Terminal Velocity Part 2 What I learnt jumping out of a plane at 15000 feet!
The longest 8 seconds of my life!
So here I am, hanging at 1500 ft. Physically dangling out of the plane and held to a man I'd met barely an hour before. I am sure he had his final checks to do and no doubt I am grateful that he was thorough but those last few seconds were on a scale beyond awful. I simply have no words. When you are hanging there with a tandem jump you have a specific position to be in. Your body has to be in the shape of a bow and you push your hips forward. Your legs are bent at the knees and your head has to rest backwards onto the shoulder of your instructor. The day that we jumped was cloudy at 15000 ft. As we were climbing higher in the plane to get to this altitude I couldn't decide if that was good or bad. Was it better to jump out into the unknown marshmallow of cloud, earth unseen and have faith it's there? Or would I prefer to launch myself to earth with all senses firing, being able to see our planet from an alien perspective? Quite honestly I had no clue. All I knew for those final 8 seconds hanging out of the plane I just wanted him to jump! In my head I was screaming - "Do it, get it over with now for the love of all that is holy!"
Careful what you wish for.
Except of course the moment he did that I thought I would lose control of all my faculties. That moment he bundled us both out that door I felt I lost everything that made me human. As we fell and he worked to gain control of the descent we were bowling through the air in some sort of insane dance, I had a moment of supreme clarity. I was no longer Tara, wife of Owen, daughter of Linda, sister in law of Anne and Aunt to Alice and Katie. I was a seething bag of emotions, a lump of meat, no longer uniquely me and with a personality. I can only imagine this is as close as I will ever get to enlightenment, that state of true yogi's where their soul and consciousness transcends their physical bodies. In that moment I felt and experienced things I have never felt before and it was powerful yet fleeting. Within seconds of jumping skillfully, Matt got us steady, we were stabilised and the freefall experience began.
1 minute of freefall.
So what is the difference between 15000 ft and 10000 ft? When it comes to a skydive around 30 seconds. Not likely to be something I'll ever be able to forget now, yet before May 12th 2018 it wasn't something I knew or even cared about. Have you ever done a set of exercises for 1 minute? Most of us think pah 1 minute easy. The thing is though a minute is quite a long time! Obviously, we'd been briefed about what to expect and we'd also been told that we wouldn't be able to hold a conversation during freefall due to the noise. Hah, the noise. It was utterly bonkers. If you've ever been hiking or walking near a big waterfall or been close to a river that is full and raging you will have some idea of how loud it is. It's beyond a roar and I can only imagine that the noise alone does things to your central nervous system that it takes days to recover from. My one thought during this time was to "assume the position" as it was imperative that I maintained the bow position. Head up and looking straight ahead, legs bent with hips thrust forward. That was my one focus as we hurtled to earth. I momentarily contemplated those people who were jumping and having their photo's taken or video shot. I was eternally grateful that I had declined. Having my face, with a horrendous rictus of abject terror immortalised forever, wasn't for me. For those of you that can smile properly during this experience, I salute you!
Through the clouds.
Suddenly the clouds were gone and I could see the earth below me, a very long way away. I have no idea of the altitude and honestly, it didn't really change the way I was feeling about the jump. I was still terrified, I kept expecting to enjoy it at any moment, yet that moment was elusive. By this time my heart felt as if it was beating at an insane rate, I'd managed to persuade them to let me keep my fitbit on so I could get a rough idea of what my heart rate was doing at any one time. If I'd had to guess I'd have said it was about 180bpm. As we continued to fall I began to wonder about the second part of the jump. Perhaps that is when the fun would start.
Just at the point where I thought my heart could take no more there was an unholy jolt and suddenly I'd gone from horizontal to vertical. The roaring ceased while up above us the canopy of the parachute was open. Matt kindly offered me the controls for the descent, I said I'd let him know. For now I just needed a minute. Those of you that know me well will be very used to the fact that I have a lot to say. This was a rare moment of silence for me, I was quite literally lost for words.
