Skydiving!

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Before I get into telling you about my adventures this weekend, I want to touch on two things.

James Estrin/The New York Times

First, I’ve written before about my support of marriage equality, regardless of sexual orientation. It put an absolute smile on my face this morning to see this New York Times blog post about Cheryle Rudd and Kitty Lambert, who were one of the first same-sex couples to be married this weekend. The mayor of Niagra Falls declare them legally wed just minutes after midnight.

Image borrowed from Mary’s blog

Second, please keep my high school classmate Mary in your thoughts and prayers today. She is the widow of TJ Dudley, the Marine that I wrote about earlier this month. Today is the day that her husband would have come home if he had lived. Mary’s strength over the last three weeks has absolutely amazed me. She had the courage to write about her perspective of the events, and her blog post has had more than 19,000 hits.

Okay, now on to the first Ladies Adventure Club stunt.

On Friday about lunchtime, I got a FB invitation to go skydiving. My friend Carolyn had purchased passes to take her siblings as a Christmas present, and they had had to postpone because of poor weather. The passes were due to expire and none of her siblings could make it, so Carolyn put it out there to her friends because she really wanted to do this.

Now I will be the first person to tell you that skydiving isn’t normally something that I would see myself doing; I’m actually a little afraid of heights, but it was Friday afternoon, and I figured the opportunity to go for free wouldn’t come around a second time. So what the hell?

I was nervous all of Friday afternoon, but Saturday I just woke up excited. Since my Prius gets awesome gas mileage, I offered to drive. I took the car to get washed and vacuumed and headed to Carolyn’s. We stopped to pick up a third friend, Kate (not the same Kate who just got engaged), and we hit the road.

About an hour later, we arrived at Skydive Carolina and got checked in. We had quite a wait before we could jump. So we got checked in, grabbed some lunch and found a shady tree to sit under while we waited for our training class.  While we waited, we got to see a lot of other divers, which only served to build excitement.

We took our training class, which was about a 15 minute video, and about 45 minutes after that, we met our tandem jump instructors and they helped us get suited up for the jump.

My instructor’s name is Gene. He was super-cool and friendly. He also graduated from Clemson, but since he was responsible for keeping me alive, I decided it would be best not to hold that against him.

On the flight up, I started to get really nervous. I was about to jump from a perfectly good airplane! I looked at Carolyn, and said “What the hell was I thinking?”

At that point Gene started pointing out the clouds and explaining how the shapes and movement are made. I can’t even describe how beautiful it was. The top of clouds look so different from the bottom, and I guess I had never noticed them on commercial flights before. You can see all this movement and patterns. The clouds have a lot of topography on top, whereas from the ground, they are essentially flat.

Before we knew it, we were at 10,000 feet, and it was time to go. Gene connected the hooks (one at each shoulder and on either side of my waist) and helped me get my helmet and goggles on.

We were at the back of the plane so I wound up jumping last. First there were two individual divers. It was wild to see them step out of the plane into nothing but air. Then Kate and her instructor were out before I could see her go because we were sliding along the benches to the door. I saw Carolyn go with her instructor, but it didn’t really register because now I was at the door of an airplane, looking down at clouds and the ground waaaay below me. My stomach is in knots again just thinking about it.

When you jump tandem, you squat down as low as you can and your instructor rocks your three times before you rock out the down. You essentially somersault into the air and free fall at 120 mph for about 50 seconds before you. All I know is that I was looking out the door and then we were falling.

It was such a shock that I didn’t scream. I was just trying to remember how to breathe. Carolyn and Kate said that the free fall was more of a rush than scary. I don’t know about that. It was terrifying, but in a thrilling way. And that 50 seconds was about the longest 50 seconds of my life. We didn’t pay for videography, so I’m going to borrow a few photos from the company’s FB page.

Miss South Carolina coincidentally jumped the same day we did, so she still looks great.

Photos from Skydive Carolina FB page

Once the parachute opens, you’re just gliding and lazing along in the air. That part was really relaxing. Gene pointed out another airfield below us, where there were antique airplanes flown, a B-52 from World War II and a yellow bi-plane from the 1930s. And he let me hold the parachute straps for a while so I could steer us. LOL. I found I don’t really have the upper body strength to do much of anything besides hang on.

The landing actually went a lot smoother than I thought it would. From the ground, it looked like sudden drop for about the last 50 feet or so that should be accompanied with a big “thump!” But it actually was more of a graceful swoop down, no stomach-flipping necessary. You lift you feet as high as you can so the instructors feet touch down first.

Gene had told me that the wind would probably drag us backward, and it did for maybe 8-10 feet, but there were people on the ground to grab us and anchor us, and we both landed on our feet.

Once I was on the ground, a couple people told me I looked stunned and kept asking if I was alright. I think it was probably from spending all day in the heat. Once my stomach got out of my throat and back to where it belonged and I had a Gatorade, I felt a lot better.

The verdict is that I’m glad I got over my fear and joined the adventure. It was an awesome experience. I’m definitely hoping to take the Mister one day and do it again.

The next Ladies Adventure Club trip is camping and whitewater rafting. I have done this before, and I cannot wait!