This article is part of the [In Your Words] series. These are real stories, written by real people, who have made a tandem skydive at Chicagoland Skydiving Center. Our goal is to shine light on the many reasons people choose to jump out of perfectly good airplanes. Want to share your story? Email us!
I made my first skydive in August of 2014. It all started with a Facebook post mentioning a contest. My local news station was asking viewers to submit a video about why you wanted to win a skydiving experience. I didn’t even hesitate, and my video was uploaded within 5 minutes of seeing that post. My reason? It was on my bucket list. That, and a tumor began taking my vision when I was 13 years old. I wasn't about to miss a chance to get such a unique view of the world.
Let's step back in time to give you some context for my story. In 2003, at the age of 13, I was diagnosed with a tumor that was taking vision from my left eye. Try finding that news out when you're getting a sports physical to try out for the school track team. During the coming months, I went through radiation treatments, and then had numerous follow up MRI’s afterwards. While those treatments helped, the problem wasn't completely gone.
In 2007, I had my tumor removed surgically to prevent it from growing and taking vision from my right eye. The idea of doctors cutting into your skull is scary, and got me thinking more about my bucket list. I decided I wanted to do something crazy before my surgery. Back then I was afraid of roller coasters and anything that involved heights. So naturally, facing that particular fear is where I started.
That year I did a sky coaster experience, an amusement park attraction that gives you the sensation of freefall by swinging you hundreds of feet with suspension cords. I was scared beyond belief before I dropped from the top of the tower. But, I did it. And it was amazing.
Fast forward a few years, and I found myself facing another major surgery to fix complications from my tumor removal. Cue the bucket list thoughts again.
It was about three months prior to surgery when I saw this news channel promotion to win a tandem skydive at Chicagoland Skydiving Center. It wasn't far from home, and I was motivated to face my fears again. I immediately posted my entry video to their Facebook page and begged everyone to ‘like’ my post for a better chance to win.
The entry period ended, and I waited for about two weeks. And then I got the response I had hoped for. I won! Me! I was the winner! Oh my gosh...I won. Now I was going to jump out of a perfectly good airplane.
I booked my reservation for a Saturday in August. When the day came, I had to work up will power to really do it. I was so nervous the entire drive to Rochelle, and kept wanting to back out. This was absolutely insane to do right before another big surgery! What was I thinking? Luckily, my family came with me for support.
We arrived and time felt like it was passing in slow motion. There was cloud cover that day, and I was told there would be a bit of a wait. "Great, another reason to back out," I thought to myself. I waited about 6 hours as the sky slowly cleared enough to jump. I watched other guests decide to re-book their experience. But I was here, and I was committed. I knew if I left I wouldn’t return.
Finally around 3pm, I was greeted by my instructor and told it was time to gear up. The sky had cleared, and I was on the next plane going up! My instructor was named Woody. He put my harness on me and explained a bit about what he needed me to do in freefall. I listened nervously, as my videographer Dan stood close by with his cameras, capturing every second.
The next thing I knew, we were walking to the plane. I was buckled in. We were taking off. We were flying. This is really happening.
I was second to last to jump, which means most of the other jumpers got out the door before me. As I watched each human fall into the abyss, my fear was growing stronger and I seriously contemplated taking the fly of shame back down to the ground. Woody could tell I was nervous, and talked me through it. He brought up a very good point: he had an interest in making sure we landed safely as well. He has a family he wants to go home to, and he doesn’t want this skydive to be his last. We were literally attached, and we were in this together. That helped me feel better...a little bit.
It was our turn to scoot to the open door, the threshold to nothing between me and the ground, thousands of feet away. I told Woody I didn't think I could do it, but he encouraged me to scoot forward anyway. I knew what he was doing, and I let him encourage me forward. Dan the camera man waved me toward the door eagerly. As we took our place in the door, the video camera panned to me saying “Oh my God, Oh my God, Holy S***!”, and the next thing I knew I was free falling.
It was breathtaking. The absolute beauty of the sky took my breath away. It’s so hard to describe even to this day.
The chute pulled and suddenly the rushing sounds of wind faded away. I felt some peace. I kept saying how beautiful it was the whole way down. I can't believe I almost missed out on this view.
About a week before my jump, the incredible actor Robin Williams had passed away. I had recently watched one of my favorite movies he was in, Hook. I was reminded of my favorite part of the story:
Wendy: “So, your adventures are over?”
Peter: “Oh, no. To live…to live will be an awfully big adventure.”
We descended, truly flying, passing by clouds and it was fantastic. I felt alive. I felt free. My upcoming surgery was the last thing on my mind. As soon as we landed, my family asked me what I wanted to do next. My answer….”I want to get back in that plane and do it again!”
I still have yet to schedule my second jump, but when I do, I can't wait to go back to CSC. It will always be home to my awfully big adventure.
Thank you Chicagoland Skydiving Center for making this experience possible through that contest. My first skydive is something I will never forget.