This I Believe

Colleen - Ellicott City, Maryland
Entered on November 29, 2007
Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: courage
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“Don’t hesitate, just jump!”

As I inched to the door of the airplane I told myself “Don’t hesitate, just jump!” and that is exactly what I did.

I always wanted to skydive and when my mother surprised me with two tickets, one for my father and one for me, to take an Accelerated Free Fall sky diving course I was thrilled. How great would it be to jump out of an airplane with my father? That was before my mother causally tells me that I will not be going tandem. “Your father said he wouldn’t go if someone was strapped to his back.” That was three years ago.

So I set a date and made the hotel arrangements in Laurel, Delaware and put my big girl panties on. I was going to jump out of an airplane. That was until the rain came. The first trip to skydive was a bust, and so was the second and third. Either a hurricane moved up the coast and dumped rain on us or the winds just would not cooperate. On the fourth attempt my father and I took the six hour sky diving course in hopes that the sky would clear and we would jump. To our dismay the rain stayed and we went home again without our thrill.

After 3 more attempts, which spanned a three year period, my day, had come. I had to suffer through the six hour course again and now I was really scared. As I listened to the instructor tell me what to do if I landed in water or the corn fields, or hit a building or flew into the electrical wires all I could think of was, can I really do this? Is he really serious? And then there were the pictures of what it looks like when a shoot doesn’t open, if your lines get tangled, or if the parachute does not fully inflate. Oh, my God how am I going to remember all this? Where is my reserve shoot again? I wasn’t sure I would actually get on the airplane until I looked over at my fifty year old father and thought I can not let gramps outdo me.

When the class was over, fear took hold of my mind while I waited another three hours for the winds to calm down. I sat watching a handful of tandem skydivers go up and come down just about every hour when an opening in the weather broke. I listened as a professional jumper called the tandem jumpers “Wind Dummies”. As I thought about being that wind dummy, the instructors called my name. It was my time to go up. Step one was getting into the airplane. After that there was no turning back. The ride up was smooth and in my mind I recited the order of events I was about to perform. Just get to the door and jump. I can do this. Don’t hesitate, just jump. So when I got to the door jump is exactly what I did. The one minute free fall was filled with tasks like checking my altimeter and checking in with my instructors. I even snuck a wave to the camera man. When it was time to pull my shoot, my hand would not connect with the shoot handle. I panicked and the instructor, flying next to me, forced my manic hand to the handle. That is where the free fall stops with a sudden jerk and I started to slowly drift with the wind.

It took me a moment to get my head about me and I began to cheer like a child on a roller coast. Half of me was excited and the other half was scared to death. The entire twenty five minute drift down to earth was not filled with tasks and my mind ran a million miles a minute that my shoot would give out and I would plummet to the earth. The tiny voice on the one way radio, strapped to my chest, gave instructions like turn left or right. There was no comforting voice telling me I was going to be ok and there was no one for me to tell how terrified I was. When I finally got to the ground a little girl ran up to me and said “Did you love it?” I was still in shock from the experience. I just told her it was like going on a roller coast that was so fast and scary you’re not sure you want to get back on, that is until the thrill of the ride sinks in and you realize how much fun you really had. Next summer I am heading back to that little airport in Delaware to jump again. I want to enjoy every minute of my next jump.

My boyfriend tells me I am his superwoman and that I can do anything. It wasn’t until I jumped out of that plane that I realized he was right. It was I who left home at the ripe age of nineteen and joined the Coast Guard. I sailed on ships for two and three months at a time through the Caribbean and across the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. It was I who moved to Kodiak, Alaska for two years because I didn’t want to be stuck in California for four. The Coast Guard has been good to me. It has allowed me to reinvent myself several times over. I feel like I get a clean slate to start fresh and change all the things I think I could do better, when I move to a new unit.

My latest challenge was to get healthy. I committed to quitting smoking cigarettes and losing 25 pounds. Two years later, I am 25 pounds lighter and still smoke free. I couldn’t walk a mile then and this summer I ran my first 5K in thirty three minutes for the Susan Komen ”Race for the Cure”. Getting healthy has not been easy and my journey is far from over.

I believe my life is like a snow globe. The tiny world comes in different sizes, scenes, and figures, but it only gets really exciting when I shake it up.