Staff Notebook

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Although the saying goes, “Back when we were young and foolish…,” there’s no law that says you have to be young to be foolish.

For a case in point, I need only look in the mirror.

Flash back to several years ago…. I’m attending a family reunion in Wichita. My cousin and I were talking about nothing in particular when the subject of sky diving came up.

“Yeah, I’d love to do that some day, but I just can’t find anyone to go with me,” I said with some bravado. “I don’t want to do it alone, you know.”

“I’ll jump with you,” my cousin said.

Pretending to not hear him, I moved on to another subject-but my cousin didn’t.

“I’ve always wanted to do that too,” he said. “They have a class at Lyons that I’ve checked into, and it doesn’t cost that much.”

I don’t know what I tried to say next, but the lump in my throat prevented it from being understood. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, we were enrolled for training at the Oz Drop Zone in Lyons. We were actually going to jump out of an airplane.

My cousin and I agreed to follow through with this insanity on a Sunday morning. For a mere $80, the folks at Oz were going to teach us everything pertinent to the sport of sky diving.

After we signed a liability waiver, that is.

Included in our package was three hours training, the necessary gear, and the all-important airplane from which we would take the plunge.

I’m not a brain surgeon, but it seemed to me it should take more than three hours to learn everything necessary to survive such an endeavor. But the instructor said if you don’t understand it in three hours you aren’t ever going to get it.

Not a comforting thought.

Our class consisted of my cousin and me and one other young man, who didn’t look all that intelligent. We were taken into the hangar, where we learned the basics, such as what gear we needed. This included our helmet, altimeter, goggles and jump suit.

We were versed on what to do in particular “situations” should something not go quite right.

Did I mention we had to sign a liability waiver?

We then were strapped into a mock parachute harness, which hung from the rafters of the hangar. Taking turns, each of us was hooked up and then responded when our instructor yelled possible catastrophes that could occur upon our jump.

Included was how to set the “brake,” what to do if our lines were twisted and-the ultimate-if the primary canopy refused to open. We were told that if, after falling to the altitude of 1,500 feet, our primary didn’t open,we should deploy our alternate chute.

After this crash course-er, make that “quick” course-we were taken outside to practice a “hit and roll.” This consisted of pretending we were landing faster than intended, and then rolling as we hit the ground to absorb the force of the landing.

By the time we finished that, the three hours were nearly up. My throat was tight and my mouth was drier than a cracker in a microwave.

Our instructor informed us we now knew everything necessary for our first jump.

My first thought was, “Excuse me, but if I am so prepared, why don’t I remember anything?”

Well, fate was on my side on this day-or so I thought. Our instructor said the wind was too strong for us to perform our aerial assault.

You’d think this would be good news, but then it was disclosed we had to come back the next Sunday and try again-without the opportunity to review our instructions from this day.

Did I mention we had to sign a liability waiver?

Fast forward to the next Sunday.

Blasted luck, it was a calm day. The club had my $80, and I hadn’t had the good fortune of breaking any bones the previous week to render me incapable of jumping.

There was no turning back.

When arrived, we were taken to the hangar, where our parachutes were already packed. We slipped into them-along with our helmets, altimeter and goggles.

Jim, our “jump-master,” quickly recapped last week’s training. Then he asked for a volunteer to be the first to exit the plane. To my horror, a meek “I will” emitted from my mouth. I don’t know who was more surprised by this, me or the other jumpers. I just didn’t want to watch some other idiot bail out of the plane first and then lose my nerve.

As the plane took off, our altimeter started climbing in unison with our ascension. Although it was near freezing outside and the plane had no noticeable heat, I for some reason, started sweating profusely. My goggles steamed up, and I was unable to swallow without my tonsils sticking to the roof of my parched mouth.

When the plane reached 4,500 feet, the jump-master signal that we had reached our desired height-actually his desired height; mine was to be on the ground.

We would be making a “static line jump,” meaning our ripcord was attached to a nylon rope which would open our chute-hopefully not long after our jump.

I shuffled to the airplane door on my hands and feet until I hung off the struts supporting the wing-4,500 feet above the earth.

Did I mention we had to sign a liability waiver?

Given the signal, I let loose-and prayed. After about five seconds-though it seemed like five minutes-my chute deployed.

Looking up, I noticed my lines were twisted. But with a coolness from a source I’ve yet to determine, my training kicked in and the chute opened, the brake set and all was well.

The sensation of floating several thousand feet above the ground is indescribable.

After several minutes, my landing was near perfect-a mere five feet from my intended target.

I looked up to see the other jumpers floating peacefully to the surface-all were doing as planned.

When my cousin and I shook hands, we exhibited a look of relief never before and not since seen. We had done it-and lived to tell about it.

My cousin and I have relived this episode numerous times at reunions, no doubt making it sound more adventurous each time.

Although it was fun, neither of us ever did it again. And I’m much more careful what I say around my cousin.

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