On Saturday, I flew 13,000 feet (or 2 miles) into the sky and walked out the open door of a plane. What was going through my head the whole time? That this is the craziest thing I’ve ever done.
For ten years, skydiving had been in the back of my mind. It was something I thought I’d try, but nothing I was ever proactive about. A group of coworkers and I had talked about it years ago, but since nobody ever organized it, I remained a skydive virgin.
Then I saw the Groupon deal a few months ago for Skydive Houston: $99 for 1 tandem skydive (a $179 value). I clicked the “purchase” button, and a couple of months later, Teresa, Joanna, Joy, Danny, Avelina, and I were scheduled to take the plunge.
We first had to sign four pages worth of legal documents mostly listing all the parties we cannot sue in case of injury or death. There were at least two or three places where we had to initial next to something like: “You may be seriously injured and possibly even killed.” Then we watch a ten-minute video with a man warning us that we are risking injury and death. Finally, we were paired up with our tandem instructors.
Because “sight impairment” was written on my application, I was paired with their chief instructor, Phil Schmitt. He assured me he would not put me in the way of any harm. I felt better knowing he had been skydiving for 21 years with over 10,000 jumps under his belt. When asked if he’s ever jumped with blind people, he said he’s not only tandem-jumped with blind people but also paraplegics and quadriplegics.
“I’m basically the guy that runs the place. I don’t do tandem jumps anymore, but they call me out when there’s someone with a special need,” he said.
Needless to say, he is the best instructor. He held my hand through the entire experience (literally and figuratively). He made sure I knew what was going on at all times from first suiting me up in the tarness to landing. He didn’t let me hit my head on the plane door. On the way up in the plane, he told me all I needed to do as soon as we exited the plane was kick my legs back and get my feet as close to his butt as possible, and he would take care of everything else. He described to me the scenery after he deployed the parachute. And while some of my friends landed skidding on their butts, my landing was incredibly pleasant; as soon as he told me to put my feet down, I felt a soft thud beneath my feet and basically only took a few steps and was done, safe on the ground. It was a cushion-y, cotton cloud-like landing.
My experience was not without some unpleasantness, however. I had some major motion sickness, especially toward the end of our five-to-seven minute drop (1 minute in free fall, the rest with a deployed parachute). I had this same motion sickness when I went hang gliding in Switzerland in 2001 but recall it being worse back then. If I ever do this again, I need to look into some motion sickness remedies. The nausea, though, could very well be attributed to my jangly nerves. Phil also said because my ears were popping during the free fall, something about my body not being in equilibrium could also be part of the nausea. Because I could not see the sights, 100% of my concentration was on how I felt and what I heard. The free fall felt like I was being blown full force by a huge fan. There was just a lot of pressure on the front of my body, and my face was frozen into a grin. (It was impossible to close your mouth when you’re going 120 mph down toward earth.) Even if I screamed, I wouldn’t know it because all I heard was the loud air rushing around me. I had my left hand clenched in a fist the entire time for fear of losing my wedding band. After the parachute opened, our bodies went from horizontal to vertical, and it was much quieter. Some of the parachute maneuvers made my tummy flip, but luckily, I made it to the ground sans vomit.
I couldn’t decide if I liked skydiving or not, but I did wake up in the middle of the night last night still thinking about it, reenacting the jump over and over in my head. The best moment was stepping off that plane and plunging into the clouds; it was an incredible blind leap of faith for me. Because the experience was so insane, I must still be processing it.
Phil told me only 1% of the world’s population has ever skydived, and that I had the courage to do it visually impaired. Of course, I think some things are better off not being seen. Like the open plane door that I’m about to jump out of.
Here is a clip from the video taken of my tandem skydive. Thanks, Phil, for getting me to the ground alive and safe. Let this be proof that a blind person can skydive!
P.S. I was told my skin is flapping in the wind. Pretty disgusting, I know. I’m picturing myself looking like those people in that “Black Hole Sun” video by Soundgarden with their melting faces.