Leap of Faith

My freshman year at BYU (76-77), I became good friends with a couple of guys who had lived within an hour of me in Illinois (but we hadn’t known each other prior to BYU; we had been in different stakes). Their nickname for me was DeKalb, which was the place I was from (they were from Wheaton). I’m not sure whose idea it was (I know it wasn’t mine!), but someone came up with the brilliant notion that we should all go skydiving together. And so we did.

We made a reservation for a Saturday and drove to the Cedar Valley Airport in Lehi. As we’re driving up to the airport, we see something hurtling out of the sky. As it approaches land, finally a chute opens, it sort of puffs out, then in, then out again, just shortly after which the object lands with something of a thud. The object, we found out, was a person, whose main chute hadn’t opened, and what we had seen was the emergency chute opening at the last possible second to save this person’s life. And that was my first introduction to skydiving! You’d think we would have turned the car right around and not looked back, but we were young and immortal and a little thing like a brush with death wasn’t about to dissuade us.

It was early on a Saturday, and basically you had to take a day-long course before you could do your first jump. The part I remember most was learning how to land. This was in the olden days with circular parachutes, and there was no expectation that we would land easily standing on our feet. As soon as you sensed your feet had contacted the ground, you pushed your body to the side and sort of rolled to absorb the force of the landing. After practicing this quite a bit, we had to do it from a series of raised platforms, each higher than the last, until we were jumping from about six or eight feet off the ground into a pea gravel pit. I ended up with bruises all up and down my legs; the training was actually much harder than the actual landing.

Finally we were cleared to do our first jump. Someone took us up in a little Cesna, and we didn’t go very high up; I think only about 3,000 feet. As we approach the drop zone, they open the door to the plane, and the jump master tells you to get ready. So what you do is you climb out the door and hang on the strut of the wing. Then when the jumpmaster tells you to “Go!” you simply let go of your grip and fall. (The chute was connected to a static line, so it would automatically open after a few seconds. It required more experience before they would let you pull your own chute open.)

So there I am, floating up in the air. That sensation was so incredibly cool. It was absolutely peaceful; you couldn’t hear anything, and you’re high up enough that you can’t distinguish much detail on the ground; you’re just floating. The feeling you have when you’re coming down is simply beyond description.

As you start to get close to the ground, you look for the wind sock and position yourself so you’re facing into the wind. (The old round chutes has a slit in them, and air would go out the slit and push you forward at about five mph, and you wanted to be facing into the wind to limit your horizontal movement at impact.) The landing wasn’t bad at all after all that training. We landed a fair bit away from the airport, though, and had quite a hike to get back there.

I didn’t have the money to make this a habit, and I never felt the need to jump again. Just going through the experience once was sufficient for me. As I look back on it, I can still scarcely believe I was hanging from the strut of a wing 3,000 feet above the ground, waiting for the instruction to just let my grip go and to fall into the warm Utah air.

Comments

  1. I like that there are elements of your story that might translate into the spiritual leap of faith of an individual. “It was absolutely peaceful” despite all the turbulence leading up to it, for example.

  2. In my younger and foolish days, I spent a summer skydiving at a little airport in Napolean Township outside Ann Arbor, Theystarted us out doinga tandem jump with us attached to an instructor,and then I did 23 more. Itwas a wonderful experience,and it helped me conquer a lot of my fears,and helped me with my lack of confidence issues.
    In fact, I think the lessons learnt from jumping out of a perfectly functioning airplane, have helped me deal with the brain cancer that I have been fighting for the past 12 years. I dont suffer from depression or anything like that, even though the illness has ensured that my academic and career and life goals have all gone to hell!!! :):)

  3. “We were young and immortal and a little thing like a brush with death wasn’t about to dissuade us.” Truer words were never spoken. It’s a bit of a wonder so many of us make it to adulthood.

  4. Mark B. says:

    My guess is that you were all channeling Richard F. McCoy, BYU’s most famous skydiver. You never know when you’ll get your chance to do a DB Cooper, and you want to be prepared.

  5. My nephew used to skydive a lot after becoming a quadriplegic. Floating down, just as you describe it, his body was as functional as it needed to be, as whole as anybody else’s.

  6. Steven P says:

    Wow. I did the exact same thing at the same place in 1982. What great memories you evoked!

  7. Aaron Brown says:

    Who would have thought I’d ever have occasion to share my own skydiving story on a blog?

    I went skydiving for the first time (and probably the last) in the late 1990s. I had just proposed to my wife, which was the hardest thing I’d ever done (much harder than actually getting married). I think it was for this reason I was feeling invincible; if I could actually survive the act of formally committing to spend the rest of my life with one person, jumping out of an airplane would surely be a piece of cake.

    Prior to proposing, I had planned a 12-day trip to Cuba. Everything was finalized, so I wasn’t going to cancel, even if I did have to go sans fiancee. Near the end of the trip, I was in Varadero (one of the Caribbean’s largest beach resorts), and I saw that skydiving was an option in my guidebook. I signed up, but unlike Kevin, I did not go through any training whatsoever (OK, maybe like a 5-minute description of what was to happen). I did, however, have to jump in tandem with a trainer. I boarded this old rickety Soviet plane, went up really, really, high, and threw myself out the window. Strangely, I was not afraid at all before the jump. (Believe me, this really is strange, as I am afraid of heights, and am usually not nearly this daring.) Again, I think it was the proposal.

    “The feeling you have when you’re coming down is simply beyond description”

    Well, let me try and describe it: You know that feeling you get in your stomach when you’re going downhill really fast on a roller coaster? It’s unpleasant, but somehow exhilarating. Well, skydiving is just like being on that rollercoaster, except the feeling in your stomach lasts a really, really, really long time. It does finally go away after about 30 seconds or so, but it feels like an eternity.

    My landing was uneventful, but the ride down was a bit hairy. The instructor would maneuver us in such a way that we would spin in the air, at his discretion. However, I was the largest person that had ever skydived with the company. The harness straps were really too tight for me to begin with, so the intensified g-forces during the turns were just too much. I started to lose circulation in my limbs, and the straps felt as if they would dismember me. I had to ask the instructor to stop spinning. Then, it was a lovely ride to the beach.

    Good times. I’ll probably never do that again.

    AB

  8. Cliff Eley says:

    Kevin, I was also a freshman the same year and lived at DT, T Penrose Hall. A guy on our floor had a parachute and did skydiving. Mike Hotieghling (sp?) He took us out to Cedar Valley and I jumped twice. I did it a couple of times in Denver also, but then gave it up. It was intense. One of the guys that jumped had never been in an airplane before! Were you living at DT when you did this? My memory is hazy but after school was out I visited one of they guys on my floor in a suburb of Chicago. It might have been Wheaton. Does any of this sound familiar to you, or it just a coincidence?

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    Cliff, yes, we lived on the second floor of S Hall at DT. It sounds like you visited with one of my friends.

  10. Your plane was working fine, right? I cannot understand skydiving at all — it seems to me roughly equivalent to eating something cooked by a medieval peasant who thought bathing would kill him: why on earth would you do it if you didn’t have to? Oh, well.

    Out of curiosity, did the main-chute-failure guy walk away unassisted? You stopped talking about him after the thud, you see.

  11. Sarah- the thin about skydiving is this- once you have overcome the initial, intinctive fear, of jumping off from heights, the journey down is a very serene and joyous experience. Plus for guys, it is an macho kind of thing to do.:):)
    Same reason who folks like to go and climb Mt Everest without using oxygen or free-climb the face of El Capitan

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