Tales from the DZ: The pointy ends

One of the best parts of skydiving is getting into and experiencing an element that human beings aren’t used to.  The feeling of falling 120 mph while you soar through the sky surrounded by nothing but air is an amazing feeling, and one of the main things that pulls me back to jumping out of an airplane on a regular basis.  On one day last year, however, I felt something completely new.

The day had been a good day of jumping, and I had done a few really fun jumps with people that were close to my experience level, which helps us all fly better.  Toward the end of the afternoon, some hazy clouds moved in and it looked like we were only going to get one more good jump in.  I even debated whether I wanted to jump at all, but when I could see the plane from the ground and new the haze wasn’t thick enough to prevent me from seeing the landing area.  I grabbed my jump buddies and we were off!

As I left the door of the plane with three of my sky friends I had no idea what kind of surprise I would be in for.  Once we were in the air the plan was simple: all of us would fly together and grab hands in a circle (known as a round).  As I was flying toward the group, I started feeling a strange stinging on my hands and forearms.  Like my hand was waking up after falling asleep, tiny needles barraged my palms.  It was then that I realized.  I was jumping in the rain.

To be truthful, it was more of a mist.  We weren’t jumping through any kind of clouds, but the haze above the plane had sent a small amount of precipitation, and we were hitting the rain from the top.  I was raining on the rain!

I opened my parachute and thought about what had just transpired.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would be falling and hitting the rain drops from the top.  Hitting the pointy ends 🙂

As we rode the truck from the landing area back to the hangar to take off our gear, a more experienced jumper filled us in.  Rain has a terminal velocity of around 20 mph, while an average human falls at 120.  We had hit the rain in free fall at 100 mph!  No wonder it felt like tiny needles on my skin!

I can’t say I need to do it again, but raining on the rain was a tremendous experience, and it makes for a great story.

 

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The most expensive thing in the world.

You may have guessed what I’m going to say after only reading the title of this post.  I won’t keep you in suspense, it’s time.  It’s the one thing everyone has and yet doesn’t have at the same time.  It’s a funny thing that can seem to slow down and maybe even stop, or go racing by in the blink of an eye.

This is my first blog post in the last two months, and that’s mostly my fault.  There were a number of nights that I could have written something and just didn’t have the energy or just couldn’t figure out what to write.  In the last couple of weeks a number of things have happened in my life that all have to do with savoring the moment, reflecting on the past, or looking forward to things to come.

Jaron, my son, is now 5 months old.  It’s strange to think back only 5 months to when he wasn’t yet in our world.  It’s impossible to think that now.  He is such a huge part of my life, and his story, personality, and mind are forever woven into my heart.  He doesn’t even know how much he is growing and developing in such a short time.

I’m understanding more of how important it is to breath in the moments I want to remember, and then etch them into my mind as best I can.

Our church recent was blessed beyond earthly explanation (read: God is bigger than I will ever understand) and we move into a building of our own next Sunday, completely debt free.  Darren my pastor reminded us to remember where we have come from. Setting up and tearing down the Sunday school rooms made of PVC walls, setting up the  plastic chairs, and putting together the sound equipment every week.  I realized that my son will never know the time we met in a high school cafeteria, or that the kids met in a hallway of the school because we didn’t want to rent out more than one room.

It is equally important that when I etch a memory in my mind that I remember to tell the stories of the memories to others that need to hear them.  Jaron will need to know how we came to meet in the new church building, so he knows what an amazing thing God has done.

Amidst all the excitement surrounding Conduit church’s move to a new location, we celebrated sending out some of Conduit’s family to do the missions work they are called to do in Guatemala.  There were a few tears earlier this week as we said goodbye for now, but all of us looked forward to a day sometime soon that some of us that are still in Tennessee will get to visit the Julliard’s in Guatemala.

If I spend too much time looking back at the past I’ll never know where I’m going, and I can’t be excited about getting there.

