I want to thank everyone for all of your support and kind words. I have only posted two blogs and already I have had over 1,000 visitors. I was hoping for 10 a day but to my great surprise I am averaging 140. This is very encouraging to me and motivates me to keep at it.
While I speak about my accident quite often, I am surprised how emotional it is to write about this experience. Maybe it is because I am telling the story of my accident and recovery in much greater detail than I ever have before. I find myself with a knot in my stomach. I am not sure if it is anxiety from reliving the finer details, the anxiety of being judged, or the embarrassment of deciding to go through with the jump even though there were so many signs telling me not to.
I asked questions about things that were unsettling to me and seemed ‘off’. I asked the instructors, their staff, other skydivers and they all said ‘everything is fine’, or ‘this is how it is, and ‘you have nothing to worry about, you are just nervous because it is your first time’. I began to accept what I saw as normal business. After the accident and investigation, I learned that what I saw and experienced was not normal or standard business. At the time there were no regulations for skydiving (I have not done research to find out if this has changed), only recommended best practices. Throughout my experience, this school didn’t follow those recommended best practices. The business closed within two weeks of my accident.
If there is any lesson to be learned from my experience it is to do more research when thinking about doing anything dangerous and to trust your instinct. My instincts and intelligence were telling me to walk away and not go forward with the jump. I often wondered, maybe I stayed because this was supposed to happen to me? Maybe the lessons I learned through my experience are supposed to be shared? I do not believe this accident was ‘meant to be’. I believe that I was meant to live. I believe that no one is ‘meant to’ have such trauma and pain inflicted upon them. Whether you believe in God, angels, the universe or any other spiritual guides, I believe that is what saved me – in spite of my bad decision. Because I was supposed to live. I was not supposed to die or skydive. I don’t regret the decisions I made that weekend in 1997 as it has led me to where I am now in life. I have a wonderful life, am very happy and I have incredible people surrounding me. I do believe that given that this did happen to me, I need to share the lessons I learned (it has only taken me 18 years to find the courage to make the decision to do so in a progressive way).
I remained positive throughout my 25 surgeries, regenerating most of my right femur, and learning to sit up, walk and everything in between. There were so many moments that I was terrified of so many things, but as I do with most unforeseen situations in life, I try to make the best of the situation and find something positive to help me move forward.
So why did I stay and jump? Because I was naive and listened more to what strangers told me instead of my own judgment and intuition, and because the atmosphere was intoxicating and contagious!
Once we all passed our skydiving school training, it was time to wait for our turn. While we were in training, several regular skydivers arrived and made successful jumps throughout the morning. I was amazed at how skydiving was a culture and community all of its own. By 1:30 or 2:00pm there must have been 14 adults and six – eight children. Watching others jump out of the plane and land safely was unlike anything I had ever experienced.
Their skydiving experience ranged anywhere from having done 4 or 5 jumps to 20 years’ experience. Our instructor, Kim, was a member of a Canadian Skydiving Team that focused on precision. Before she went to the airstrip she would put a round mat on the ground – about the diameter of an umbrella. Her goal was to land exactly in the middle of the mat. She was so close to landing on her target, I was amazed.
When waiting for our turn we had conversations with most of the people there. Whether they were newbies or lifers it was obvious that this was a lifestyle for most. They would arrive every Saturday and Sunday and stay until the sun went down. Husbands and wives would bring their children who would play together and watch their parents jump from airplanes and land in the field near the trailer.
I have a very strong memory about one couple that was there. They had started skydiving in July (so two months prior to meeting them). They told me that they immediately knew this would become a lifestyle for them. Just like going to the cottage or camping was the summer experience for many families, this family headed to the skydiving site. I asked her if she was worried that her young children may see someone get seriously injured. She told me that skydiving was the safest sport they could be doing and that it was a great atmosphere for them to play in the field with the other children. For some reason this really surprised me. After this couple and their children saw my accident, I thought they would quit. Especially since they had only been skydiving for two months.
About two years after my accident there was an article in the Toronto Star featuring skydivers. The main person interviewed was the same woman. Sure enough, she was still skydiving and bringing her children. I don’t judge her for continuing to do a sport she loves because as incredible as it may sound, skydiving is relatively safe compared to other sports (but when something goes wrong it goes incredibly wrong and can be fatal). I am shocked by the fact that she would continue skydiving as a ‘weekend lifestyle’, with her kids watching, after seeing what happened to me (not to sound brutal, but my right leg was literally hanging out of my body and her children saw me fall and heard all the screams of people at the skydiving school and the screeching of the instructor who wore the radio telling me to ‘look, thumb, pull’).
In some ways I felt ‘lucky’ that at least my accident happened with my first jump. If I enjoyed it as much as I thought I would, I would have been out there every weekend possible. Every time I would go, I could jump from higher and higher altitudes. The higher you go, the further you fall.
By the time it was our class’s turn to head to the airstrip it was getting very cloudy and the clouds were too low to get enough altitude to safely jump. Before long it started raining. It rained so hard that weekend, I had never seen anything like it – even until this day. For hours it was down pouring. Everything was soaked.
It stopped raining at about 6:00pm and it was finally time for us to get suited up into our ‘flight suit’ and carry our parachutes. As the plane could only hold 5 passengers (4 students and the instructor), me and my friend ended up being in the second bunch.
We watched as the first four students and the instructor got in the van and drove to the airstrip about 10 – 15 minutes away. It felt like forever as we waited to see the plane in the air and our skydiving classmates make their big jump and land safely. One by one they jumped and landed safely. It was exhilarating to see their expressions after their first ever skydiving experience. When the fourth person landed we were surprised to see it was Kim, our instructor. One of our classmates had decided that she could not make the jump and would be landing in the plane with the pilot. Kim told us that the woman had children at home and she was terrified that something would happen to her.
Finally, IT WAS OUR TURN!! I was so excited and nervous. I could hardly believe that my dream was about to come true. Kim hurried us into the van as it was getting late and would be dark soon.
When we got to the airstrip, we met with our classmate that did not jump. I had so much respect for her and her decision. If I had children I certainly would not be jumping out of a plane (and if I was, I certainly wouldn’t bring my small children to watch). She was shaking and kept apologizing. I think she was still in shock at how close she came to jumping. I remember reassuring her and telling her that she did the right thing. She followed her instinct and would never regret her decision.
I, my friend, our instructor and two others walked over to the plane. While we were waiting to find out who would get in the plane first and who would sit where (it was a really small plane – once we were all inside there would be no room to change places), Kim was having what looked like a frustrating conversation with the pilot.
Kim then turned around and said ‘Sorry guys, the pilot says we don’t have enough time to get you up in the air and out before it gets dark. You will have to come back tomorrow’………….
“Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there” Will Rogers