Ready….Set….Go! (guest blog by Stephanie Conneen)

Last night I was cleaning up my office and found a thumb drive in a small bag so I checked it out and found this essay Steph had written about her first time sky diving. I wanted to share this with her family, friends and especially her sky diving crew. The photos below are of a trip we took to NC and visited the outdoor skydive simulator. They are the closest I could get to her actually sky diving. I’ve never featured a guest blog and could not imagine someone more deserving.  Enjoy!

-Mike

                                                               5 September 2009
Ready….Set….Go!

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December 19, 1998, the time had come. I had been living for two months on site at the airport, in a van, among Them; they had taken me in as one of their own. I had been saving money for two months to finally be able to experience this life-altering event that I had been hearing so much about. I was about to become “One of Them.” I was going to make my first skydive, and I had no idea what I was in store for, or how much it would change my life.

There was no turning back, I had been pumping myself up for this for two months and everyone was excited for me. See the only problem was that I’m absolutely terrified of heights, and I was about to jump out of an airplane, what was I thinking? Oh well, here goes nothing.
It was your typical Florida sunset; pinks and purples and giant fluffy clouds that looked like you could just reach out and touch one. My harness was on and I was wearing a pair of gray gym shorts and a dark blue long sleeved shirt. No shoes. The cool people never wore shoes.
I had seen it done a thousand times by this point, so I didn’t need the usual half hour class on what to do. Besides my tandem master Vladi, was a good friend of mine, so I felt one hundred percent confident is his ability to not kill me. I kissed my boyfriend good-bye and started walking to the idling plane. It felt like I was walking the green Mile. Although I heard the plane all day every day for months now, I was completely shocked when I got closer to it. It was so loud I couldn’t hear myself think. The blast of the propeller practically knocked me off my feet. I remember screaming and turned to see Vladi laughing. If he thought that reaction was funny, he was really going to enjoy the rest of this experience.
Did I mention the entire thing was being videotaped? I would later be watched repeatedly by my friends and family and me, for both entertainment purposes to be made fun of, and for my own thrill. To this day when I watch that tape my heart races just as when I was there.
So I climbed up the steps and into the plane. I hit my head on the ceiling. I didn’t think about ducking down, I couldn’t think about anything, I was petrified. I waddled to the back, right behind the cock pit, and took my place in front of my tandem master. This was it. The remaining 21 passengers filed in one by one like this was no big deal. They truly had no idea how I was feeling. My giant fake smile fooled them all.
The plane roared in to action and began to head down the runway. The whole thing shook as we accelerated at an unbelievable rate; I was literally pushed back against Vladi. I thought to myself, This doesn’t seem right, should it be this loud, should the plane be shaking so much…..we’re all dead meat. But no one seemed bothered by any of the things I thought I was noticing. So I decided to take a deep breath and tell myself that this all must be normal, no one is freaking out.
As we took off, I left my stomach on the ground. Wow, I was not expecting that. The climb to altitude seemed endless. I kept looking at my altimeter, the device that tells you how high you are, wondering when the dial was going to stop moving. We were climbing at 1000 feet per minute and we weren’t stopping until we reached 14,000 feet. It was the longest 15 minutes of my life.
But I did my best to try and relax. All of my good friends were on this plane with me, so it was somewhat easy to distract myself if I really tried. Just as I stopped hyperventilating and actually started to relax, things started to happen. People started shifting in their seats, checking their gear and the gear of those around them, turning on their cameras and strapping on their helmets. Holy crap, this is it!The terror set in instantaneously. Vladi started talking to me, but I have no idea what he said. All I could remember at that moment was that I was supposed to cross my arms over my chest, put my head back, and arch my body on the count of three. Well once that door opened all thoughts were lost. The cold air came rushing in with such force, I felt like I was going to be sucked right out of the door. And then they started jumping. Like something out of a TV show, one by one people were walking to this giant opening and gathering in groups. Then they would count to three and all just leap out, like it was the most natural thing in the world. I remember how the plane rocked as each group exited, and as I saw the last person disappear into the abyss, everything went numb. What am I doing, I’m going to die?
As I worked my way to the open door, I did the unthinkable and looked own: alarm set in! I closed my eyes and was, at that point, in complete control of the man I was strapped to. I didn’t know it at the time, but after seeing the video I know that he crossed my arms for me, pulled my head back into position, and pretty much just leaped out of the plane with me harnessed to his body.
“Ready…..Set…..Go!”

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As I felt my knees leave the edge of the door, I decided to take my chances. I opened my eyes, just in time to see the world turn upside down. For a brief moment I was overwhelmed with confusion. I couldn’t tell up from down and instantly thought that I had made a huge mistake. I pictured myself throwing up mid-air and passing out.
Then suddenly, as if on cue, everything became so clear I felt like I was in a dream. There I was, falling at 120 miles an hour and all I felt was pure serenity. I couldn’t tell I was falling, and all around me was natural beauty at its best. Below me was the picturesque coastline of Florida for as far as the eye could see. And out in front I recall being aware of the fact that the world is round. I could actually see the curvature of the earth. But all around me, and by far best of all, were the clouds. Giant clouds, all different colors, looked small explosions all over the place. I don’t think I ever realized, but clouds are three dimensional. To see one from above, in all its brightly colored cotton-like glory, I felt like I could actually land on it. And to add to the shock of is all, my friend Mark had decided to follow me out of the plane and surprise me in mid-air. Suddenly there was a person there, a reference to the fact that I was in the sky; a something that I could actually reach out and touch and remind myself of exactly where I was. That made the whole experience real to me; it was no longer a dream.
Everywhere I looked was like some fantasy. Like the many pictures I had admired in my life and always thought it would be fun to live in. I was there. I was in the most magnificent picture someone could ever create. And I couldn’t for the life of me understand why I had been so scared. I now knew what all of my new friends were talking about. I was hooked.
I never felt like I was falling, not once. I know I was screaming, in a good, excited kind of way, but I couldn’t hear a thing. The wind pressure on my body was so strong, I could hardly move my arms. Yet I was able to grasp the hands of my friend and spin around the sky, very much the same way you do when you’re a kid. I felt like I was floating, but for one full minute, I was actually flying.
Suddenly, Vladi grabbed my hand and put it on the rip cord, it was time to pull our parachute. Oh no, we’re done so soon. What a difference in the attitude I had just 60 seconds before. Abruptly, everything got still. We were no longer plummeting towards the ground, but rather slowly and silently soaring around the sky. What an extreme change, talk about a shock to the senses. This was amazing. The sky was so many pretty shades, the sun was just starting to disappear behind the horizon, and here I was steering a parachute around the sky, and I had the best view of it all. For 10 minutes we glided through the air like an eagle.
We landed softly on the ground, tip toes as a matter of fact. It was all over. I had done it, and I would live to tell about it! My boyfriend greeted me with an excited kiss and all my friends were there to congratulate me. I was officially part of the club.
From that day on I was “a skydiver.” I packed parachutes for a living, and spent the next seven years travelling around the world, meeting the most wonderful people and jumping in some of the most beautiful places on the planet. It only took 60 seconds of falling through the air for my entire life to change. I gained such an understanding of the beauty of the world, and such an appreciation for the little things in life. I have never since cared about material objects or money. Instead I value the people that I know, and the precious time I have in this life. I really do understand what it is like to have next to nothing, and be the happiest person on the planet.

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