How Skydiving Changed My Life
By Spencer Hopp
Ever since I was a little kid, doctors told me that I would be limited to certain activities because I was born with spina bifida. I never even entertained the idea of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, and anyway, skydiving was something that terrified me. That all would change after going to Skydive Perris in California.
I moved near Perris in 2015, and for years I saw and heard planes flying overhead all day long. One day at the beginning of 2019, I thought I’d go check it out and see what it was all about. As soon as I arrived, I felt a warm, welcoming feeling from people. It was a busy day, but everyone was nice and approachable and made me feel at home. It was a place I loved to be and didn’t ever want to leave.
In the coming weeks, I would go back multiple times and watch large events, including big-way formations, P3 camps and Skydivers Over Sixty gatherings. I also saw the Canadian Army demo team, the Skyhawks, in training. They made the hardest tricks under canopy look effortless. I met J.P., the man behind the Skyhawks program, and Craig O’Brien, who was filming the Skyhawks doing their aerobatics under canopy. Each event was like nothing I had ever experienced before. It was incredible to watch all the ground operations leading up to formations in the sky. I just couldn’t get enough of it.
I constantly talked with anyone and everyone at Perris about the sport and learned all I could about what I was watching, I must have talked to hundreds of people—new jumpers, as well as world champion skydivers. Over time, it changed my whole view on the sport, and I started thinking that I should get in the sky and do what all these other crazy people were doing! If they could do it, then I could, too. I just had to get past the mental block. Each person I came into contact with helped crack that barrier a little bit at a time. But one person I came into contact with changed a lot of things for me.
One morning, I introduced myself to a guy I saw riding around on a bike a day earlier. Someone had told me that he was Dan B.C. (Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld), the DZ manager. I approached him, introduced myself and told him how much I enjoyed the place. He told me that the drop zone was one of the busiest in the nation and to stick around watch some events they would be hosting later that month. The next couple weeks I attended the Aussie Big-Way Camp and met even more accomplished skydivers. That pretty much did it for me … I was sucked in and ready to make my own skydive a reality.
On a quiet afternoon a few days later, I asked Dan if it would be possible to make a jump, even though I was in a wheelchair, and also if he’d go with me. He said, “Yes, it’s 100-percent possible! They have straps they can use to help with landing, and we have the best instructors, so let’s do it!” I asked Craig O’Brien if he could join, and he said “Absolutely!” So, we made a date for the jump and it was a go.
On June 5, 2019, I experienced the closest thing to human flight possible. It was one of the highlights of my life. I did lose both of my shoes when I pulled the parachute, but it was all worth it. It may have taken six months to build up the courage needed, but with the help of Dan, Craig and my instructor James Perez, it became a reality.
Skydiving changed my whole view of life. It taught me that we need to chase our fears, because on the other side of fear is greatness and growth. We should do what we fear because life is short, and we should look to grow daily. We shouldn’t let anything limit us from achieving what we set out to do in life. Just because doctors told me that the things I could do were limited, it didn’t mean I had to listen. I wanted to skydive, so I did.