by Shauna Finley | C-42387 | Wantage, New Jersey
July 22, 2013, was the day that changed my life. A week earlier, a coworker and I had received a briefing that a new drop zone was opening in our patrol area. The owners had invited troopers from our station to come out and make a tandem skydive. The two of us showed up at the brand-new drop zone, Skydive Sussex in New Jersey, on the 22nd to start on our paths to becoming skydivers. From the moment I landed with my tandem instructor, I knew I had found a new passion. My instructor said he knew from the look on my face that I was hooked. He couldn’t have been more right.
Over the course of the first few months of jumping, the staff at the DZ flooded me with information and advice. I slowly developed into a young skydiver who would beat the drop zone manager to the manifest office in the morning. The staff would frequently find me snoozing in my car in the parking lot after a night shift, eager to make the first load of the day. The first second out of that open Cessna 182 door was all the motivation I needed to keep coming back. There was nothing I looked forward to more than that split second.
Our AFF class had eight or nine people from various walks of life in it, and within two weeks we were all ready for our solos and looking forward to jumping with more people and experiencing new things together. No one seemed to care what anybody else did for a living, which was a nice change. As a law enforcement officer, family and friends constantly introduce me by saying, “This is my daughter. She’s a state trooper,” or, “This is my friend. She’s a cop.” Our DZ family didn’t care. They just wanted us to jump and have fun, and they made sure we were welcomed into their community. They taught us to be safety-conscious jumpers, so when I and some junior jumpers decided to attend our first boogie in Puerto Rico, we had the voices of our drop zone operator, as well as the senior jumpers, echoing in our ears to be safe and smart.
Over the past 15 months, the people at my DZ have been a constant source of encouragement, support and inspiration. Through good times—both personal and professional—as well as bad, they have been there to lend an ear, give advice or point out how far I’ve come. From my first beer-rules violation to becoming a USPA C-license holder with a coach rating, these last 15 months have been a period of growth for me. I have enjoyed becoming a Big Sister with Sisters in Skydiving to welcome new women into our sport, developing into a productive member of the DZ and giving back.
The friendships that I have made and the skills that I have learned from this new family are priceless. All of them in their unique ways have opened my eyes to a whole new world. I owe so much to the DZO who trained me through AFF, the coaches who helped me study for my rating and the riggers and tandem instructors who cared enough to take the time to teach me. I can only hope to pass the knowledge and passion along to new skydivers when they show up with the same looks in their eyes that I had. My family at Skydive Sussex is just that: my family. We may all come from different walks of life, but in the air we’re all the same: people with a passion for skydiving.