You think skydiving is fun with two arms, you should try it with one!

 

 

 

One of my goals in my Pursuit of Passion was to do things that were out of my comfort zone.  There is just something powerful when you try something new, something uncomfortable, and something that challenges your feeling of normalcy.  So……….this was why I made the decision to jump out of an airplane! YES, with a parachute & NO you guys aren’t that lucky and you will have to read more of my blog posts.

 

I always said that the only way I was going to jump of out a plane was because “I have had it with these mother-fucking Snakes on this mother-fucking plane!”  (YES that was a quote from Snakes on a Plane).

 

 

I would then usually make some joke about how I don’t like being off the ground “a crack at how my basketball ability never included high flying dunks, due to my White Man Can’t Jump vertical.

 

As I was driving through Colorado, witnessing the beauty of snow capped mountains and picturesque scenery, I had this strong feeling come over me that I wanted to SkyDive.   I pulled over in the first small town that provided sufficient cell phone service and started to google places I could go SkyDiving.  I found 5 different locations all within a 2-3 hour drive and I started to place phone calls with a request to skydive.   Every place I called had the same answer:

 

 

“YES we have openings, but NO you can’t sky dive here.  We don’t have equipment big enough to accommodate someone your size.”

 

I started to get frustrated as it seemed that maybe I was going to have to either shrink or lose some weight.  I know I won’t shrink and honestly losing weight seems about as impossible sometimes.   I had one more location left to contact, but I was expecting to get a very similar response when they answered.   The facility was called High Sky Adventures Parachute Club and on the website it stated that it was the oldest drop zone in the State of Colorado.  It was also located in Penrose, CO (a town with a population around 4,000) and definitely out of my way.  I really had this strong urge to jump out of a plane so I decided that I would give it one last shot.   By the time I was gong to call it was late, so I decided I would just send an email letting them know I was going to be in town and explaining my size as a potential limitation.

 

Shortly after I send out the email I get this response from Skip Moreau (the owner):

 

“Attached find info on our skydiving class. We can do your weight, because of your height….static line.  You would jump by yourself.  This is providing you have not medical issues.  You are too heavy for a tandem jump.”

I hadn’t planned on jumping out of a plane by myself, which just added to the anxiety about making the leap to actually skydive (Yes…… the pun was intended).   I decided that this entire trip I have said YES, to a lot of things that I normally would have said NO to.  My willingness to say YES and try new things has led to some spectacular experiences and introductions to some amazing people.  Even though this was scary and something that was out of my comfort zone, I knew I just had to do it.

 

 

I know it seems like a reoccurring theme along my trip, but my decision to go skydiving at High Sky Adventures Parachute Club and the reason they were the only place that would accept me was not a coincidence.  There was a plan, a purpose, and a reason that I was going to be driving several hours out of my way to go skydiving at this exact location, and it wasn’t just to be a thrill seeker.   I didn’t realize at the moment, but God was sending me to meet someone that would have me in awe due to their strength, courage, and perseverance.

I leave Denver after my lunch with Tyson and I take the long drive to Penrose, CO on Friday night and underwent a 2-3 hour course on how to Skydive.  We went through the process of how to get out of the plane, the safe way to jump, how to handle emergencies (a list of about 20+), how to land properly (which I didn’t listen closely enough apparently) and more information on life saving techniques.  I always thought when I tried jumping out of a plane I would be attached to a professional and it would be more like an amusement ride with the thrill of some added danger.  The idea that I had to learn how to jump out safely, what to do if the parachute malfunctions (to save my life), how to control the parachute, and how to land was definitely more than I had originally bargained for.  My adrenaline was already pumping, which led to a lack of sleep that night, which led to anxiety about not being rested enough to perform properly in case of an emergency.  The next morning I decided that a Red Bull would do the trick to give me energy and keep me focused, I mean it does give you wings.  I headed back to the facility, hoped up on caffeine, ready for a 9am jump and an experience of a lifetime.

