I’ve never been afraid of planes. I love to fly which is a blessing since it is a constant part of my personal and professional life. Between jet setting around the world to satisfy my hungry passport and jet setting around the North American continent for my job, being afraid to fly is just something that “ain’t nobody got time for”. Flying is fine. It’s exhilarating and something that I truly enjoy. Falling… Falling is something else altogether. The feeling that comes with falling is one that, for me, is completely heart, stomach, and gut-wrenching. Which is why my first invitation to skydive, aka fall, on purpose, from a perfectly good plane, was met with a wide-eyed “uhhh, no…why?!?!”. Skydiving was reserved for fearless dudes in action films, not girls like me. But after a year of saying “no” I finally decided that I wanted to skydive on my 31st birthday. Might as well greet a new year with an adventure…right? I’m not sure exactly what I was thinking but I told a friend and co-worker that falling from a plane was what I wanted to do for my birthday and she made the plans.
We were in Buffalo at the time so we drove across the Canadian border to the skydiving center. I went through a quick training, watched a video presentation, and signed a waiver that basically said “if you die nobody you know can sue us”. Then I, along with my friend, our two instructors who would strap themselves to us and do all the work, and the pilot, boarded a very tiny blue plane. Here’s where it started to get a little touchy. The plane was so tiny that I, sitting on the floor, was sitting with my back crammed against the pilot’s seat. Literally, we were sardines! And that was ok. The pilot started the engine and we took off, gradually ascending into the clear sky. And that was ok. We talked to our instructors who went over last-minute instructions and expertly kept us…well, me…calm. We looked out the window at the beautiful greenery, Lake Erie, and the mist of Niagara Falls in the distance. And all that was ok. And then the pilot did something that I was not expecting. He reached over and opened the door. AND THAT WAS NOT OK! That was the moment when I really, really realized…we are about to jump out of this too-small-kinda-ok plane. On purpose!
WHAT IN THE WORLD WAS I THINKING?!?!?!
Breathe Tryphena. Just breathe. It’ll be fine, right? These guys do this every day all day, right? They know exactly what they’re doing, right?
Right. They’re experts. Nobody’s going to die. My friend was jumping first and she was already geared up and about to go. One second she was there…the next, she was gone. And then it was my turn. Now, if you’ve ever been skydiving you know that, once that door opens, everything starts moving very quickly. And since my friend had already jumped I had to move fast. So I just started following instructions. Scoot to the open door, legs out the door, arms crossed over your chest, head back, countdown and go! And away I went. The first few seconds I felt that agonizing drop in my stomach. My jaws were flapping and my teeth were clenched and my eyes (once I forced them open) were watering from the wind. Through clouds, above birds, with Niagara Falls in the distance, Lake Erie in front of me, and green earth beneath me, I was…falling. Falling! Peacefully. My tandem partner opened the parachute and for a few seconds I felt my stomach drop again because the chute sucked me back up into the sky. And then, miraculously, I was floating. There was no deafening rush of wind. Just peaceful silence. And literally, it was the most freeing moment ever. It is the only time in my life I’ve ever felt what an eagle must feel. To stretch his wings and soar, allowing the wind to carry him. That was the day I became a bird. The float back down to the ground took a few moments and the closer we got to the ground, the more I wanted to get back up in the sky. I didn’t want it to end!
I went searching for that feeling twice more. Once in Florida and once more in Aruba. My mother was vacationing with me on the island and she wanted to take the plunge, so to speak. So I made the arrangements and experienced all the same butterflies as the first and second times, but I was not going to let her skydive in Aruba by herself. What didn’t surprise me one bit was that I was a nervous wreck and she was ecstatic! She enjoyed every single second of it, even my least favorite part when the parachute opens and you get sucked back up into the sky! I guess you could call it a “bucket list” item for her.
Every time I jump, I swear it’s my last time. I still get a little too nervous for my own liking. The butterflies and the apprehension and the pattering of my heart; it’s all there. I have to force myself to open my eyes and enjoy what’s passing below me. But after the first five seconds, I’m fine and flying and floating. Being a bird is addictive. It’s hard to say no when given the chance to enjoy that feeling again. So maybe I’ll strap on that harness one more time, with a trained professional strapped to my back, of course. And maybe I’ll float above the birds and through the clouds once more. Maybe. Until that time, if ever that time shall come, the freedom that came with falling from the sky remains tucked inside my memory. And I know that if I did that, I can do anything.