Terminal Velocity Part 1 - How Brian stitched me up!
Brian is a charismatic man who works for BCHA and who I met over a year ago one day at their Alder Hills site. I'd gone there for a meeting with another guy about renting space for workshops and classes and somehow I got talking to Brian. He made me laugh and we hit it off. I got the impression that he really cared about the people he was helping as a Director of BCHA. Every now and then we talk about how I can do some pro-bono work for them and this was how I ended up in his office in Bournemouth a few months ago.
As I sat in Brian's office chatting with him about the excellent work they are doing all over Dorset and the South I felt pretty comfortable. He was explaining that it is 50 years since BCHA started and they were heading up a big campaign for fundraising and publicity. Called Bchangemakers they had a lot of things planned. The strap line was: "50 years. 50 stories. Thousands of lives transformed." I thought it sounded pretty cool. BCHA deal with the things that are not sexy or cute. They address homelessness, social isolation, mental health issues, domestic abuse, and many other things. In the days of "austerity" it is becoming clear we are not all in this together, despite what the politicians tell us. We live in a wonderful country but sometimes things go wrong and people struggle or get into difficulty. BCHA are there to do what they can support these people. The link for their campaign is here: http://bchangemakers.org.uk/
I'm sure you're thinking that this has nothing to do with krav maga, so what is she on about? Yes you're right it hasn't. Stay with me though. As I sat there talking to Brian he suggested I do a sponsored skydive with them as he thought I'd love that kind of thing. He assumed I was into extreme sports like bungee jumping simply because I enjoyed krav maga. Oh how wrong he was. Despite my love of krav maga and sparring and learning to push myself physically and mentally I am very risk averse. These days krav maga is pretty much a known territory, skydiving not so much. The thought of doing one utterly terrified me but as Brian sat there grinning at me, almost taunting me, I didn't really feel I could turn him down. I agreed before I changed my mind, without even speaking to my husband.
May 12th 2018 is not a date I will forget in a hurry!
I was delighted that after the obligatory Facebook post asking people to sponsor me that I'd raised almost £500. I remained delighted at people's generosity even when I realised that meant I couldn't back out. Brian had arranged it so that everyone who was jumping for BCHA that day, and there were a lot of us, would be booked to jump at the same time. As it happened there were so many of us that we were split into two planes. Didn't seem an issue at first, but it would come back to haunt me later. The date of the jump arrived and I was also very happy that several family members came to support me. In particular my little nieces Alice and Katie. At 11 and 8 they were a good distraction, I didn't lie and say I wasn't scared because they could see I obviously was. I told them I was scared but feeling determined and the younger one asked if she could come with me! At that moment I was very grateful for them both. Their presence meant I couldn't just sit in the corner weeping. Having to engineer french plaits for them while we waited was great fun for me and them!
The waiting was interminable!
For anyone contemplating a skydive, know this, you will be waiting around for hours. I had to endure a safety briefing, a lesson on what positions you had to adopt and when. Then we had the obligatory last minute effort to get you to buy video footage or photo's and then finally, at last I put the jumpsuit on. Waiting to do something you feel is completely insane is not much fun. Logic dictates that it is a pretty safe activity, however humans are rarely logical. Humans are born with 2 fears, falling and loud noises. I figured jumping out of a plane would tick both these boxes. Worse still my brother-in-law was there because he'd done one last year and was doing another for the hell of it. Trying to get my brain around that was like trying to smell the colour blue.
Putting your life in the hands of a stranger is nuts. During the safety briefing I kept thinking mad thoughts like "What if I break my leg when I land?" or "What if my tandem partner blacks out or has a heart attack?". Fortunately for me I shared this with my sister-in-law and she kindly asked my instructor what happens if he was incapacitated. I was unusually reticent to ask him as it seemed rude to imply that him having a heart attack mid jump wouldn't be the worst part of my day! He explained there were two parachutes and an automatic deployment device if he couldn't manually deploy. I was somewhat placated but definitely not happy.
Experience versus skill.
By this point my tandem partner and instructor had made himself known to me. I'm not going to lie, when he introduced himself to me I nearly fainted. He looked like he was 12. I couldn't believe this fella was able to ride a bike unsupervised let alone jump out of planes with random strangers. After I got my monkey brain back in it's cage I started to really chat to him and ask him questions. He was a total dude and really made the whole experience great. Well as great as it could have been. Despite being young, he was 24, he had completed over 900 jumps safely. I told him straight I was nervous, he asked if I wanted to be the first to jump and I said "hell yeah" and he arranged that. I made an assumption that his youth would impact his ability to empathise or be skilled enough to keep me safe. I was totally wrong. On the plus side, being 24 and the youngest instructor there I figured he was in the demographic who'd be less likely to have a heart attack mid jump. #winning
The difference between 10000 ft and 15000 ft.
As I mentioned earlier Brian had organised it for us to jump at 15000 ft - he even told me this. I had no idea what it meant so it wasn't really a factor for me. Until I was in that plane. I'd told Matt my instructor I wanted to be the first to jump. No time to think, I'm a rip the plaster off kind of person and it seemed prudent. Except that there were two people jumping at 10000 ft. As we climbed to that altitude I was unbelievably grateful for my heart which kept pounding away. Then the two strangers jumped and Matt said to his colleague "Just leave the door open" and at that point I thought my heart was going to stop.
Up until that point it was real but still an abstract concept. All of a sudden it was happening. The door was a giant cavernous space out of which I could see clouds and nothing else. It felt like the gates of hell and that Beelzebub would be greeting me as I passed through it. As Matt told me to scoot down off the bunk seat I was on and sit by the giant open door, by the gates of hell to be greeted by lord knows what, I thought I had never been so terrified in my life. I was wrong. As I sat there while he did his final checks, I said to him over the roar of the wind and the engine noise, "I think I'm going to wee myself" - quick as a flash he replied "Ha don't worry I had one of those last week!" I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
Terror. Pure unadulterated terror.
By this point my face felt like it was full of botox, so I couldn't have laughed or cried even if I'd wanted to. This was the moment, where the rubber meets the road. Matt told me to move towards the open door and he as put his bottom on the edge and I assumed the position required to dive, I was no longer inside the plane. I was strapped to a man I didn't know, held to him via a giant baby bjorn, dangling at 15000 ft and in less than 5 seconds we would be jumping out of a safe place to hurtle to earth at 125mph. If I thought I'd felt scared before then I'd been deluding myself. This was a whole new level. I'm finding it hard to even articulate it because I was almost at system overload. My senses couldn't compute what was happening. Even just writing this and remembering the sensation I feel tachycardic and sick. By this point though in the deepest recesses of my mind I understood it was almost over. One way or another I was jumping out of this plane! Either it would end well or it wouldn't! I wasn't going to back out and I knew some of the people I loved most in the world would be on the ground to meet me when I landed.
Look out for Terminal Velocity Part 2 - What I learnt jumping out of a plane.
Look out for my next blog for part two of my skydive and what I learnt jumping out of a plane at 15000 ft!