Skydiving didn’t really change my life, it was my life. It started at a very young age, even though I didn’t make my first jump from an airplane until I was 18. When I was about 6 or 7, my dad caught me getting ready to make a jump off the second floor of our house with my homemade gear, which consisted of two sheets sewn together (thank you, Aunt Polly, for the sewing), kite string as suspension lines and an old Army backpack as my harness and container. My next jump was when I was about 9. I did a tandem jump with my mother at the Coney Island Parachute Ride. Mom went with me because dad “had a bad back.” Finally, in August of 1968, I showed up at Parachutes Incorporated in Lakewood, New Jersey, to make my first jump from a real airplane with a real parachute.
A few years later, I moved to Miami for college and saw a “learn to skydive” notice. This is when I meet my instructor, Bill Booth. Bill did not have a beard back then, but he did have a very rundown Opel Cadet that had a rope on the driver’s side to keep the door closed. During those college years, I spent my weekends packing parachutes, talking students down and chasing those who landed off the DZ. Occasionally, I did get a chance to jump.
In the ‘70s, I was heavily involved in teaching skydiving every weekend and a few days a week. One day, a cute blonde showed up and wanted to learn to skydive. Well, she fell for me, and I fell for her, and the next thing I knew, she became my wife and mother of my children. My children spent many weekends and vacations at various drop zones. They spent so much time at them that they had pull-up cords hanging off their shorts. I once took them to a women’s world record attempt in New York so they could see women doing the same things men do. (The fact is, all they cared about were the cookies Nabisco sent over for the event.)
Over the years, I had the pleasure of meeting and becoming friends with people from all over the United States and around the world. If I might drop a few names: Bill Booth, Bill Coe, Squeaky John, Gun (aka Guy Manos) and, still to this day, Nancy Dwyer. I once had a girlfriend who asked me, “Do you have any friends who don’t skydive?” My response: “Why would I?”
I was a recreational skydiver, an instructor, competitive speedstar skydiver, world-record holder (200-way, two-point 100-way and 100-way speed star) and eventually a political skydiver who spent six years on the USPA Board of Directors.
40-ish years after my first jump, the sport was changing, my skydiving friends stopped jumping and my body was not recovering like it once did. A 30-year career as a firefighter, 3,300 terminal openings and building a house or two had taken its toll. I had been thinking about a lifestyle change for several months when I had the chance to make a sunset beach jump in Marathon, Florida, with some close friends. One of those friends happened to be a photographer, Norman Kent. I opened up high to enjoy the visual of the Florida Keys and then landed on the beach in front of bunch of onlookers. It was at that moment that I decided it was time to stop. I always believe in stopping when you’re on top, and at that point in time, I was on the top of my game.
As I look back, I will never forget the people I met, the good times I had, the accomplishments I made and the wonderful life skydiving gave me.
Bob Rhynearson | D- 4745 and former Southeastern Regional Director
Key Largo, Florida