Originally created 07/30/00

Sky diving gives writer a thrill



People view my jump in one of two ways: Some say it was the bravest thing I've ever done, while others say it was the stupidest. I tend to fall somewhere in the middle, so to speak.

On a Saturday morning in April, six friends and I stood in an airport hangar getting ready for our first sky-diving experience.

We were fearless - or so I thought.

Several weeks before the actual jump, I was OK. Fear kicked in a couple of days before the trip when an editor gave me tips on how to avoid dying, breaking an ankle or getting stuck in a tree. All three scenarios seemed pretty grim.

The night before my jump, fear gave way to panic and I woke up in a cold sweat.

What had I gotten myself into? And furthermore, how could I get myself out of it and still save face with my friends. The truth was I couldn't.

On the way to Sky Dive Monroe (42 miles northeast of Atlanta and about an hour's drive from Augusta) my friend and co-jumper, Lisa Lohr, and I tried to calm our nerves by singing loudly (and badly) to music playing on the radio. When that didn't work, we tried screaming at the top of our lungs. It seemed to help - but only for a minute.

When the caravan of cars finally reached the jump site, my friends and I were a ball of nervous energy. Last-minute cigarettes were smoked, and several trips to the bathroom were made.

We signed in, paid $150 per jumper and waited for our group to be called.

When we were finally called for the training session, we walked into a tiny office and sat, waiting anxiously for instructions on how to jump out of a perfectly good airplane flying at an altitude of more than 12,000 feet.

The instructor came in and told us we would watch a video first. After the 11-minute video on the benefits of sky diving, the instructor gave us a five-minute demonstration on what to do on our jump.

Our instructions included: "Make sure your head is tilted back," and "When the jumpmaster (instructor) taps you on the back, kick your legs back so they almost touch your butt."

"I've learned that the more you tell someone about jumping out of an airplane the less they want to actually do it," the jumpmaster told us. And with that last-minute piece of advice, we were on our way.

We broke into three groups. My group, which included two of my colleagues from the newspaper, were the first to go up.

I was attached to my jumpmaster by a harness at the hips and shoulders.

We boarded the tiny airplane with about four other jumpers and took off. The first stop, an altitude of 12,000 feet. That's when the side door opened and the world looked a little too far away. This was where the more experienced solo jumpers took off.

The plane went a little higher, and then it was our turn. The first jumper was reporter Ashlee Griggs. Then Sean Moores, The Augusta Chronicle's photo lab manager. Finally it was my turn - only someone forgotten to tell the rest of my body.

My instructor gave me the nudge that first-time jumpers often get.

"Are you sure you want to go through with this?"

I was sure.

It was the nanosecond before the actual jump that fascinates me the most. It was the one second in which jumping out of an airplane seemed like the most logical thing in the world.

Before I could count to four, I had done a forward flip out of the airplane and was falling at speeds of more than 150 mph. For the first few seconds time seemed to be standing still. The noise of the world was hushed by the absolute tranquillity of the sky. It was perfect beauty and it was mine - if only for a few seconds.

My instructor pulled the ripcord and in an instant we were yanked up and back by the wind beneath the parachute.

The world had never looked so beautiful, and I had never felt so free.

Work didn't matter. Paying the bills didn't matter. The spat with my parents didn't even matter. All that mattered was that particular moment when the world opened up and let me fly.

Landing safely on the ground, I was congratulated and hugged by my friends. I had done it. And as my instructor had told me: "I know now why the birds sing."