Some time ago a series of unfortunate events threatened something I love. For a period of 18 months I worked on getting over fear to become a skydiver.
After going to Skydive Cross Keys in NJ I made a tandem skydive. For those that don’t know, a tandem skydive is where you jump out of a plane while attached to a veteran skydiving instructor.
There was something completely amazing, terrifying and surreal about the whole experience. Since I have a fear of heights to begin with, I had to question my own sanity. Nonetheless I found myself at the drop zone, watching videos and signing wavers. Without much time to reflect on what I was doing I was in the plane, attached to my instructor at 13,500 feet with the door open looking out. The green light came on as we sat in the door. Our bodies rocked out, in, out and we found ourselves in freefall.
All the fear and anxiety I was feeling departed as we left the aircraft. An amazing thing happened as we fell. It felt like we were floating. For the first time in my life I was completely in the moment. I wasn’t thinking about bills, relationships or past experiences. I was just there, above the Earth, at peace.
We landed safely and I felt like I was still on top of the world. For weeks after my jump I was invincible (at least in my mind). I knew I had to continue to work on this fear and become a licensed skydiver.
Fast forward 18 months. I am a licensed skydiver and jumping with somewhat regularity. There may be a little bit of anxiety at times before jumping, but it is worth keeping it in check to continue experiencing the true bliss and freedom of being a skydiver. Plus, the community of skydivers is one of the most welcoming communities someone could ever have the honor of being part of. Where you come from and what you do doesn’t matter. Everyone just wants to be safe and have fun. Also, it is the only sport I know of where sponsored professionals will regularly mingle with students and rookies. Pros will even jump with a complete noob like myself.
I have found my happy place. Once again, I belong to a community. Goals were set and achieved. I am proud of what I have accomplished.
Unfortunately, my feeling of accomplishment could have been short lived. In an incident unrelated to skydiving I break my neck requiring surgery. During the recovery process the doctor and I were optimistic that I will return to full functionality and my life will not be impacted long term.
Sometime elapses and the doctor signed off giving me a clean bill of health. I can return to all normal life activities including skydiving. I am ecstatic, but some lingering fear and hesitation has set in. Nonetheless I embarked on the 90-minute drive to Skydive Cross Keys. During the drive the voices start setting in telling me I am crazy. By the time I get to the parking lot I was trembling with fear. After sitting in my car for what felt like an eternity (20 minutes) I pulled back out and drove home in shame.
A few days passed and I decided I am not willing to give up this passion. I got open and honest with the amazing people in the skydiving community. I shared everything I have been through and witnessed with two people in specific, my life coach and my skydiving instructor.
My coach, Melanie, challenged me to return to the drop zone and meet her. Melanie was going to be there training for an event but would offer the emotional support I so desperately needed. She also knew that I am a man of my word and if I said I would meet her I would follow through.
The day came and it was time to put my money where my mouth is. I arrived at the drop zone in a state of fear. I met Melanie, as planned, and she begins going to work coaching me. Over several hours we talked about my fear, why it’s important to me to get over my fear and we planned my first jump back. We decided I would do a hop and pop jump. A hop and hop is where you exit the aircraft at a lower altitude (5,000 feet AGL). By doing this you have less traffic from other jumpers and can focus on flying the parachute. After getting my gear, checking it and having Mel check it we head to the boarding area. As we waited for the plane I was looking at the sky. I couldn’t help but to observe that there was more cloud coverage than I would normally feel comfortable jumping in. Additionally, the winds were looking intense. Mel and I make eye contact and I said, “This is outside of my comfort zone.” Melanie told me that there is no pressure whatsoever and I had myself taken off the flight.
Within minutes of making what was the right judgement decision for me the flight was placed on a weather hold, not allowing anyone to jump. Some time elapsed and Melanie has to leave due to another commitment. I elected to stay at the drop zone and see what the weather does.
While on weather hold I continued talk about my nerves and fears with my friend and skydiving instructor, Theresa. Theresa has one of the warmest and most caring personalities out of anyone I have ever met. We continued to chat until the weather clears up enough to jump.
Several loads of skydivers go up and make successful jumps while I watched diligently from the ground. It gets close to closing time and I almost got in my car to leave after letting my nerves get the best of me. I attempted to say goodbye to Theresa, but she asks me a question, “Do you trust me?” Of course, I trust you, I answered. I trust her with my life, literally. Theresa looked at me and told me it’s going to be fine.
We decided to go to full altitude (13,500 feet) and got in the plane together. I felt myself shaking and sweating profusely. Theresa looked over and saw the fear in my eyes. She reached across the plane and grabbed my hand and continued to tell me that it is going to be fine.
Before I knew it we were at altitude. The green light came on indicating it was time to jump. We positioned ourselves like we planned, counted and jumped. As we left the plane I felt the anxiety and fear depart. We linked up in freefall and enjoyed our 60 second ride together. At 5500 feet we let go of each other and created some distance to safely deploy our parachutes. By 4000 feet I reached back, grabbed my hacky and threw my pilot chute into the wind. As I looked up, I observed that I am now under a good main canopy (parachute). After conducting my check, I entered the pattern and safely landed.
Once I was on the ground I just stood there for a minute, reflecting on what just happened. I confronted a very real fear and won. It did not get the best of me.
Theresa came running over, gave me a big hug and welcomed me back. The overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment I felt caused a small tear to well up in my eye. I knew I could hold my head up on the ride home.
When we encounter obstacles in life we can recruit amazing people to come along side of us. In order to do this we have to be open and honest about what we are feeling. The practice of being vulnerable might not come natural to you, but it makes all the difference in the world. By leaning into my own fear and anxiety I fortified two lifelong friendships.
So who are the amazing people in your life?
Are you being vulnerable and honest about what you’re facing with them? It’s amazing if you are.
If you aren’t what would it feel like to go deeper (emotionally) with someone you trust?
Find those safe people. The people that are your biggest fans and cheerleaders. Tell them how much you value their presence in your life and if you’re feeling brave get real in a deep way. If no one comes to mind that you feel safe with then shoot me an email. I would love to be there for you like Melanie and Theresa were there for me.
Remember life isn’t meant to be lived alone. Go forward and Live Bold!!!!