This column ventures away from the world of tennis and into the "Wild Blue" in what became my first attempt at skydiving. In other words, jumping out of an airplane.
Previous to two weekends ago, the most excitement I probably ever had, not counting having and raising kids, was the free feeling of being a motorcyclist, water skiing, playing in tennis tournaments, sports and running for a city council position.
My kids asked last Christmas for me to take them parachuting, and in a moment of weakness I said, "Yes, if we could find a place to do it safely." I got on the Internet and found a couple sites in Arizona that provided this service. Fortunately or unfortunately it took over six months to coordinate everyone's schedule.
Two weekends ago we made our reservations to be at Skydive Arizona near Eloy on a Saturday at high noon. Eloy is a small town off I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson.
Jumpers, Yuri (24), Destiny (21), her husband Dale (24), Nathan (18), my wife Katie (29 and holding) and myself (45), left for the low country from Prescott about 8:30 a.m. A true family event, "One for all and all for one!"
With much anticipation we arrived about a half hour early, pulling into their parking lot, all the while watching skydivers land within a couple hundred yards away. It was hard to believe that soon, we too were to be one of them.
We checked in, went to the restrooms (a very good idea) and then were told to meet in one of the training rooms to fill out papers, sign waivers, watch a video and have an instructor talk with us. It was also time to pay. $140 each or with five or more jumpers as a group, $130. Getting a video or role of film shot can be purchased as well.
The type of jump we decided to do is called a tandem skydive from 13,000 feet. After only a half hour briefing, you and your instructor harness up (he or she makes sure you are ready with your equipment and thoughts) and then prepare to board the plane that 16 plus jumpers pack into.
We were told to dress for the weather, so shorts, T-shirts and tennis shoes were what we wore. I was under the impression that everything else we needed was to be provided, like jump suits, helmets, etc., but when we were paired up with our instructors they just slapped the harness right over our shorts, and they were tight. Some of the instructors had long pants on, some had helmets and other didn't, so c'est la vie. We loaded into the shuttle, which took us right to a single prop airplane that was ready and running. The plane had a garage door type opening and it was closed as we took off. The instructors sat behind each jumper and explained what would happen from here on out.
The excitement was now building even though the temperature was cooling down as the plane climbed. It was internal panic with an outer exterior look of, "I can handle this."
On our left wrist we wore an altimeter which told us the elevation we were at. At about 3,500 feet the instructors slide up behind you and attach the very solid looking clips to each shoulder and waist loop … the jump door was reopened. Hopefully you aren't uncomfortable with being that close to someone you just met, because there is no other choice with this type of jump. After you are hooked up, they show you where the ripcord is that you'll pull after free falling 7,000 feet, and remind you how to jump (fall) out of the plane. "Don't forget to arch your back, head and legs after we're out," he says.
You take a quick look around the plane and make eye contact and see nervous smiles. Your altimeter reads 12,000 feet. Your instructor says it's time to move toward the now open door where the fields below look smaller than a miniature checkerboard. This is it.
I was the first one to jump and with someone right behind you there isn't much chance to chicken out. My instructor said to take one look back to see my family (one last time I was thinking) and then "Geronimo."
Once you're out you'd might as well enjoy the fun, you are now descending up to 120 mph in the free fall. You glance at your left wrist knowing that at 5,000 feet you need to get the parachute open. I think I glanced about every 10 seconds, because I felt that was a very important thing to happen, instructor or no instructor.
The ground was getting closer and closer and then finally it was time to pull the cord. You hear it deploy and then zap, you are jerked to attention and then a free floating feeling surrounds you. The instructor hands you to the right and left controlling straps and tells you how to swing left, right and then how to use them to land. You practice it a time or two and then swing into position over the landing field to see how it will work for real.
As the ground nears, you pull down hard on both straps and make sure your feet are out in front of you. (Landing on your face wouldn't be much fun). Five out of six of us landed on our feet; Katie decided to make it more interesting and land on her behind (here's where the shorts are not so good) and got a small raspberry for a momento.
All of survived with wonderful memories, a certificate, T-shirts and surprising thoughts that we'd probably all do it again … but you first.
(Chris Howard is a local USTPA tennis professional with more than 25 years in the fitness industry).