Whilst taking a trip down memory lane recently, I happened upon a conversation at work in early 2000 between myself and a very handsome, friend of mine. It went something like this: “So Lizzie, if you had to do one of the following for charity what would it be… a bungee jump or a skydive?”. So throwing caution to the wind but mainly trying to retain some ‘cool’ in front of said handsome investment banker, I nonchalantly replied that my preference would be a skydive. Before I knew it we were walking around the department collecting cash and cheques for our charity dive for Children with Liver Disease.
What you should probably know at this stage is that at that time I had two very real fears – flying and heights. Feeling completely overwhelmed and not thinking clearly, I started investigating skydiving fatalities (in the 1970s 42.5 reducing to 33.3 in the 1990s per annum according to the United States Parachute Association). This still seemed extremely high to me. My cool façade was slowly disintegrating into a sweaty neurotic mess but at the same time the donations were coming in.
I had no option. I was going skydiving. So I turned into an ostrich and pretended that if I forgot about it, it wouldn’t happen. But it did.
We left London by train early one Saturday morning and before I knew it we arrived at the airfield and suddenly it all seemed very real and daunting. What was I thinking? Was I honestly going to chuck myself out of a plane in a completely sound mind?
Having completed all the insurance forms (not good for my state of mind at that point) we were given our so called “training”. If I remember correctly this couldn’t have taken more than five minutes and then I found my legs, with a new mind of their own, walking towards what looked like a very old and small Russian plane.
We clambered aboard. My tandem partner was a fireman called Sam (no I haven’t made that up!) who had seemed to have put himself through this ritual hundreds of times and even seemed happy to have a slightly neurotic partner who seemed to think she would vomit or black out mid flight.
As we sat down and the plane started to taxi I panicked. Firstly the door was left open as we took off and secondly my very real fear of flying kicked in. As the plane climbed higher into the sky and the door remained open I tried not to look down, but like a little rabbit caught in headlights I couldn’t look away and my fears heightened as the plane ascended into the clouds.
Sam and I were harnessed together securely with four clips, a third person whilst doing our pre-jump checks, painstakingly explained to me that each clip could hold a certain amount of weight (some huge amount of weight which I cannot recollect). At this point and remaining convinced that each clip would magically become unattached and I would plummet to my death, I insisted on being attached so tightly to Sam that I could hardly breathe. I was warned I would not be able to land correctly. Land? My main priority was staying alive… I didn’t really care if I landed flat on my face at this stage.
Then one by one couples started jumping out of the plane.
At this point I started a mantra which went something like “I don’t think I can do this”. Over and over again and had I not have been hooked up to Fireman Sam would probably have started rocking with fear too. Sam then asked me to think about the children we were doing this for. That didn’t help. All I knew was that I didn’t want to jump out of a plane and experience falling at terminal velocity.
My friend then just jumped out and I remember feeling sick to my bones that it was my turn. Sam and I then manoeuvred ourselves to the exit and he threw us out of the plane. I’m pretty sure my screaming couldn’t have been heard by anyone but I have yet to scream again in quite the same fashion as that moment.
Free-falling through the sky from 12,000 feet at roughly 120 mph is extraordinary and almost indescribable. It’s a buzz, a complete rush. It’s an adrenaline junkie’s birthdays and Christmases all at once. The feeling is intense and the force of the wind coming at you is unbelievably strong. The noise is so deafening that you can’t hear anything at all but at the same time there’s a surreal calmness and peacefulness as you fall through the clouds.
Then the parachute opened and I was only aware of complete silence and a palpable relief that I wasn’t going to die just then. It was an amazing feeling and the world has never looked so beautiful as that moment. Seeing the countryside from underneath a canopy was a breathtaking moment and one that will stay with me forever.
Going back to London again seemed strange. We had just thrown ourselves out of a plane, raised a lot of money for sick kids, got red wind burned faces and I for one had faced two real fears. There’s an old saying “feel the fear and do it anyway”… I would encourage you to. There’s nothing quite like growing as a human by stepping completely out of your comfort zone, and you never know where it may take you. I am glad that for the first time in my life I stepped out, confronted a couple of phobias and had a truly unforgettable experience. I may not repeat it but I did it, battled some inner fears head on and that for me is priceless.