I frequently said that for my 50th birthday, I wanted to make a skydive. Just before my 48th birthday, my son, who had recently achieved his A license, said, “Mom, don’t wait. You are going to love it.” A few weeks later I took my first jump and knew I was going to do more.
Not being naturally athletic (that’s an understatement), I was prepared for a challenge. My progression through the jump levels was not normal. While it is not uncommon for students to repeat levels, I repeated more than my share. Though not athletically gifted, I always had a talent for perseverance, so while it pained me to see my instructor’s frustration and aggravation, I muddled on.
My biggest problem was spinning in freefall. I jumped with five different instructors and was the subject of lots of videos, but no one could pinpoint what caused the spins. After the season ended in October, I decided to take a trip south over the winter and see what a change of scenery might do. It did the trick. I guess I just needed to be where no one knew me and kind of get a fresh start. I relaxed and was stable. I spent the next week doing more of the same.
Back at my home drop zone in the spring, I surprised my instructors and got my A license after a few jumps. Later that summer, after swallowing what seemed like half of the DZ pond during water training, I got my B license.
Knowing my history and my shortcomings, I decided that my goal as a skydiver was to stay out of other people’s way and to be as safe as possible. To many of my fellow skydivers, this seemed defeatist; to some, it was anti-social. To them I said, “Trust me.” And now I say, “Thanks. Thanks for letting me be among you in my limited way. I appreciate that you offered to include me, but I have no regrets about having done only a handful of non-solo jumps.”
I have loved being at drop zones. I have loved my fellow skydivers. I have loved the rides to altitude. I have especially loved leaving the plane. I have loved freefall. I have loved landing safely. I have loved being part of a sport that I probably had no right being a part of.
So, after 16 years and nearly as many Safety Days and winter trips south, one cutaway, one broken ankle, one night jump and jumps at nine drop zones in four states, I took my last jump. I did not know it would be my last. I knew the winds were strongish and blowing in a direction that would make my landing approach quite different from normal. I did not know that at about 1,000 feet it would feel as if I hit a wall as far as my forward motion was concerned and that at 800 feet I would decide on a backyard as my best landing option. I didn’t know that a bordering tree would snag my canopy, snap me back, send me lovingly down its forgiving branches and set me down, fairly unscathed, on the ground. That tree saved me from crashing into a house, an SUV and other trees.
My natural stubbornness did not allow me to see that maybe I should consider hanging up my rig. After depositing my gear with a rigger and saying I’d be back in a week, I drove home determined to get back on that horse. The next week, I picked up my rig, manifested, checked the winds, watched a load land, geared up, de-manifested and drove home marveling at how obviously and easily the end had come about. I just knew. For a while, I was afraid I’d see a beautiful sky and think, “Oh, I need to jump,” but instead I’ve thought, “Oh, what wonderful memories I have.”
Skydiving changed my life. The sight of blue skies, the smell of jet fuel, the feel of slippery nylon, the sound of a small plane buzzing overhead and the taste of scones (a peace offering to my British instructor) all bring back a rush of memories that warm me to my bones.
Vicki Dillon | B-24860 | Menands, New York