Are you afraid of heights? Acrophobia? Well, I was, and apparently still am. My friends told me that, someone told them that, if you try bungee jumping or skydiving, you’ll get rid of your fear of heights. I did try bungee jumping, and still can’t believe that I fell for that trick. Bungee jumping only enhanced my fear of heights.
However, that’s a different story. We’ll discuss that another time. For now, I’ll tell you the story of how I did my first skydive jump. And survived it. I’m proud I did it. Actually, I kind of like it, and might even try it again. But let’s answer the question first. Does skydiving really get rid of your fear of heights? Read on, and make your own conclusions.
Fitrah, my best friend, is a daredevil. She’ll try stuff like bungee jumping and skydiving without even thinking, and be contented with her choice. I, on the other hand, am a bit conservative on my choices of adventure. Fit (short for Fitrah) wanted to try skydiving. I decided I would too. Who knows, maybe I would get rid of my fear of height for good.
My fear of heights hasn’t really affected my work or my lifestyle. It’s just at some odd times, for example; when I walk on a pedestrian footbridge, I’d walk in the middle, and try not to look at the cars moving below. When I’m on a high place I just feel a bit sweaty and my heart beats or rather pounds faster than normal. I seldom freak out, but usually, I try not to think too much of the height and concentrate on other things. Well, enough about me, lets go on with the story.
I knew about this skydive place in Skiatook, Oklahoma from some of my students at the oil and gas training center. They have jumped recently and showed me photos and videos of their jump. I said to myself “It doesn’t look too scary. I’d try it.” I mean, if my students can do it, I should be able to do it too? So, I worked up my courage from there. And the sky jump place had a cool website, showing cool photos, and even sample videos. Marketing can do wonders!
The place was ~ 45 minutes drive from where I live. The outfit operates from a hanger that was nice, small and cozy. We watched a video about the safety, technique and legal aspects of skydiving, and specifically tandem skydiving. Basically, you will jump while attached to a “jump master.” The way I see it, if something goes wrong, at least the jump master will know what to do. He has done this umpteen times before. Nothing to fear.
After ~ 1 hour of briefing and practical sessions, we were ready to jump. With different styles of colorful jumpsuits to choose from, I finally went with a yellow jumpsuit with “bellbottom” legs. Here is a skydive jump from the old Hippy days of the 1970s. I’d be going down in style.
After gearing up with the harness and parachute, we board the Cessna 182 Jump Plane and climb up to 12,000 ft. From ground level, it took us ~ 20 minutes to reach the desired altitude. The plane accommodates 4-5 people. We had a pilot (the plane needs him to fly! ), the jump master (he would know how to inflate the parachute!), the videographer (I wanted my jump recorded so I can show my grandchildren!), another solo jumper who was getting out at 10,000ft, and of course, I, the star of the show.
At 10,000 feet the other solo jumper readied himself and jumped. We had more room in the plane to maneuver.
Then it was my turn to jump. My moment of truth! My harness was hooked up to the Jump Master just before exiting the plane. The door of the plane opened. The rush of cold air woke me up to stark reality. I was actually going to jump from a perfectly fine airplane, hooked up to a guy I barely knew.
I called my mom this morning, talked to my dad too, and my sisters... hmm... who did I miss? I just told my mom and dad that Fit and I were going a very special adventure and would email them the photos of it the next day.
Oops... Too late to back away. Both feet were already out of the plane, and the Jump Master and I were off the plane. Flying… My heart was pounding, adrenaline rushing. I actually loved the feeling of freefall. I smiled to the camera. I didn’t want to look too scared when I show the video to everyone back home!
We spent ~40 seconds in freefall. We even passed through a cloud. Wind rushed onto my face, distorting it. I felt great.
Without warning, the Jump Master opened the parachute. We were jerked up, which kind of hurt a bit, but not enough to deter me yet. Then we spent ~10 minutes gliding down to ground level. The Jump Master did some turns on the way down to reach the landing spot marked with an “X.”
The truth was, I got a bit queasy, and sick. I could actually see the ground coming closer and closer. (Actually it was I who was falling closer and closer to the ground!). It was then that I realized how high above ground I was. And it was even higher at the point when we started the jump.
Blood rushed to my face, and I had to actually close my eyes. Did you know that the human eye isn't really capable of discerning distance and movement (movement towards or away from you) properly out past about half a mile? It has to do with how far apart your eyes are and this phenomenon called parallax. So, above 2,000 feet, I had no real perception of height. - intellectually I know that I am way up there but my body doesn't really notice until about 1,500 feet.
Actually the 40 seconds of gliding and the 10 minutes of gliding were not sufficient for my brain and hormone system to apply the parallax theory that I learned in the physics courses at school and university to induce fear in me.
I only opened my eyes when the Jump Master shouted “Chair Position”! We were told during the briefing to brace ourselves in a chair position in preparation for landing. We have to keep our legs high just like when we are seated in a chair. If your legs are too low upon landing, possibilities are you’ll land right on your face, and if you have really bad luck, the Jump Master will land on top of you because you’re still attached together. So, basically, Chair Position is crucial. Keep that in mind if you decide to skydive one day. But, I’m not an expert.
At the end of the day, I did the jump. I loved the freefall experience. The gliding part, well, not too much. I would definitely try jumping alone next time (not tandem). I would not really say it managed to extinguish my height phobia, but it was not as scary as I thought it would be. Do give it a try given the chance. It’s an experience of a lifetime, and worth it.