I just turned the Big Five-0 this year in July and my wife and kids threw me the biggest and best surprise birthday party that you can imagine. I had many friends and family surprise me with some unique gifts to remind me of how old I have become. We all had some great food and it was great to catch up with some friends that I do not see as often as I would like.
I did receive one gift that when I opened it; I thought it was just another joke or gag gift to see my reaction. I received a gift certificate to go skydiving from my kids. I joked it off and moved to the next card reminding me that I was older than dirt these days. A couple of days later in talking with my kids I found it was not a gag gift but I was going skydiving. I ask about the gift and they explained that they found my Bucket List in my desk drawer and skydiving was on the list. I explained to my kids that I am getting older and I do not even remember making out that list but I was told that I was going skydiving.
As a Project Manager with Lord & Company; I have been trained to avoid risk and if I cannot avoid it then ways to mitigate risks. I have been trained to define, identify, prioritize, analyze, plan, monitor and control risks. This type of analyzing sometimes drives my wife crazy but with my background in Engineering and Project Management it just comes natural.
Now I am faced with a pivotal choice, do I back out on the challenge of skydiving or do I face my fear and do this. Of course, it took me several weeks to analyze the risk and process jumping out of a plane at 14,000 feet. I finally made the decision that I would face this fear head on and schedule the big jump. I went online at Carolina Skydiving in Chester, SC and made my reservation to jump on September 24, 2016 at 9:00 AM. Since it was my first jump, it would be a tandem jump with an experienced skydiver.
I then started asking everyone at work to join me on my jump and figured a few would be glad to join me. There ended up being no takers and my wife and kids also decided that they did not want to join me. I ask around 50 people to join me skydiving and I got many different excuses. Some of the excuses ranged from “that is not a good time for me” to “I will do it the next time excuse”.
I had a great night’s sleep before my big jump. I woke up that Saturday morning and took a shower. When I got out of the shower I started thinking; I will be jumping out of a plane in a few hours. I immediately became nervous but it was time to face the fear. I drove down to the jump site by myself, so plenty of more time to think and pray. I arrived around 8:45 AM and checked in and was asked to wait until the ground training started in a few minutes.
While I waited, I was able to watch others skydiving and it was starting to sink in. You know that big lump in your throat and that feeling in your stomach. That feeling in my stomach may have just been hunger since I only ate a protein bar that morning. It was a beautiful bright sun-shinny day but a little warmer than I anticipated when I scheduled the jump back at the 1st of August.
The ground training was simple and straight forward. It is easy to do everything that you need to do on the ground, so after signing numerous waivers (too many to count). I am all set and ready to be called and fitted for my big jump. I can honestly say the worst part for me was the waiting. Once I made the decision to jump, I just wanted to do it quickly before I backed out.
I was finally called back at around 11:00 AM by my first name (William). Anyone that knows me never calls me William, it is either Tommy or Tom but never William. Scott my instructor could see how nervous I was and immediately started joking with me and told me this was his first jump also. He ask me about which parachute I wanted to select; number 22 or number 16. I explained that I would not make that choice, he went with number 22 after messing with me for a few minutes.
Suited up but back to waiting and getting even more nervous waiting for the plane to arrive. I see my wife and daughter have arrived to see me sweat, laugh and take a few photos. In just a few minutes the plane arrived and we all boarded the small plane. There were 12 to 14 people inside of the plane packed tight with 2 pilots at the controls. I start thinking about how many end up just landing with the plane but I immediately faced the fear again and decided that I am jumping out of this plane. Glancing down at the ground at around 6,000 feet and then again around 12,000 feet. The ride up took around 15 – 20 minutes. Helmet and goggles in place ready to move toward the open door on the plane. I am asked if I want to jump first or last; I immediately answer I want to go first since I am tired of waiting.
I tried to focus on my limited training and one, two, jump. That first 5 seconds was terror and then I found myself trying to get in the free-fall position. As I get into position at 120 MPH falling to the ground, all of a sudden this is not bad and I start enjoying it but in the back of my mind I am thinking I hope that chute comes out properly. After about 60 seconds of free-fall then a sudden stop as the parachute is deployed. Then it is quiet and peaceful coming down slowly toward the ground. You can now look around and enjoy the view. I enjoyed the decent down and I was given the opportunity to guide us for a little while. After a few minutes of the peace and quiet the ground was getting closer. I was given instructions again on what to do as we get closer to the landing. Scott proved why he was the professional by the nice smooth landing.
I am not going to lie, when my feet were back on the ground it felt pretty good. I was on an adrenaline high from the jump and I felt weird to just walk around. I was glad to see my beautiful wife and daughter as they ask me how was it. I was able to overcome the fear of skydiving to experience the birthday gift of a lifetime. Sometimes we have to push through our fears and challenges in life. I have been blessed with great friends and family and I want to enjoy each and every day that God gives me in this life.
I was asked if I would try skydiving again and I immediately said yes (maybe in another 50 years). Risk is a part of our life but sometimes you just have to go for it. We must first overcome fear in our mind to picture success. “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” Psalm 56:3
Tom Carico – PMP