While on tour with 98 Degrees, we pretty much did everything – whitewater rafting, go-kart racing, amusement parks, and… skydiving. The skydiving outing was planned about 3 weeks in advance. Almost everyone – crew, artists, dancers, and musicians were scheduled to go. There were going to be approximately 26 people, but when all was said and done, only 5 of us actually took the plunge – 3 girls and 2 guys.
Since we had a few days off in Vegas, it was a perfect time for an adventure. We got up really early to drive to Skydive California City. Located where? In California City, California. It was about a 4-hour drive. Needless to say, we weren’t chipper little beavers when we arrived.
Prior to the tandem jump, you are required to sign a waiver stating that you will assume all risks in order to participate. You will, without a doubt, feel like you are signing your life away. It lists things like: “release from liability” and “covenant not to sue”. You’ll also have to agree that if you do decide to sue, that you will reimburse them for any expenses incurred.
After you sign the paperwork you go through a brief training session (approximately 15 minutes) in the hangar. They go over safety, body positioning as you exit the plane and during free-fall, piloting the canopy once the chute is pulled, as well as landing procedures. During this short class, I asked the only question that was of any concern to me, “What do I do if I can’t breathe?” I am the person that walks by a running fan and has trouble breathing. The person that sometimes has to walk backward during the winter months when rustling through the windy street canyons of NYC. The cold air causes me to have an inability to catch my breath, which isn’t fun. The instructor’s response: “Just turn your head to the side.” I thought, “Yes!” That totally made sense to me. The wind is coming straight at me, no problem. I’ll just turn my head. Got it!
YoYo ran the training session and was the tandem instructor – the only tandem instructor. We had no idea that the plane was a small Cessna (I believe a 152) that could only house one jumper at a time. So, it would only be the pilot, camera flyer, tandem jumpmaster (YoYo) and myself. That meant we weren’t able to jump together. That also meant that we would be there all day. I was #4. At the time that was my favorite number. I think it still is.
I was Chatty Cathy in the waiting room while numbers 1, 2 and 3 jumped. I was cracking jokes and busting chops, but once I hit that plane, I wasn’t saying a word. I just stared at the altimeter clipped onto the harness – 100 feet, 500 feet, 2,000 feet. YoYo was making fun of me “Oh, you don’t have anything to say now!” – and I didn’t! I was dying a slow death internally. He was trying his best to get my mind off of how high we were going, but nothing worked. You can cancel at any time and I definitely wanted to, but there was no way after all my friends had already jumped. So, I pushed on.
YoYo began to give some additional instructions: “ok, so when we step out, you need to hold on to the straps of your harness. Do not hold on to the plane. I will hold on to the plane – not you.” I must have been looking at him like he was crazy because he then went on to explain that “A lot of people continue to hold on even after I do the countdown and that is never a good thing.” I saw how that could be a problem so I made sure to hold onto my straps, but it was so hard because we stepped out onto a ledge that was no more than 8” deep and 10” long. The camera guy (I believe his name was Keith) jumped first and then we followed. I recalled the instructions in my head – rock forward as he counted “1”, rock back as he counted “2” and then arch your back as we jump “3”. Of course being a dancer I over-arched and we immediately flipped before hitting a belly-to-earth position at a terminal velocity of about 120 miles per hour.
When I jumped out I immediately felt like I was suffocating. I could not breathe. I turned my head left, right, up and down, but nothing was helping. I was like “Oh my God, I am going to die! My mom’s going to kill me!” I tried to give YoYo what I thought was a signal (which we did not discuss) by tapping and squeezing his arm to let him know that “Houston, we have a problem!” However, he wasn’t getting the hint. If you look at the photo, you’ll notice that I am holding onto his arms so hard that I probably cut off his circulation.
The force of the wind was letting me have it, but I had paid $75 for the camera guy to film and take stills of me and Keith had that camera right in my face. So, I would tap and grab YoYo’s arms for 2 seconds then smile and wave at the camera for 3. This went on for about 60 seconds.
Now, I have to go back and let you know that YoYo announced during the training session that 2 of us could pull our own deployment handle (ripcord) and wanted to know which one of us wanted to do it. This is something that the instructor usually does. So, of course, like a Dodo bird, I raised my hand. Now let’s get back to the free-fall. After about 50 seconds, YoYo starts giving me the signal (which we did discuss) which was him tapping me twice on the shoulder and then placing his index finger in front of me, but I was in a frenzy so I didn’t even notice it. He must have done that 100 times before he was probably like “screw this!” and just yanked it himself.
When he pulled the ripcord, my legs went flying way above my head like I was a ragdoll. It totally took me by surprise. Then suddenly I was able to breathe again. Just like that. Everyone that went before me had experienced some nausea during the parachute flight time (after the cord is pulled), but I was completely fine. For the next 10 minutes or so I played around with steering the parachute and taking it all in – the view: the chute, the sky, the ground, it was all like a picture perfect postcard.
I could never properly explain the feeling that you have when you jump out of a plane – the fear, excitement, and adrenaline. Your heart is pumping and then all of a sudden, the cord is pulled and this calm comes over you. Then you just gently glide through the sky. It was literally and figuratively breathtaking.
Someone asked if I would ever do it again and I said no. I already had my adventure, but you never know.