For me to fully appreciate the impact skydiving has had on my life, I’d have to start back with where I was beforehand. In high school, I was something of a misanthrope. I was pretty good at partying with friends and skipping classes but not much else, and in most ways I was pretty introverted. By my senior year, I had cut so many classes that there was no way I could graduate. College was not on my horizon in any shape or form, so I decided to join the Army to avoid failing at anything else. I was essentially rudderless, with little ambition and no self-confidence. I joined the service as an escape, to avoid doing anything challenging. It’s surprising how you can do the exact right thing seemingly by accident.
While in the service, I started skydiving. Back then (1975-’77), there were lots of service-sponsored sport skydiving clubs at most larger Army bases. For a modest monthly fee, you belonged to the club and jumps were free. Military aircraft flew jumpers on the weekends so the pilots could get extra hours. It was pretty cool to jump Chinooks and Hueys all day, but don’t run out to enlist—I’m told this doesn’t exist anymore. Anyway, I had a roommate who did this with one of his friends, and it just drew me in. After a week-long evening first-jump course, I was all set to do my first static-line jump on a Saturday. I’m sure everyone today gets the basic concept of a static-line jump, but if you haven’t done one, they are pretty scary. Everything happens fast, and there isn’t enough time to gain any sense of control. However, that was exactly what made something click inside my 18-year-old brain. I couldn’t stand being afraid of anything, and this particular gauntlet was one that I couldn’t turn away from. I went back over and over. In all honesty, I don’t think I liked it all that much at first, but I just couldn’t let it beat me.
On my seventh jump, a five-second delay, everything changed for me. I climbed out, got stable in freefall and just took it all in. I knew in that moment that everything was different. I was different. I didn’t count. I just thought to myself, “This is really cool … this is really friggin’ cool. I better pull.” I did, and I didn’t wait long enough to scare anyone. From that moment on, skydiving was everything to me.
Skydiving has been a challenge, and my fear was an obstacle to overcome. When I reached the other side of it, I was a different person. The release of my anxiety and self-doubt was a feeling of freedom I had never known before. The joy that I found, facing that challenge, became intoxicating. I learned self-discipline in order to focus everything into becoming a better skydiver. I learned to apply that focus elsewhere, from work to my personal life and later in college. In no small way, my life has been completely blessed. I have done every single thing that has ever occurred to me to do. I have faced down every challenge that life has put in front of me with anticipation and joy, and taking on new challenges has become the single consistent path throughout my entire life.
Skydiving taught me that what I need above all else in life is challenge. It’s never about the final goal or accomplishment, but the path to it that really matters. It’s about climbing that hill. Everyone has second thoughts when facing any obstacle, skydiving or otherwise. I’ve found that it’s OK to deliberate before any decision, but once you decide to take on a challenge, that all gets put behind. Just like on any skydive—you touch your handles in the plane and think about the dive flow, but when your foot leaves the door of the airplane, you are 100 percent in the moment. It’s liberating to be able to be that focused and that aware. You are never more alive than when you are completely committed to something. Skydiving taught me how to focus all of myself on anything I choose. It made my whole life possible. It made me who I am.
Scott Harris | D-6174
Oregon City, Oregon
Harris’ book, “Leap Forward,” discusses what he learned from skydiving and how it changed his life. It’s available on amazon.com.