I was expecting to like this bit. I had no illusions about the freefall being hideous, yet I expected the part where you're serenely descending to earth soaking up the beauty of the world and enjoying the gorgeous views to be fabulous. Except I didn't like this bit much either. I felt as if I was part of some sort of crazy human rucksack. Effectively the baby part of the baby bjorn. It just felt weird, legs dangling with nothing to rest them on and attached to another person with glorified rucksack clips. I suppose it was the fact I was so vulnerable there that I wasn't feeling it.
Our brain, our poisonous brain!
As well as the weirdness and vulnerability as Matt was kindly pointing out pretty things, which in all honesty were very pretty and wholly under appreciated by me, my brain was having it's own little monologue of madness. It went something like this:
"Yeah, if you fall now you'll definitely die."
"I wonder what it feels like to fall to earth from this height?"
"Maybe you'd survive this height but you'll be badly injured."
"Ooooh I think now you'll survive but you could get injured when you land."
"What if I break my leg?"
And on and on ad nauseum.
Part of me wonders if I did a second jump that I'd actually be able to enjoy this bit because I now know what to expect and I'd work to can that internal chatter. The other part is 100% clear it really doesn't matter because I am NEVER EVER doing it again.
The joy of landing.
Suddenly and bizarrely with mixed emotions Matt told me to get ready to land. For the landing you have to assume an L shaped position and keep your legs out straight in front of you. Never have I been so obedient, I was ready and then some! Afterwards Matt told me that we had overshot the landing area because there wasn't much breeze, which didn't make much sense to me. However as we crashed into the longer grass around the main landing zone, I landed legs akimbo and the sense of relief was immense. We could have landed in 100 cowpats for all I cared I was just filled with utter glee I was back on terra firma and alive!
I was jumping for several reasons. The first and most obvious was to raise money for BCHA, but it was also a way to challenge myself. Most of all I did it to remember my dearest friend Joelle who had died from cancer one year previously. Her joie de vivre was legendary and I thought of her when we landed. I was so grateful to be alive and all I wanted to do was to get back to see my husband and family.
What did I learn after jumping out of a plane at 15000 ft?
Surprisingly I learnt many things that day. On a personal level I learnt that there is an emotional place well beyond panic. I don't know what to call it yet it is now something I have experienced. I also learnt that I have never felt as close to death as at that moment of jumping out of the plane. Yet I'm very glad to have experienced it. I've learnt how much I love my husband and family. Yeah it sounds cheesy but just seeing them waiting for me as I walked back to them with shaky legs was beyond words. I also learnt that actually, not much is that big of a deal. I am hugely guilty of trying to control the minutiae of my life and getting hung up on things that really are utter pants and the grand scheme of things fairly pointless. Bottom line I want to know when I shuffle off this mortal coil the answers to the following questions;
Q1) Was I loved?
A1) A definite yes. So far so good.
Q2) Did I love?
A2) Again another no brainer. Yes without a shadow of a doubt.
Q3) Did I leave the earth a slightly better place?
A3) I hope so yet there's always room for improvement.
What did I learn that has professional implications?
My "work" life is all about number 3. Teaching krav and coaching people to achieve their goals is unbelievably gratifying that it's still odd to call it work. So for my professional life let's just say that I learnt that our brains will hold us prisoner. That internal monologue of madness after the freefall really impacted my ability to enjoy the experience. I think this is relevant for me as an instructor and coach and also it's good to remember this for my students. It's also inspired me to do better and be better. Matt was such a good instructor I trusted him implicitly. It reminded me that my krav students and coaching clients trust me every time we have an interaction and that is not something I take lightly. It can be easy to accept the status quo, and that poisonous brain has 50 million rationalisations why the status quo is good. To quote Tony Robbins "If you're not growing you're dying" a harsh but fair assessment.
BCHA - Bournemouth Hospital Radio Interview.
The final thing I learnt was to pay attention. When Brian told me that we were jumping at 15000 ft it meant zero to me because I wasn't really paying attention. Brian is such an interesting person to chat to I was more interested in finding out what things he was getting up to at BCHA. He's since retired from there which I can't help but feel must be a blow however BCHA is still providing help and support to those who need it most. Check out their website
if you'd like to know more. Next week a group of us that did the jump are being interviewed on Bournemouth Hospital Radio so if you get a chance listen in.
Finally a shameless plug! If you'd like to know more about learning self-defence and being coached by me just get in touch. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me on 07506710102.