The next day we repeat the previous morning’s preparations and head to the center. And before we know it, we are on the first ride up, helmet in hand, jumpsuits zipped, altimeter fastened, and parachute strapped on tight. On the way up, I try not to even think about our exit because I know I will psyche myself out. Instead, I glance around at all the other skydivers on the plane. One of the few women on the plane catches my eye, smiles, and gives me a thumbs up. She was here once, taking her first jump, a bit of nervousness and excitement written across her face despite how much she tried not to let it show. And now, she’s a bad-ass, decked out in her slimming suit of red and black, a confident smile on her face, trying to re-assure a girl who reminds her of her first time.
The door of the aircraft cranks open and we all begin to slide forward on the bench as people jump out. And then, Mike is at the door and climbing out, waiting for me to follow. I do, immediately, not thinking, just doing as Jesse and I practiced the day before. But what we could not prepare for are the 120 mph winds that are trying to rip me off the side of the plane.
“Okay,” I hear Mike’s muffle yell over the wind.
I try to yell my “Ready, set, go!” over the wind, but I know my lines are lost. It doesn’t matter though because now I’m falling and I feel Mike next to me, his hand securely gripping my suit. He gives me a few hand signals to reposition my body for a stable fall, check my pilot parachute, check my altimeter. Everything’s going smoothly and I’m actually feeling pretty good about it. Before I know it, I check my altimeter and it’s time to pull my ‘chute.
I arch my body and feel the initial jolt as my parachute starts to open. I look up to check to make sure everything is going well, as we were taught, and I notice something odd. My parachute is opening rather slowly and there’s a piece of fabric, called the slider, right next to my face. It’s flapping violently, loud, and at this moment, I recall the pictures in the videos we watched. The slider seemed so much further away in those pictures. My fall has slowed, but when during my tandem ride, it felt different. This has all taken about one second and I know I have only about two seconds total to decide whether my parachute is good or bad.
After one more glance at my slider, I look down on my harness. Here we go, I think. I find the red handle that cuts my main parachute away and yank it hard. I’m falling faster again and I look to the other side of my harness, find the metal handle, grip it with both hands and pull even harder. My hands move automatically, I arch my body again and it takes me a moment to realize that my reserve parachute has opened. I quickly stuff the handles into my jumpsuit, check my altimeter, and look up, reaching for the canopy toggles. Then I notice that the slider is right next to my face…again! Shit!
This entire time, I have not panicked. I have not cringed, cried, prayed, or even frozen up. But now, for about half a second, I don’t know what do to. What did the movie say? A bad parachute is one you can’t control? Okay. I remember Mike saying that we can test the control by pulling the toggles. If you turn left when you pull the left toggle, you’re good. I do this. My parachute turns left. I pull the right one. I turn right.
And then, I realize, I’ve made a mistake. There was nothing wrong with my parachute the first time. I scold myself aloud and look down to find that I’m still right above the landing zone. I land. Not nice and soft as I did with the tandem instructor, but on my butt, in the tall grass that comes up to my head. I’m still in one piece. And I’m extremely embarrassed.
“Better safe, than sorry,” I tell myself, knowing that I would not have acted any other way and that I wouldn’t have wanted to. I’m glad that I did not doubt myself. I’m glad that it didn’t take me more than two seconds to decide what to do. Because if it had been a bad parachute and I’d taken longer, I would have been a pancake at this moment.
Jesse before a jump:
Jesse after a jump: