Jumping out of an airplane was never on my bucket list. Well, honestly, I never had a bucket list until May 14, 2016: the day I completed my first tandem.
Growing up, I was a typical kid. I loved playing sports, riding my BMX bike and staying up way too late playing video games. I was able to make friends pretty easily; I was outgoing and loved to laugh. I was also raised as an only child and heard, “Be careful, you might get hurt,” and, “That sounds dangerous; I don’t think you should do it,” as many single children do. It began my little bubble in life.
It wasn’t until 8th grade—after my first stint on a roller coaster at Cedar Point in Ohio—that I learned I was deathly afraid of heights. I was so afraid that when it was time for me to travel from Michigan to Arizona for university, I took a train instead of a plane. Planes and heights were not my cup of tea. Skydiving was the one thing in my life I said I would never, ever do. In my eyes, people who did do it were crazy and had a death wish.
When I turned 34, I slowly found myself no longer finding joy and passion in things I loved to do. Just like all people, as I got older, bills started to come in, car payments needed to be made, and this life just seemed to be the norm. Trees were no longer green, and the sky was no longer blue (no pun intended). Before long, it was difficult for me to get out of bed. My work was beginning to suffer, and I was getting to the point where I really didn’t care about my wellbeing, and my mental health was declining. Some call it “the noonday demon”; I simply call it “depression.”
At the time, a longtime cycling teammate of mine was always trying to get me to jump with him. I would brush it off with, “Sure, maybe someday,” knowing deep in my heart that it was never going to be a reality, which I was totally happy about.
But one morning, I logged into Facebook. It was going to be a normal day. Most likely I’d lie in bed for a while and then do minimal work on my computer. But this day was different. On my friend’s Facebook page were the most beautiful images I had ever seen. He and a group of friends were at a boogie in Panama, and the shots were just breathtaking. Without hesitation, I knew it was time. I sent my friend a text and said, “Name the time and place, and I’ll be there to jump.”
My friend isn’t much of a planner. Weeks went by, and I assumed (and started to hope) that perhaps he had forgotten about my text. Then one Friday night, he said to me, “Go online and book your tandem for tomorrow at Skydive Arizona [in Eloy].”
Crap. Then it was real. I was nervous the entire way to the drop zone. But I was in good spirits for once, and since I wasn’t really happy about life anyway, I felt I had nothing to lose.
I’ll never forget the smell of the Twin Otter as it rolled up. It reminded me of when I was a kid growing up on a lake and taking in the aroma of our boat starting. We climbed in. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it was crowded in there. I was fairly calm on the way up. That is, until the door opened and I started witnessing people jumping out. That’s when it hit me: I was doing this.
My instructor, Ty, led me to the door. He asked whether I was ready, to which I replied “F**k, yes!” Out, in, outttttt we went. A freefall that felt like forever. I had the biggest grin on my face the entire time. People ask what it felt like, and I can never give them a straight answer. It just … was. After the chute deployed, I had a calm feeling. No cell phones ringing, no cars whizzing by. Just silence and beauty. I was immediately hooked and started working toward my license.
Soon, I went to my first boogie, the Summer Solstice Boogie in Alaska. I didn’t have my A license yet, so I had to make a tandem. But it was still worth the trip, and I was already starting to meet new friends and have some crazy adventures. I also began working with a charity called Jump at Life, which helps young adults achieve their dreams of making a skydive.
Now I have my A license. It used to be hard to get out of bed, but since that first jump, when I began my bucket list, I’ve done more than I ever have in my entire life. Every time I am at the DZ and I see someone who comes in for a tandem, the only words I say are, “It’s going to change your life.” Because it will.
Don Jean | A-81602 | Anthem, Arizona