Sunday, June 5, 2011
Going skydiving today
When I was making frequent skydives, five or six a day at these events, the scariest part of each jump was performance anxiety. Since you have all those other people all paying for their own ticket, everyone wants the jump to be successful; i.e., to complete what we set out to do. I trusted my gear and was quite familiar with the entire process, but I was never sure that I would not screw up in some way that would make me feel like I let them all down. Everyone felt the same.
One problem that happened often was misjudging the distance to the formation, which must build from the inside out. If you were on the outside, like we were, it was a frequent occurrence that someone might approach too quickly and "go low" -- be unable to slow down and approach carefully in order to take your grip. Then you would just sail past the formation and look up at it helplessly. It is a fragile formation and any forward momentum when you dock can be seen on the video camera as a ripple moves through from one side to the other. The cameraman who took this picture also is wearing a video camera.
After the skydive, we would all meet in the main hangar and debrief. Other skydivers not on the dive who were finishing packing or waiting for their load would also gather around. If I made a mistake, it would be shown over and over on the huge video screen while my burning cheeks flamed away. This would happen to each of us whose performance was not as planned, and you hoped that no comments would be directed your way. Since we were doing this for fun, we would be given a chance to go up on another skydive and try again. It was always exciting to learn how to correct a mistake and put it into practice.
But many skydivers are very competitive and want to make jumps with people who are much better than the rest of us. They knew who they were and stayed out of the organized jumps, which would take anyone who gave a ticket to the organizer. If someone screwed up repeatedly, the organizer would take him or her aside and suggest joining another group that would be making easier skydives. After a few days, you knew where you belonged. Year after year, I would see my fellow skydivers showing up at the Christmas boogie in Arizona, for instance, and we would happily jump together. A group of jumpers from the UK are in this picture and were regular fun jumpers. We looked for each other every year, and I only see them on Facebook these days. My boogie days are behind me.
Today my anxiety is not about performance, but about getting current again. When I haven't made a jump in awhile, I review in my mind all my emergency techniques and mentally picture myself opening my parachute and flying it in a landing pattern to the ground. I know that my friend Linny will organize an easy skydive because none of us is terribly current, with the weather having been uncooperative for so long. Butterflies and mental review are my friends. The 75-mile drive to Snohomish and back on the freeway are also nerve wracking, and I pay close attention to my speed and the drivers around me. But I do it, because I know the payoff is a day well spent playing in the sunshine with my friends, doing something I know how to do well, even if it has been awhile. After 4,000+ jumps, it's a familiar environment.
And today, Linda Myers, who has the blog "Thoughts of a Bag Lady in Waiting" will be driving to Snohomish from a nearby city to watch. I've never met her in person, but I feel like I know her. She retired from her job a year ago and has been going through her bucket list, with plenty of travel and helping to build a Habitat for Humanity home in New Orleans. She posted her plans for today on Facebook so I know I'll see her for sure. I'm looking forward to it and I'm making sure I don't forget to take my camera.
So that's the news from Bellingham, where all the men are good-looking, all the women are strong, and all the children are above average. (That's a ripoff from Garrison Keillor, for those of you who wonder where the heck THAT came from!)