|Me in Colorado, 1992|
But I haven't made a skydive since the end of last October, and one cannot rest on one's laurels (i.e., be satisfied with one's past success and consider further effort unnecessary). I was amazed at how much I had forgotten and was particularly reminded of two things: everyone needs to practice safety in many facets of life, and nobody else can do it for you.
Early during the day, I chatted with Elaine, wife of Tyson and co-owner of the Drop Zone at Snohomish. They emphasize safety above all else and have an impressive record. I have been at Drop Zones, even worked at some, that don't do that. This may seem impossible for you to believe, but corners are cut in order to maximize profit in jump operations. It's up to every single skydiver to decide whether the place they frequent is a good one or not, but many will go to the place that offers the cheapest jump ticket.
Elaine mentioned in our conversation that I had accomplished so very much in the skydiving world, and she seemed sincere in her complimentary remarks. But I wish now that I had asked her what she meant, what she thinks I have done, since none of it seems remarkable to me. I started skydiving at the advanced age of 47 and never stopped. I got my instructor rating at 51 and taught for twelve years. I made as many as 400 jumps in one year, while holding down a full-time job. But was that really all that amazing? I was addicted to skydiving, I simply had no choice, it seemed to me. It's also true that I spent four years on the USPA's Board of Directors, but all that taught me is that politics is not for me, and being on any board seems to be fraught with back-room dealmaking. Not my cup of tea. I was glad to let that go.
As much as I enjoyed teaching, it came time to stop. There is no cutoff date for an instructor to stop teaching skydiving, but there should be, I think. There are no hoops to jump through every year to indicate you are still a good instructor, and that is also a problem. I saw many people who became so indifferent and unconcerned about their students that they were dangerous, but there was no way to remove them from their coveted positions. That is, until something happened, and by that time a hapless student had usually made a grievous error because of poor instruction. Then there would be action.
When I retired from my job and moved to a new part of the country, it seemed like a good time to change my approach to skydiving. I did sit through a First Jump Course at Snohomish, but the system of teaching was so unlike what I had taught that I didn't want to have to learn a new system, so I let all of my ratings go and decided to simply enjoy the experience of playing in the air, with only myself to be responsible for. And it's been good: for the past four years I have jumped seasonally, no longer traveling to faraway places just to skydive, as I did for two decades. Now I am truly back to the simple enjoyment of making easy formations with like-minded friends, no competition, nobody to take care of.
But you cannot rest on your laurels when it comes to safety. That's what I learned yesterday, and it was a lesson I will not soon forget. As much as I love the sport, there will be a day when I will have made my last skydive, and hopefully it will not be forced upon me but will be my own choice. If I pay attention to my intuition, to my body, and practice my emergency procedures faithfully, I'll keep on going up in the air. And I hope the sport of skydiving will someday fall away with only good memories left behind.