A couple of months ago a rare opportunity presented itself to me. There was an opening to do a tandem jump with the Army Parachute Team, the Golden Knights.
Jumping out of an airplane at 13,000 thousand feet is not something I ever really had the desire to do, so my instant response wasnít with a resounding ďyes,Ē but rather mulling it over for a couple hours. After thinking about it, I decided to approach this possibility the way I approach all things in life, without regrets and with trying to experience as much as I can while Iím on this planet.
Iím not an adrenaline junky, but Iíve done my share of risky activities like bungee jumping, parasailing, zip-lining and driving a NASCAR car at 130 miles per hour, but sky diving, thatís a whole other ball game.
In the weeks leading up to my jump, I didnít think about it too much. I tend not to get overly-excited about big events in my life, I just go with the flow and then really relish in the actual activity. I did, however, do my research and talked to several people who had tandem jumped with the Golden Knights before and I got a really good understanding about how the day would go and the things I could expect.
The morning of the jump was a cold one. With ground temps hovering around 40-degrees Fahrenheit, I knew it would be close to 0-degrees at altitude. I was more worried about wearing the proper clothing than I was about jumping from an airplane. Thank goodness I never got rid of my Army gear, I found my poly-pro waffle top and silk-weight cold weather pants and hoped I would stay warm.
Upon arrival to the Golden Knightís facility in Laurinburg, North Carolina, I, along with three other jumpers, listened to a safety brief, signed our waivers and donned our gold and black jump suits. I also met the Soldier I would be attached to, Sgt. First Class Jimmy Hackett, a guy who I would describe as an experienced and true professional with a prankster sense of humor.
I kept waiting to be overtaken with pit-in-my-stomach nervousness and fear, but it never came. Even as I waited for my flight, I sat patiently and chitchatted with the people there and I kept wondering if and when the fear would come.
Finally, it was my turn to board the plane. As we climbed up to 13,500 feet into the air, I sat in the plane a little nervous but not scared. As I sat strapped to Hackettís torso, I closed my eyes, took a few deep breaths and felt very calm and sure about my decision. I had full confidence in Hackett and the Golden Knights team, and I felt safe.
When we positioned ourselves over the open door of the plane, it was surreal. The air was cold, but my adrenaline was in full force and I wasnít bothered one bit by it. As we jumped from the plane I screamed, but it was as if no sound came out. The speed at which we were traveling didnít allow me to hear anything but the wind surrounding me. Unlike a roller coaster or bungee jumping, my stomach didnít sink. The best way to describe the free fall experience is the opposite of what it actually was. I didnít feel as though I was falling, I felt like I was suspended. I kept imagining I was in a gel-filled aquarium and I was floating in it. I tried to look around at everything I could, to take it all in, to reconcile that I was falling through the sky at 120 miles per hour. It was beautiful. All of it.
Once Hackett deployed the parachute it was smooth sailing all the way to the ground. I spread my arms and I knew I was the closest Iíd ever be to flying like a bird. Even with some of the fun twists and turns we took on the way down, I felt calm and soothed. For me it was such a meditative and cathartic experience. It felt as though my body was weightless and I was floating. Since my jump Iíve tried to recreate and remember that exact feeling, but itís not something I can ever replicate.
Before I knew it, we were landing safely on the ground.
The members of the Golden Knights were all amazing. They were knowledgeable, they were kind and when they realized I wasnít fearful, they joked around with me and had fun. I even received a DVD with a video and more than a hundred photos of my once-in-a-lifetime experience.
I never thought Iíd jump out of an airplane, but Iím so happy I did. And there was no better group of people to jump with than the Army Parachute Team.