What was I thinking? As a kid I would climb trees and I spent a great deal of my time on the roof, even climbing down the chimney to find out how Father Christmas did it. These days I only have to climb a few steps up the ladder, or peer over the balcony of a two storeyed building, to experience the spinning sensation of vertigo, yet one of my grandchildren told me once that I was ‘invincible’ and that is a lot to live up to.
I really thought that I could conquer this fear of heights, so when I had the opportunity to do a tandem jump I didn’t hesitate to take up the challenge. I convinced myself that it would be different from standing on the edge of a cliff or looking down from a high building. I would fly through the air like a bird and as a kid I had tried so hard to fly. Of course my efforts were disastrous and resulted in many bruises and lots of ripped clothing. This experience would give me the legitimate feel of flying. I was convinced that I would enjoy it.
My first attempt in January was thwarted because of high winds so I decided to wait for a few months until the winds abated. I booked in and hoped that the weather would be kind and allow me to fly. I wasn’t going to go back a third time.
When I woke up on Saturday I was greeted with blue skies and only a slight breeze, so my friends and I set off for the Barwon Heads airport. As a Queenslander I am used to warm weather even when it is raining, but even though the sun was shining, there was a chill in the air. Luckily the company, ‘Skydive’, supplied warm clothes, including a thick pair of trousers. I soon found out the reason for those trousers!
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As I was being strapped up and fitted out, I felt relatively calm and excited that the hour was fast approaching when I would fulfil one of the activities on my bucket list. On the television a few nights before I had watched a 90-year-old do the jump and say it was one of the best experiences of his life. Well, I thought, I’m only a youngster at 73 so it will be a piece of cake for me.
It was a very tight fit in the plane and I found myself with a yummy young man in my lap– and whilst some may think that this may be an old lady’s dream, I actually found it quite claustrophobic. Still I forgot about the discomfort as the plane rose higher and higher to reach the ultimate 14,000 feet. The view was spectacular and I was still looking forward to my jump.
Then the atmosphere in the plane altered as there had been a sudden change in the wind velocity and it became unsafe to jump. It was decided to keep the plane circling until it died down. By this time my straps had been tightened and with the tight reins, the cramped in bodies and the height we were cruising at, I had a big moment of panic and found breathing difficult. At that moment I felt that I could go into a full anxiety attack if I didn’t pull myself together, so began breathing as deeply as I could within the restraints of the straps and people. It was a relief when the wind died down enough for the jumping to begin.
Really, there was not a lot of time to think about it as several bodies went hurtling out of the plane and suddenly it was my turn to sit on the edge of the plane and just go. I hadn’t realised that we would somersault but I felt I coped with that sensation pretty well. Seconds later I really wondered what I had got myself into as we went hurtling toward the ground at a speed, I found out later, of 220km an hour. The ground seemed to be rising up to meet us. This was not the bird-like glide I had anticipated, this was a free fall in earnest and I was terrified – or was that trembling just exhilaration? Actually a few days after the event I’m inclined to want to say that it was exhilaration!
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It is hard to believe that this experience lasted only 60 seconds, it seemed a lot longer but then there was a big jolt as the parachute opened and I felt my whole body jangle. My companion apologised for the rough opening, apparently caused by another upgrade in wind speed. We spun around before stabilising and it was then that I really experienced the beauty of flying like a bird. It was a wonderful feeling as I surveyed the landscape and despite the wind, we glided fairly smoothly to the ground.
It was at the point of landing that I found the need for those trousers as I slid along the ground on my backside. It was not a particularly smooth landing but I was back on terra firma and I had completed the adventure.
I won’t be going back for seconds but I am so glad that I did it. At the moment I am rather inclined to agree with my grandson. Yes, Jack, your Granny is invincible – well until the next challenge comes along!
Thank you Starts at 60 and Red Balloon for this amazing opportunity to confront some fears. I feel it is no coincidence that some doors have opened that previously seemed unavailable. Very exciting!
Have you ever done something cool like this? What is the biggest fear you’ve ever faced?