I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Intensity on many levels

Sunday morning again. I just finished re-reading last week's post to make sure I don't miss anything. When we got married in freefall, I was 51 years old and a veteran of three previous marriages that didn't work out. For two decades, I was sure that I would never marry again, but when we did, finding our way forward centered on our shared love of skydiving. He started skydiving in 1962 and was well known in the small skydiving world of the 1960s and 1970s, and I made my first jump in 1990, so we were at opposite ends of learning about skydiving.

To someone who doesn't skydive, it might seem a little odd to say that it is a learning experience that continues as long as you are jumping. And I didn't know what I wanted to do with my jumping life. You see, there are different disciplines in skydiving: relative work (RW), freestyle (back then anyway), canopy formations (made after you open your parachute), videography, and a few others. I decided I wanted to become an instructor, which is probably the hardest and most difficult experience I've ever had. Smart Guy would pretend to be a student for me, and I would try to give him signals in freefall and control his antics as if he were a student.

After I had almost 1,000 jumps, I thought I was ready to attend a course. These courses are held at various places around the country several times a year. We went to Davis, California, and I entered the stress of two days of classroom, then a week of being tested in the air by having an evaluator pretending to be a student, with video (taken by a third person). You paid lots of money for this privilege, plus the slots on the plane for three people.

I failed miserably. I did not even get close to passing the course my first time through. After going home and spending every waking moment talking with Smart Guy about what I needed to learn and practicing every weekend, I went off to Texas in 1994 to try again. It was just a month after we got married that I went there. And I passed! On June 18, 1994, I became an AFF (Accelerated Freefall) skydiving instructor! And the learning went on and on, with me loving it and learning how to help others to become a skydiver.

Every August, we went off to the World Freefall Convention in Quincy, Illinois, and we had been given a big area to set up for young (meaning not many jumps) skydivers to hang out in. This would keep them safer and still learning instead of getting in over their heads. I didn't particularly want to perform complicated skydives with people, and I was so very happy to make up simple jumps and had as many as a dozen other skydivers working for me, doing the same thing. Smart Guy and I ran this tent for inexperienced jumpers for many years. By the year 2000, I had accumulated over 2,000 skydives.

By this time, every weekend I was instructing, and my job became more intense. I was promoted to a salaried position in 1999, and I began to travel with my boss all over the world. My first trip was to Geneva, then Macao in 2000, and I ended up making many international trips to interesting places. I organized several dozen international scientific meetings and helped to write the report that followed.

As you can imagine, my life was very full. I never spent a day doing anything but going either to work, international travel,  teaching skydiving on the weekends, or going off to skydiving events. And then, a mistake under canopy. A bad one.

On June 18, 2000, I was trying to land my parachute in high winds and made a turn close to the ground, which ended up with me fracturing my pelvis in six places, shattering the sacrum on the right side. I wrote about the experience on my other blog here. All the gory details are on that other post, but here I want to talk about what the accident did to our relationship. It only deepened our commitment to one another. I was completely and utterly dependent on Smart Guy for everything, from cooking for me, emptying the commode, helping me get around. It was hard on him, I know, but he never complained and kept his usual humor.

When I was finally able to get around by myself again and the external fixator had been removed from my pelvis, I returned to work after missing a couple of months. My job was waiting for me, and I was able to return to the skydiving world over Christmas vacation in 2000, at Eloy, Arizona, while attending Skydive Arizona's annual Christmas event. Six months later, I was back in the air!

Before too many months, I was back teaching students again, and I also spent many a Saturday teaching the First Jump Course, teaching as many as a dozen students to make their first jump safely. I got so involved in all this that I decided to run for Regional Director for the United States Parachute Association, so that I could be involved in helping with skydiving safety and training issues. I was on the Board for four years, and I finally learned that I am not a political person. And that is what it was: you had to learn how to get the votes on the Board in order to get anything passed. I made a lot of friends in the national skydiving arena, but I was not cut out to be a Board member.

So, as you can see, skydiving and my job were very intense, and our relationship shined right through all this. But I began to change. As Smart Guy once said to me, you can't have a hundred jumps forever; the experience of skydiving changes as you move through it, and after a while I no longer felt it was necessary for me to be at the Drop Zone EVERY weekend, or pushing myself to the limit every moment of every day.

In August 2002, another part of my life changed when my son Chris died suddenly. His wife called me from Germany and I learned that he was gone. I'll tell you about that tragic time in my life next week.


Whitney Lee said...

You continue to amaze me. Your dedication and tenacity shine through in this post. I wonder if you are aware of how much this post reveals about your personality. Not everyone is capable of the kind of determination and hard work it took to do all you did with sky diving. And all while furthering your career in a high powered job and developing your marriage. Truly inspiring. It sounds like this was the first time in your life where everything was in sync.

I look forward to this post each week and know it must be difficult to dig through these old memories. Thank you.

Leave a Legacy said...

You certainly throw yourself completely into everything you do. Do you have any lingering affects from your injury? How lucky are you to have met Smart Guy. He also could be nicknamed Loving Guy.
Next Sunday's post sounds painful. I'll read it, but it's going to be difficult. So I can't even imagine how you can write it.
You're an amazing woman, DJ!

Stella Jones said...

Nobody can say you don't pick yourself up and start over, can they. You've done that so many times, it's become a habit! I admire your strong will in the face of adversity and hope sincerely that now, in your golden years, you will get some peace.
Blessings, Star

Buz said...

Rae (from Weather Vane) wrote about being emotionally affected by happiness, sadness, TV ads, blog posts, etc. You already know this about me, but I'm the same way, and even though I already know a lot of your story, I can't read these posts without crying, and most of those tears are related to your happiness, your successes, and your wonderful marriage. You're a good woman, a great sister, and it warms my heart to read these reflections from your amazing life.

gayle said...

I am really enjoying the story of your life. After your terrible accident you got back to sky diving again. Amazing!! I am not looking forward to reading next weeks post because of the pain I know I will feel. I can't even comprehend how you must have felt and how you feel now. What an wondeful person you are!!

CiCi said...

What your posts do is stimulate conversation between hubby and me. Not that we need it, we talk all day long to each other. But we are enjoying discussing how different we are from the both of you in that we would never want to sky dive but at the same time we so admire you for doing it! I am glad you are taking us through your life story a little at a time. I can only imagine the many inconveniences as well as disappointments when you were injured. But you healed and came back with a vengeance. You are something, girl!!!

The Retired One said...

You have gone through many ups and downs in your life (yes, pun intended)...the test of many relationships is when one person completely becomes dependent on the other in a crisis and sees that the other person will be there, no matter what.
I know what you mean about not being on Boards...I have been on over 8 boards in my life and usually there is so much politics that if you are ethical, you have a problem because it is your job to keep things ethical and you usually discover a conflict you must identify to others and remain strong....
it can be very difficult. I am now off all boards but one and am glad for that.
I am fascinated by your life's journey, and I already know that your next blogpost will have me in tears.

Lucy said...

And to think you do all that hiking? Pain must certainly be your constant companion? Good for you though, you latch onto something you like and actually do it! Not everybody can say that!

Far Side of Fifty said...

What a recovery after your accident..but you know ..I think you have made lots of recoveries throughout your life. You are very strong, very focused. I hope you are doing okay with this whole process..I hope you are finding some peace by talking about your past. You need to take good care of you..I hope you know that:)

M. Reka said...

Very well done DJ. You're an amazing woman :)

Boomer Pie. said...

I wish I had your courage...not just to skydive but for everything else. I signed up to follow your exploits. Drop by my place for the Super Bowl of Love and return the favor if you like what you see. http://www.boomerpie.com/