Going from student status to A License is every new skydiver’s first major accomplishment, outside of making the initial decision to get on a plane. For me it is an exciting goal that is now behind me, and I’m thankful for what I’ve learned along the way this past year. There are technically 25 Levels plus an exam to reach the licensed status with the United States Parachute Association (USPA). Some people finish those 25 jumps in a matter of a few weeks. For me it took over a year because of limited time and financial constraints. I actually made my Level 1 jump in 1999 as a giddy broke college student – quite a gap between my first and second jump in 2014! That drop zone doesn’t even exist now.
I thought this event would be no different than other significant ones like it in my life, meaning I write about it to fully feel it. It seems I don’t live some things unless I write about them. So here are eleven (11 is my favorite number) thoughts I, a novice jumper, have gathered about this sport as I enter the “real world” of flying through the sky…
- I love meeting new friends who seem to share the common trait of loving “the here and now,” who share optimism as a modus operandi and live in the moment. They are happy and resilient, and that’s contagious. To me there is nothing like the feeling of entering the sky, moving through the air, and landing on earth.
- The drop zone I’ve trained at is simply and generally a happy place. There is a logistical undercurrent that is constantly churning (our operators and manifest staff are really good people), but the sun, the wind, the action – they just make me feel really relaxed.
- After one of my first few jumps, I learned that one of my instructors – an older, superb, experienced jumper and friend to all named Pete – had died in a tragic jump accident. He was on the load that went up ten minutes after mine. It sobered all of us, jolted us with a shock of grief, and the experience and introspection brought a lot of people together and changed many aspects of the sport for many people. His death had an impact on me, too. I learned so much from watching and listening to others in the days and months that followed. People really do die doing this, and it can happen to anyone. More than anything, I learned that I should never, ever ever become complacent.
- The most-asked question of any skydiver is, “How many jumps do you have?” This sport isn’t for the newbie with a big ego. You’ve got to check it at the door.
- Speaking of the door – it’s often called the gate of bliss, heaven’s door, “the sweet spot,” “the favorite,” for many skydivers. I can’t wait to say that someday. It still makes my heart pound! What a rush.
- Failure. Speaking of ego – I had a bout or two during this process with feeling like a real loser. Bittersweet. It sucks to question your own intelligence and abilities, yet it is sweet to see that challenges do the job of making me refocus and overcome hurdles.
- I never intended to look beyond my A license and make mental plans. I did that intentionally. I was curious and played out scenarios, but I tried to protect my “innocence” because I’ve learned that I’m sensitive and it’s not worth it for me to create a lot of expectations. Just get to the license. Be proud of that. Then I can consider what disciplines of the sport peak my interest and set goals for purchasing gear, etc. I’ve found that to work for me. All along the way, I’ve been like a sponge, listening to tips from the pros and correcting mistakes.
- Speaking of mistakes – the most memorable was during one of my solo student jumps. I was riding up on the load and suddenly remembered around 3,000 feet that I forgot to turn on my cypres. For a second I thought to myself, “Hmmm…what to do,” but my safety-compliant second-nature kicked in and I turned around to a guy named Kevin behind me. “Hey, check my AAD, will ya?” He lifted the flap. “It’s off. Have fun riding down!” As I lunged out to take my walk of shame back on the ground, I felt proud of myself for catching something important and doing the right thing. I’ll never forget to turn on that thing again, either! Being mindful of gear, safety hazards, and potential pitfalls sharpens my mind like nothing else.
- Something I love about this sport is that it attracts all kinds of people from all walks of life. Getting to know new friends at the dz makes me really happy.
- My children have truly shared this journey with me. They are feeling the accomplishment of this milestone because they’ve shared the last year of it with me. They read my log book. They’ve watched every student jump video and ask entertaining questions. They watch landings, try on everyone’s helmets, and know more than most kids do about the effects of wind direction now. I’ve tried to space out their dz trips so that they don’t get too tired of it, and so far it has worked. They cheer and grab their shoes when I tell them we’re going.
They’ve made friends they love to play with there. They introduced me to my boyfriend at the dz after forcing almost every jumper to purchase rubber band jewelry they were making – all because I spontaneously decided to get up and take them with me that summer Saturday. They left with $20 in hand, and I left with the guy of my dreams suddenly in my iPhone contacts… So really for me, my children are always sharing my happiness in this journey. At least one of them cannot wait to become of-age and jump.
- Skydiving is more than flinging yourself from an airplane. It is a door going up, a red light flashing to green, a pushing the “trust yourself” button on a regular basis. It is the horizon, the wind, and wiping water from your eyes in a rush of adrenaline and a release of joy. It is camping out, beer and laughs, and late-night cookouts with awesome people. And BEER. Yes.
I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I am absolutely glad that I made this leap and stuck with it to this point. There is so much more to learn! I’m excited for some fun in the sky and blue-sky days to come.