Don’t be alarmed. I’m merely telling you about the time I scratched the number one thing from my bucket list, and did a tandem skydive. Without that shove most first time jumpers would probably still be sitting on that plane.
Perhaps a bigger cause for alarm is me endeavouring to write about something other than travel. I was never the most earnest of fiction writers but I’ve always had a good mind for remembering facts.
Lets delve a little deeper into where the idea came about. At that time two of our good friends Keith and Sarah had gone through the challenges of having a baby born after only 25 weeks of pregnancy.
Luckily for all they overcame this difficult period. For Keith and Sarah it involved many months in hospital as their little Lilly developed in an incubator. They were provided fantastic support throughout by the charitable organisation Irish Premature Babies. In recognition of this help, one year later Keith and Sarah organised a charity jump to help with fundraising and set out to sign up friends. I jumped (no pun intended) at the opportunity.
We each had a guideline figure of €600 with 50% to raise to cover the costs of the parachute club and the other 50% being provided to the charity. I amassed contributions of over €800 from friends and customers within the bar I worked.
The day of the jump
It was an early start with a drive down to Edenderry in Offaly. My friend Emmet, who was also jumping, had offered to drive, and I admit I was happy for this as I was wired on the return journey. The jumps took place in the Irish Parachute Club. The club was formed in 1956 by Freddie Bond who was a wartime paratrooper.
Fifteen of us in total had agreed to jump that day and I hope that together we did our good part to aid some parents in despair. We were all in high spirits and spouses and children ensured we had good support.
Our chosen day in July coincided with an ongoing competition so unfortunately we were subject to a wait of about four hours. The uncertainty as to when we would get up tested our patience and our nerves, especially those who were apprehensive about jumping.
I have to admit to something. I’ve always had a fear of heights. Not a crippling one, but I do get that queasy feeling when I stand on a cliff or the edge of a tall building. But if there’s one thing I believe in it’s conquering your fears. I feel the best form of conquering is confrontation. To stare them in the face and tackle them head on. So I was a little surprised that I didn’t number myself among those guys who were nervous on this day.
Keith and Sarah had made us up t-shirts to show our representation. Eventually the competition ended and we were led into a hangar. Here we were harnessed up and led through the safety procedure. Most of the safety rests with the tandem jumper as both chords were there for him to pull, but consisted of a what if scenario.
The Tandem Master
With the safety out of the way we were introduced to our tandem masters. Mine was Ian McGowran, a veteran jumper in his late thirties with thousands of jumps under his belt. He led me through his own safety procedure, and the instruments he uses for gauging altitude amongst other things. His most important point was about me keeping my head tucked back into his chest. If I let it loose it could snap back to his, possibly rendering him unconscious and that’s where the what if scenario would come about. Point taken.
I had been offered the opportunity to have an another jumper accompany me who would make a video and take photos of my jump. I thought it was €150 well spent and looking at his work it remains so. I had earlier met Krzysztof Kacprzak a Polish guy who would be doing the honours.
There were ten of us plus the pilot all crammed into that plane like sardines. As we rose through each block of 1000 feet I could see the faces on the other guys grow more nervous. I myself was surprisingly calm. Halfway through the ascent we angled into position with our tandem master, and they joined our harnesses together and did the final safety checks.
The Main Event
Hitting 10000 feet the altitude was confirmed and the door was flung open. Half the plane emptied and I was prompted forward towards the door. I was sitting on the floor now of the aircraft with my legs dangling outside. There they were. The full bundle of nerves hit me, as I stared into the vast nothingness below. It wasn’t vertigo, the ground was too distant to have that affect on me. Perhaps a fear of something going wrong or of a new unknown. Ian rocked me forward, then back. And again. This was merely a few seconds but long ones like minutes. Krzysztof stood alongside us waiting to document all.
The next shove from Ian was the final one and suddenly we were falling at an exhilarating rate. The speed literally took my breath away, and my adrenal gland hit overdrive. The approach towards terminal velocity was such a mixture of emotions, most of them joyful, that words find it difficult to articulate. It was something I never experienced before and never have again.
That first ten seconds were mindblowing and confusing but suddenly all became clearer. We found a level altitude with Krzysztof and his shots capture perfectly to sheer joy and rush I was feeling. To float there in the domain of the birds, it was as if free from all boundaries and rules. Maybe in that place between the relative safety of the plane and the ultimate danger of the ground below there exists a euphoria. But such things can only ever be fleeting.
From an altitude of 10000ft you fall 200ft a second in freefall. So in total you only get about thirty seconds to experience this wild freedom before the necessary constraints against gravity come into play. We pulled away from Krzysztof and Ian pulled the chord. This sensation was as unusual as the one before it. The drop in speed was so pronounced it felt as if we were being dragged back up into the heavens.
From here our descent began into the lower altitudes. The feeling now was of relaxation as we stared at the countryside around us, floating slowly towards the ground. This took several minutes and as we approached the last 1000 feet it was at this point that I felt my vertigo kick in. The ground was a little too close now so I felt it far away. It was tangible now whilst before it was merely a different horizon. The photos below capture Krzysztof’s approach.
Ian kicked into safety mode again as we neared the ground. Landing on your feet is only for professionals. The safest landing is on the bodies best shock absorber, the bum. As we neared the landing field I pulled my legs and assumed a right angle position. I felt so stiff, so awkward, so uncomfortable. The landing wasn’t graceful, as our bums touched the ground, we skidded on them along the ground. But we were down. I let out a sigh of relief. As Krzysztof circled around us we high-fived and I joked “can we go again?”.
As we walked back to the hangers I was a little shaky, perhaps from over excitement. Perhaps from excessive happiness.
Reflecting now on the whole experience I still look back through the photos and find myself lost in nostalgia. I will hopefully never lose the memory of that feeling whilst soaring through the sky. Few things in life have been as emotionally rewarding as this. It deserved its berth as number one on my bucket list.