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My First Jump

by Richard Guida

Skydiving isn't for everyone. In fact most people who have no problem with heights or flying probably would not equate the experience with enjoyment and would think more than twice about trying it. But what if you are uncomfortable with heights and a bit apprehensive when getting on an airplane? In this case, the thought and subsequent act of voluntarily leaping from a plane takes on a whole other dimension. (AW)

About the Author

Richard Guida has worked in virtually every aspect of the thoroughbred racing industry. He has been a hotwalker, groom, exercise person, foreman, farm manager, trainer and owner. He is currently employed by Greenwood Racing, Inc. in Philadelphia, PA. Here he writes about his first skydiving experience.

My First Jump

For timid souls such as myself who agonize at the thought of climbing onto their own roofs, reluctantly board commercial jets, surrender the front car on roller coasters to their kids, or simply think that man was meant to be permanently grounded, the idea of skydiving may seem as alien as having dinner with a tribe of cannibals. So it seemed to me.

My arrival at Perris Valley Airport on the final leg of a California vacation was the penultimate realization of years of vacillating on whether I could, should, or would jump out of an airplane thousands of feet up in the sky. That magnetic attraction to come face to face with one's utmost fear had at last drawn me to this place in the desert east of Los Angeles. The question of "did I have the nerve?" that titillated me to the core of my being every time a plane or helicopter passed overhead, every time I looked up to where a city skyscraper pierced the vast blue beyond, or every time I stood not too near to the edge of a ledge or cliff finally needed to be answered; moreover, it had become so tiresome puzzling over this same thought for seemingly so long.

Thus with a lot of apprehension and a little bit of resignation I willingly honored an appointment for a late morning tandem jump, a recently devised method of skydiving for beginners who seek free-fall where the instructor is harnessed to the back of the student, making the decisions and deploying the canopy. During the wait for processing, the number of air jocks floating effortlessly through this vast center was beginning to effect a feeling of how little did I belong - a feeling exacerbated by the half hour of signing wavers, watching videos about the inherent risks and legal ramifications of skydiving, and an actual videotape session where I looked into a camera, stated my name and date, and acknowledged all of what I had read, seen and heard - a session that seemed more like the taking of my last will and testament. Any romantic bravado that may have once infused my spirit had now all but been deflated.

Demoralized and unnerved, I was next introduced to Rocky, my designated jumpmaster/instructor. He was forty-four years old; I am forty-eight. He joked about us being the geriatric set but laughter in the face of death came hard for me as I launched into a litany of reasons why I probably should not jump on this day. Using adept psychology he agreed with everything I said. He, too, was afraid of heights but assured me that the perspective of looking at the earth from over two miles above it would not have the vertiginous effect of gazing at the ground from atop a tall building, and that the G-force sensations of roller coasters and high diving boards upon your head and stomach would not occur. "Fine, but I probably will not jump", I plaintively continued as he led me through some final ground instruction, fitted me into a suit, explained jumping technique, body position, etc., all the time leading me closer to the cavernous prop aircraft fueling up for the next skid of skydivers.

Before I could say, "No!", I had boarded the plane, seatbelted myself to the floor along with Rocky and five other experienced divers, and felt the vibration of the plane as it took off. Of course I could stay on, I thought, and forfeit all of my one hundred and seventy dollars, and that was comforting to know, but in truth, I started to summon my innermost strengths to mentally brace up to the challenge. It's odd how some silly reasoning like not wanting to disappoint your instructor could be a factor in one's resolve when death seems more than just a possibility, but it did. I had begun to trust this guy and was slowly surrendering to the idea of allowing him to literally hold my life in his hands.

Rocky now bound the front of his torso to my back, secure to the degree that breathing became more difficult. He went over some last details, advised me to concentrate on my breath as it would be strained for the first ten seconds or so until we stabilized in the air mass, suggested to close my eyes leaving the plane (it was a normal reaction), and above all, warned me that I should pull my ripcord if the altimeter on my suit fell below five thousand feet, since I would not be able to hear him in free-fall and know, for any reason, whether he was able to deploy the parachute.

As I began to hyperventilate and the smell of fuel became gagging, I almost welcomed the inevitable opening of the rear ramp to reveal the smoggy firmament in its most formidable palpable presence. We were over the drop zone. We all rose as in prayer, and one by one, eight seconds a slot, all those before me began to disappear. It was my moment of truth, no bull, no excuses. Those few seconds, my toes peeping over the edge of the plane, Rocky's last command, "Now, bellyflop!", the earth twelve thousand five hundred feet below, those few seconds became the defining moment of my life.

I was OUT ... everything instantly ended ... over ... started ... me, perhaps more dead than alive, perhaps more alive than I will ever be ... breathing, just as I had been taught ... wind ... wind and breath ... until wind and breath became indiscernible, became as one ... and yes, almost weightless ... it was true! ... weightless and so surreal ... there was the earth, neither coming at me, nor me at it, ... no up ... no down ... no me, in the ego sense of me, just some thoughtless consciousness ... and yes, it was awesome simply to be ... or not. The sky was in my lungs and it never once occurred to me would the parachute open.

© 1997 Richard Guida

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