 

 

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“I’ve got mad skillz”

I’ve been skydiving for a little over 2 years now.  I have 114 jumps.  Many people that don’t skydive assume that is a lot, and that I’m very experienced.  My skydiving friends know that is not true.  I know that I am very much a “newbie” and I have a long way to go before I can call myself experienced in any way.  Let me tell you about someone I met a few years ago that didn’t know he had a long way to go.

For the sake of this story, let’s call this guy Jeff.  I honestly don’t remember his name, so we’ll go with that.  At the time I had around 50 jumps or so (still very much inexperienced in the world of skydiving) and was doing my best to learn from people at the dropzone who had thousands of jumps over years of time, leading to knowledge about different wind conditions, canopy performance, and what a little 50 jump wonder like myself should be doing and learning to progress safely in the sport.

Jeff had around 30 jumps at the time, meaning he had just gotten off of student status, and was now recently cleared to jump with others.  Before even meeting him, I had overheard some of the instructors talking about Jeff’s attitude and bravado in regards to his skydiving skill, and then hearing from the instructors that he wasn’t nearly as gifted a skydiver as he thought.  I was told from a few different people to stay away from him in the air (which was not usual).

Jeff had come from a background of motocross, and was used to going fast and putting himself in dangerous situations, and immediately thought that his knowledge of a bike instantly translated to knowledge of how to fly a parachute.  He saw the high performance canopy pilots skimming the water at 80 mph and thought he could do it to.

What he didn’t think about was the fact that those pilots had started on large, docile parachutes, working their way to smaller more aerobatic canopies over the course of many years, with other people coaching them along the way.  He thought that because he knew how to ride a bike over a dirt jump that surely he could fly a parachute across the water.

I had only one interaction with Jeff.  Like I said, I had around 50 jumps at the time, jumping a 190 square ft parachute, which was the appropriate size and shape for my weight and exposure to skydiving.  My one conversation with Jeff involved him bragging to me that he had grabbed a 170 square  ft chute even though the drop zone owner explicitly told him not to (Jeff was around 50 lbs heavier than I was).  At the time I didn’t say much of anything, just mentioned that I was jumping a larger chute and didn’t have enough experience to jump something that small.  In hindsight I should have told him what he was doing was dangerous and stupid.  Regardless of what I said, it wouldn’t have made a difference.  Jeff was bound and determined to go as fast as possible, regardless of the kind of risks that meant he was taking.

Later that day I overheard the DZO giving Jeff a very stern talking to about not taking advice and heeding the warnings from the Safety and Training Advisors, Instructors, and himself.  For whatever reason, it still didn’t sink in that what Jeff was doing was dangerous or risky to him.  He assumed he knew what he was capable of, and everyone else (with years more experience and 100 times the number of skydives) had it wrong.

Fast forward a few months, when we finally had a chance to get back to the dropzone for a weekend.

Just in case you were wondering, no, Jeff is not dead (that I know of).

Jeff did, however, decide that he was going to once again take a parachute that was too small for his level, and try to “swoop the pond” just like the cool kids with thousands of jumps.  Jeff had no idea how to do it the right way, because he hadn’t taken the time to learn from the people who knew how.  So from around 100 ft in the air (way too low to be turning, let alone something like this) he decided to pull on his steering toggle as hard as he could to pick up speed.  When you turn a parachute, you also put the chute into a steep dive.  Jeff didn’t know what hit him.  He spiraled himself into the 4 ft deep pond with gusto, going straight in like a rock dropped from a cliff.

I know someone there at the DZ caught it on video, and I wish I could post it since Jeff did not get seriously injured.  He walked away with some bruises and not so much as a broken finger.  He did, however, earn a permanent ban from the DZ.  I can only hope that this experience taught him a lesson in humility and respect, but somehow I doubt that is the case.

Taking the time and energy to do something the right way feels a lot harder, and most of the time it is.  But the risk of assuming you know more than you do makes the “hard way” the easy, safe way in the end. Taking the time to do it right is always a good idea.

Blue Skies

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Taking the next step

1980291_10152293961667778_980704990_oThis past weekend was big for me.  I decided to push past my fears and go after what I wanted, and it paid off big time.

