Despite thinking for many years that free-falling would be the ultimate adrenaline rush, I’d never actually done anything about it, because – if I was going to be honest – fear definitely out-trumped my good intentions on this one. Oh sure, in my quest for “extreme” activities, I’d bungee jumped off a bridge, and even walked across burning coals in my bare feet (which looking back now were both way scarier than the skydive) but for some reason, I never got around to tackling the grand-daddy of all, being the sky jump… That was until one sunny, sunny September day in 1999, somewhere just outside of Calgary, in a small town called Beiseker…
I remember it like it was yesterday: The autumn skies were perfectly clear, with a hint of that crisp afternoon prairie chill, that afternoon when I found myself jammed into a tiny little plane at 13,000 feet, strapped by a few thin nylon straps to some random guy named Ed. As the engine of the plane puttered along, climbing, climbing, climbing, it dawned on me that this person held my life in his hands – a lot of responsibility for someone I’d met only a few minutes prior, and only knew on a first name basis… Hell, I didn’t even know if “Ed” was his real name! As the sweat beads formed, I began thinking that maybe this wasn’t the brightest idea after all, when…
Whoosh! The plane door suddenly flew open, and the wind started beating against my face so hard, it made my cheeks flap back and forth like a landed sea-bass desperately gasping for air; meanwhile, the sudden drop in temperature made my skin freeze, and my eyeballs began stinging, and feeling like they were drying up. I slid my goggle on over my eyes, and with a huge lump in my throat, realized it was official: I WAS TOTALLY FREAKED OUT AND TERRIFIED! And while Ed was screaming instructions in my ear (which I couldn’t hear due to the deafening noise coming from the engine) my internal dialogue was panicky and wondering “Do I detect a change of underwear in the very near future?”
Despite not being able to hear a thing Ed was saying, I frantically nodded my head up and down to indicate I understood his instructions. But even with all of these distractions, I was crystal clear on my intention: I understood that my goal was to experience a pure, unadulterated free fall, and knew that this jump was the only way to accomplish this feeling. Ed stuck his arm over my shoulder and gave me the “thumbs up” sign, saying we were ready to go, and let me know that we would be jumping on the count of three. Then, without notice (apparently to avoid me from jamming out) he pulled a fast one, and launched us out the door at two… much to my terror. I was falling!
At first the sensation was discombobulating; I had no idea which way was up! Everything felt like it was shaking as we spun around five or six times before we were eventually “righted”, and then, all of a sudden the fall became… comfortable. It was so weird, because in that instant all my fear was gone. I wasn’t scared at all despite plummeting towards the earth at some 60 miles an hour with some strange guy strapped to my back; instead all I could feel was an eerie sense of calm and peace wash all over me as I looked around and drank in the incredible view from this very unique perspective. I remember there not being a single cloud in the sky, and despite being some sixty km away, the awesome view of the Calgary skyline jutting above the vast flatness of the prairies. I felt the rhythmic rush of the wind as it caused my drop-suit to rapidly vibrate against my skin; and as I continued to hurdle towards the ground at breakneck speed, the skin on my cheeks continued to flap away madly like a couple of crazed albatrosses fighting over a dead fish.
All this while, our freefalling cameraman (shooting my video) was skilfully whipping all over the place, rising and falling, controlling his own drop so as to get the best angles for my souvenir home movie. The guy was amazing, it was like he was dancing in the clouds and I was lucky enough to be there to catch a matinee of his performance. Everything about the experience was exhilarating and I can remember feeling like I was (literally) in heaven.
After about 40 seconds, Ed gave me the pre-arranged tap on my shoulder, meaning we had fallen almost 10,000 feet that this part of the ride was ending. He pulled the rip chord and as the chute opened, there was a sudden jolt to our bodies, and our speed slowed dramatically. Still safely strapped to Ed, (it seems that nylon strap did the trick after all) I spent the next few minutes effortlessly floating towards earth watching the people, cows and houses below appear to get bigger and bigger as we descended towards the earth. Any fear I had had just a few minutes earlier had now been replaced with the wonder and euphoria from the fall.
The second we landed I knew my life could no longer be the same. I had gotten to the edge of the precipice, stared down fear, then jumped (Okay, I was pushed) and survived to tell the tale! In those few minutes I’d become the sort of person who would “jump out of an airplane”; but more importantly, I became someone who could tap into this reference whenever a situation would arise in my life when fear would try to dictate my actions. (“You think I can’t do that? Do you know who I am? I’m the guy who has jumped out of perfectly safe airplanes! I can do ANYTHING!) In other words, by facing this fear, it had woken me up to future possibilities.
That’s because as great as the goal was to experience the jump, the free fall, and the incredible view from above, it was who I became as a person that made this goal worthwhile for me. I now understand tthat this is the real value of setting and achieving worthwhile goals in our lives is not about the goal itself, but rather to become the kind of people we aspire to be – you know, it’s the journey, not the destination.
And while this isn’t my video, but will give you an idea of the whole ordeal and how it feels to launch yourself out of a plane at 1,300 feet. It’s a bit loud, so best to turn the sound down, and start it at about 1:30 in.
Having said that, if you ever want to go experience skydiving yourself to face your own fears, make sure you pack a clean pair of underwear as well, just in case… I’m just saying!