I made sure to have this video taped, and was ready to jump. We did more safety checks, and loaded the plane. Up we went. The sun was getting lower in the sky, and I remember the vivid vanilla hue everything seemed to have! Luke, Bo and Rita were all coming up just for me. One spot left, for another jumper doing a “hop and pop”. It was about 5500′ and the door went open, and out went the jumper, head first. I recall being surprised because I expected him to climb out and take his sweet time on the strut. Instead he stuck his head out the door, watched for a moment, and whoosh, he was gone. Up we continued to climb. I was facing Rita and Bo in the plane, and they both continued to help me smile and remain calm. I was trying to imagine how awesome this would be! They quizzed me on what hand signals meant, and what altitude to pull at. They were excited for me, and I loved the amount of emotion they shared with me. This clearly was much more that a “job” to everyone. Their passion made me feel secure.

It was time to put on the helmet and goggles. Time to get rearranged and ready for the climb out. I was ready! I kept taking deep breaths, and trying to smile and enjoy this experience. I knew that I was trained and was prepared for anything that was to come. The door opened, and Luke climbed out so fast. I quickly scooted forward toward the door on my knees with Bo right behind me. I felt nervous, excited, scared, happy, brave, and eager. I gingerly climbed out onto the step and quickly felt the cool air on the front of my body. I took a deep breath and could smell the exhaust. I turned and looked over at Bo to see his face right there, smiling the biggest smile. As I stood on my slightly bent left leg, I yelled “Check-in”, and Bo nodded. I looked forward and yelled “Horizon-Up-Down-Off” and before I knew it I had let it all go, and was in free fall!

It was absolutely amazing! I could see the plane flying above us for a moment, and I did my circle of awareness. I tried to find my stable belly to earth position, and was constantly checking my altitude, taking deep breaths, and enjoying the hell out of it. It was as though I had tapped into a sixth sense. I remember vividly, Rita flying right in front of us, taking video for this monumental moment. She was smiling so big, an
d it made me feel relaxed and confident. As I quickly approached 5000′ my pull altitude, and I waved off and pulled my pilot chute. My parachute opened, and I sat there for a few seconds completely high off my ass, in amazement of what just happened! I equalized my ears so I could hear the radios, as Alex was already talking me through the canopy flight (via radio) ! I looked up at that beautiful canopy and remember how spectacular she looked under that perfect lighting! It was illuminated in such pure colors, and she was flying so nicely! It was such a drastic dynamic change from the free fall, it felt as though I had entered into another world!

Alex congratulated me on my jump, and continued to instruct meon how to fly. I was in love. No doubt about that! I knew, right there, this was going to be in my life with out a question for a long, long time! I watched everyone else zip down to the target so quickly below me, but I didn’t care if I stayed up there all day! The sun was going lower and I was just absorbing the moment. I felt totally alive to be in this moment!

The commands were very clear, and when Alex told me to toggle left or right I did, precisely, and effectively. I practiced flares over and over, watching the nose of the canopy, and how it reacted as I pulled on the toggles. I loved the way the canopy flew! I began my final approach and was to the point I was the most nervous about… the landing. I looked up at the horizon, and took in the big picture as I was instructed. I waited to respond exactly as she directed me. She said, “Arms all the way up….. neck, neck, neck…. And all the way down”, and I stood rightup!!! I didn’t know whether to dance or scream or cry! I couldn’t believe that just happened! I just did my very first “solo” skydive and it was totally magical! Everyone was cheering for me, and congratulating me on my jump! High fives and hugs, and all smiles! I know with out a doubt this is the missing puzzle piece I have been missing in my life!

I stood there in awe, looking at the sun, and all the smiles on everyone’s faces. It was as though they all were reliving their own first skydives through me. It was a moment I will cherish the rest of my life! I was instructed on how to carry the parachute, and we all went back to the hangar.

I didn’t want it to be over, and I wanted to go again, and again right away. I took off my gear, and put away my things. Bo and I sat down and he gave me my first skydiving debriefing. It was indescribable how perfectly the day went. I had new challenges to cover the next jump, and I was ready to commit to the AFF program. I set a personal goal that night to be a licensed skydiver by seasons end. I enjoyed everyone’s company for a while, and before I knew it I was headed on my way back home.

Click here to read about Melissa’s Next Jump

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

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