Last year my skydiving goal was to get to 100 jumps before the coach course at skydive The Farm in October.  I ended up only having 98 by the time that weekend came, and I didn’t qualify for the course.

After talking to a few other jumpers about how difficult the course was, I resigned myself to thinking I probably wasn’t experienced enough to become a coach anyway, and I’d just wait until next year when I would have enough jumps and another season of experience to help me.

The winter came and with my son being born at the end of the year, I figured I wouldn’t have too much time for skydiving this year, at least until we figured out what life would look like on one income and with diapers, burp rags, baby clothes, etc.  I had a chance to jump in January to stay current, and February had a couple of good weekends and some extra blow money to spend so I had a chance to get to the DZ.  The DZO (drop zone owner) mentioned that she was doing a coach course at the end of March if I was interested.  I was given another opportunity to take the next step in my skydiving career, and even though I still had doubts about my skill level and fears about having to teach or talk in front of other people, I knew this was something I’ve wanted for a long time, and that I needed to seize the day and make this happen.

It’s been a few years since I’d been assisting karate classes back in Iowa, which is the last time I’d been instructing anyone about much of anything.  I am so happy I pushed past my fears of failure and decided to go through the coach course.  It was a lot of work and some long days of learning, studying, and being evaluated both as a ground school teacher and in the air.

The best part of the weekend ended up being the part I was most worried about, the in air evaluations.  Our evaluators played the roll of newbie student skydiver, while we coached them through a jump from takeoff to landing.  Our “students” did anything and everything that could go wrong, to make sure we could keep them safe, teach them a few things in the air, and not get ourselves killed in the process.  The jumps were more fun than I’ve had in a long time, and now I can’t wait to jump with some students soon to keep my skills sharp!

I’m not sure at what point the thought came into my head that I shouldn’t be leading or teaching others, but this weekend proved that I have a huge heart for helping other people learn and grow, and all I need to do is get out of the way of my fears and do what comes naturally.  I know that with practice I’ll be a great coach, and an even better skydiver because of it.

 

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Hold tight.

A little bit ago I got a glimpse of what God thinks of me.

Jaron had been having a couple of rough days, and I was doing my best to get him to calm down while Mom took a break.  She spends all day with him, and in my better moments I remember to tell her to take a break from the constant need for attention so she can get some quiet time to herself.

It didn’t matter what I did.  All the rocking, walking, singing, and dancing couldn’t calm him down.  None of the baby soothing tricks we thought worked great were doing anything.  He just screamed and screamed, only stopping to take a breath in order to shriek even louder.  I knew he didn’t need anything.  He just ate.  I had just changed him, so that wasn’t it.  Jaron was simply in a bad mood and didn’t know what else to do.

I realized that no matter how long or loud we wailed, I would still just hold him as tight as I could and keep him safe.  All I could do is hope that he eventually started to understand that everything was ok, and that his daddy would keep him safe.

At that point I got a glimpse of how God must feel when I’m having a “rough day”.  Sometimes I forget that I’m always in His arms, and that He’s going to keep me safe, no matter how long or loud or violently I scream that things aren’t going my way.  I can’t be mad at my son, because he doesn’t know any better.  God is never mad at us when we aren’t the good, smiling little angels we can be.  We don’t know any better.  We’ve been born into a world of injustice, unfairness, and corruption.  God loves me just the same.  I forget more often than I’d like to admit, but He’s always holding me tight.

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Things I’ve learned from my 3 month old son.

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My son was born at the end of December, and I’m 99% certain he is wise beyond his years.  I’ve learned a lot about life from this little guy.  Here are just a few.

  1. Life is messy, and so are we.
  2. When you make a mess of things, get over it and move on.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask (cry) for help.
  4. Family is important.
  5. Naps are definitely not overrated.
  6. Ordinary things are amazing if you stare at them long enough.
  7. Smiling makes you happy, not necessarily the other way around.
  8. Snuggling is the best.
  9. Give everyone a chance.
  10. All you really need is to be loved.
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