The crew was getting me all set up to jump and everyone is having fun with me as they are pulling out the biggest parachute they have, one that they stated “We can’t remember the last time we used this parachute, because people your size don’t jump out of planes often.”  I laughed with them, but in my head I was like “damn I hope this parachute doesn’t have cobwebs and dust inside.  My mind drifted to:
Arch
Look
Reach
Red
Silver
Arch
This was the emergency protocol we went over last night if the parachute doesn’t open properly:  If having this in your mind before you jump out of a plane at 4,000 feet  doesn’t freak you out, I don’t know what will.
I get all geared up and head for a small plane.  Hmm….I wonder if I am going to fit in this thing.  It is about the size of the Toyota Prius I drove at one time in my life….Yes I drove a Prius and leave me alone it got great gas mileage! Don’t Judge I get my man card back because I am about to jump out of a plane!!!!!!
As I am getting in the plane I noticed that my instructor only had one arm.   I was thinking in my head, I hope that didn’t happen from skydiving.  I laughed a little at the thought that came to my head and then quickly dismissed it as unrealistic that this guy would have lost an arm skydiving and then would continue to skydive.
We get in the plane and the engine wouldn’t start:
“Is this God telling me to get out and run?” I thought.
I instead decided that I was already in to deep and that I was going to jump out of this plane, no matter how much fear I was having at the time.  We got the plane jumpstarted and we prepared for takeoff.  Several minutes later we are 4,000 feet above the ground and the door pops open.  Tommy, the one armed skydiving instructor, points to his GoPro on his head and asks if it is on.  He tells me to give him a thumbs up, which I do with a big fake smile.   Then he yells as loud and enthusiastic as a person can “alright, lets do this.”  I put my hand out of the window and attempt to grab the wing of the plane.  As soon as I put my hand out the window the wind takes it and pushes it back.  We are going over 100mph and my only thought was “I am going to have to get my entire body out of this plane to hang off the wing to then jump 4,000 feet to the ground, ok maybe the Universe was wrong on this one.”   Despite some fear, I grab ahold of the wing with very  little hesitation. I swing my feet out onto a step outside the plane and use my other hand to grab ahold of the wing before sliding all the way out to the end of the wing.  My feet are dangling in the air and I am hanging on to a plane with only my hands, and I have to say I was feeling very James Bond like.  I let go and get a huge rush run through my body as I get a quick free fall before my parachute is pulled.  I look up and the parachute is a perfect shape and flying like a champ.   I take ahold of the toggles and start to glide through the air.  I can’t recall how long I was up in the air, but It was pure peace and bliss.  I felt at one with the universe as I was under its complete control and could just feel the wind guiding me as I slowly descended down towards the ground.  It was truly an amazing experience.  I got closer to the ground and let’s just say they trained us to land on our feet and I decided that I would rather come in hot and slide on my ass instead.   See video for evidence:
As I landed all I could think about was how fearful I was to have this experience and while it was a crazy quick adrenaline thrill, the peace once the parachute opened and the feeling of just gliding through the air was one that I will never forget.    As I get into the trailer that will take us back to HQ, I ask Tommy about his arm.
“Do you mind if I ask what happened to your arm?”
“Yeah, No worries at all.  I did it Skydiving.  I hit that trailer right there.”
“Oh, Shit,” I thought.  I am so glad I waited until after I jumped to ask him how it happened.
Tommy then replies with a huge grin on his face “You think skydiving is fun with two arms, you should try it with one arm.”
This comment had everyone laughing, but I just knew that I needed to learn more about what happened and how he got the courage to continue to jump out of planes after such a tragedy.  We got back to the facility and I took off my gear and walked up to Tommy and asked if he would mind if I asked him some questions.  What Tommy shared with me blew me away (again, pun was totally attended.  I feel like I have some amazing DAD jokes).
On April 30th, Tommy decided that he was going to do something that he had done 100’s and 100’s of times before.  He was going to go Skydiving.  Skydiving was his passion, a huge part of his life, and he was also really, really, really good at it.  The day seemed like any other day, but as he was coming in to land the wind picked up and the identifying makers highlighting the wind direction on the ground did not match his intuition for what he was feeling.  The confusion led to Tommy having to make a split decision that saved his life, but cost him serious injuries and most likely the loss of his passion.  As Tommy came to land, he hit a trailer that was parked near his landing spot.   The result was numerous broken bones along the left side of his body and a brachial plexus injury to his left shoulder, arm, hand (this is when the nerve roots pull from the spinal cord), which caused the doctors to amputate his left arm.
Laying in the hospital bed, Tommy recalls through the severe pain, telling doctors and friends that he was not going to let this stop him and he was going to skydive again someday soon.  Just a couple months after his accident, Tommy was up in a plane preparing to jump making him the first ever one armed skydiver.
As he is telling me this, my jaw hit the floor faster than a person jumping out of a plane without a parachute (see I told you I have great Dad jokes).  How can this guy go through something like this and just get right back in a plane and do it again.

“It is my passion and I just love it.  I was not going to let this accident stop me from doing what I love.”

 

Ok God!  You win!  Once again you have sent me somewhere to not only have this transformational experience of jumping out of a plane and feeling a peace of heaven while I was in the air, but you made sure that I was going to be in the presence of such a special person while I had this experience.  Tommy’s story is not just one of overcoming tragedy with courage and perseverance to continue to do what he loves in life.  It is more than him defying the odds to become the first ever one armed skydiver in the world inspiring others to never put limits on what is possible.  Tommy is also using his experiences to change the world.  After going through the process of amputation he quickly realized that there were holes in the process that added stress and pain to those whom were already going through major loss.  Tommy and his wife, created a non profit called Clasp Life: which aims to help others achieve their goals after tragedy, lend a helping hand to those who need a little assistance, find resources/equipment needed to make ones quality of life more fulfilling, and to inspire by showing others that nothing is impossible.

 

 

 

As Tommy was sharing information about his non profit you can see the excitement he gets knowing that he took a situation that many would see as negative and not only turn it into a positive for him, but he has turned it into a positive to the hundreds of people he has helped with his non profit and his story.   Tommy Fergerson is truly one of a kind and while my experience skydiving was amazing, my experience meeting Tommy, hearing his story, and feeling his energy is one that gave me an adrenaline rush that even jumping out of a plane could not fulfill.

 

 

 

 

 

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