Skydiving – It was never an activity on my bucket list. I knew several people who had taken the plunge so to speak and heights were never a problem for me, but skydiving just never really drew me in. Not before my injury, not after! So why did I jump?
In 2004 I sustained a spinal cord injury at the C5 – C6 level. My initial rehab took place at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City where the next few months would be just the beginning of a new chapter in my life. In a sense, the world had flipped on its axis, thrusting me forward from the familiar. I needed to be taught a whole new way of doing things – adapt and improvise! There was a lot to learn. In the beginning it seemed like a constant onslaught of information, from body management to health care, recreation and on. Along the way I did meet some wonderful people and even saw a video of paralyzed individuals skydiving. However, my being was busy processing everything – jumping out of a plane wasn’t even on the radar!
Fast forward a few years and my world was much different from the one I saw looming in front of me in those early days. I was fortunate to have been able to continue therapy, helping me reclaim a greater degree of independence. I was driving, had started taking college courses, and was blessed with being able to build an accessible home. At points it seemed painfully slow, but I was continuing to branch out. It was during one these solo adventures that I bumped into an individual from my time in New York who just happened to be the head of their Life Challenge Program. They were going skydiving!
I won’t lie, I had my reservations and it took some convincing, but something in me just said to go for it. Now, at least for me, making a decision to do something does not automatically mean all concerns are instantly removed. The interesting part was that my chief worry had nothing to do with the plane or the act of falling through the sky. My thoughts were on my legs. How would they be kept in the proper position? What about my spasticity? Apparently duct tape is the answer for everything!
After arriving at the airport and going through the necessary paper work it was time to “suit up”. The staff was very pleasant, in a light-hearted, joking way, but very serious about safety. They helped me transfer to the hangar floor and fitted me with the appropriate harness, the whole time explaining the process. Once I was back in my chair I asked about managing my legs. With one nylon strap around my thighs, what seemed like half a roll of duct tape around my feet, a wry smile on my instructors face and my slightly cocked eyebrow, I had my answer.
The surreal nature of the experience was only amplified once we were in the air. It is unusual to watch someone open the door of a flying aircraft and proceed to dangle their leg outside as if they were sitting pool side. Nor is it common to sit on that same ledge yourself while watching as another person stands outside, clinging to the plane cruising at an altitude of 1300 feet, just so they can take your picture. Then there is the plunge! Air rushing in on all sides; look at the ground, the clouds, the videographer, remember to breathe, and wait for the stomach you left behind to join you. Mix in pure adrenaline and it makes for an experience hard to describe, but exhilarating comes to mind. Breathtaking is also fitting once the parachute opens and the slow decent through the clouds begins.
All of this would lead to a smooth landing, a fantastic new experience, and a reaffirmed thought: Sometimes in falling it is possible to reach new heights!
If you would like to talk more about my experience please feel free to contact me:
Joe Salva (570) 561-6139 firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also check out Blue Sky Ranch:
Joe Richards (845) 255- 4033 or go to http://skydivetheranch.com/