In an instant – the rest of my life as I knew it was forever changed
====== please note: While I am speaking a few words about something related to God, this is not a religious blog. It is not now nor will it ever be. The beginning of this post touches a bit on religion but it is related to something I am often told when telling my story. At times this belief helped me get through some rough days. It is reflective of how my thoughts on the topic have changed and in relation to a conversation I had in the past week with a wonderful person. It is also my truth. This blog is for people of any religion, faith or belief. My intention is to be positive about life ====
People often say “God only gives you what you can handle”… in other words, “X” happened to you and your family because you can handle it. Is that supposed to mean “X” is your reward for being strong and supportive?
I now REFUSE to believe this. Whoever (God, Buddha, Brahman, Allah or any ‘God’) or whatever (Pegan, Spirits, the Land) you believe in, I respect but refuse to believe that anything ‘good’ we pray to or believe in as the basis of humanity that protects us would allow for such sadness and heartbreak.
What God would give a child cancer because the child and their family can handle it? What Allah would inflict the pain and suffering that is happening in Syria? Would Buddha plan the Tsunami that hit Thailand in 2004? Would God plan for a parachute to malfunction or an amazing woman who spent her life helping others to have a severe stroke and be locked inside herself with aphasia? No. No God or power that is humane and exists to protect us and guide us would ever do such things.
God cannot prevent all the bad in the world. Sometimes He does try. I was given, by God or the universe or my own intuition, the signs to stop and not jump.
For us to believe ‘God only gives us what we can handle’ became even more ridiculous to me this past week. I was given another perspective. I am now, publically and resolutely, deciding to call BS on the words and thoughts that ‘God only gives us what we can handle’.
While I believe we all have a path in life, I also do not believe that everything happens for a reason. Not everything that happens to us is our destiny. What I do believe –regarding life paths- is in relation to our ability to make the best of situations. We create our own destiny. My thoughts go deeper on this topic, but this is not the place or intention of my blog.
I am guilty of saying these things myself. For many years I took pride in the fact that God must have believed I was so strong I could handle this. During my darkest and most difficult times, it even raised my confidence and made me feel somehow special. Whatever we need to think or feel to get us through difficult times is okay by me (as long as it doesn’t hurt yourself or anyone), I won’t judge you for believing differently, but it was really the strength of my family and friends that got me through.
Sometimes they had to literally drag me through because even though I believe I was positive and strong a lot of the time, there were a lot of days when I was not and am still not. My heart overflows when I think of all that was done for me. I am lucky to have so many people in my life who love me, believed in me, took care of me, and never settled for the worst. Over the next few months I will share more of this with you, but I will tell you now – if it wasn’t for my mother and my sister, I would literally not be standing on my own two feet. If they didn’t believe in me, my right leg would have been gone. I cannot imagine a greater gift or show of love than that. I thank them from the bottom of my heart.
So many conversations have taken place since I started this blog. It came to light that when I speak about my accident I speak about the injuries, the recoveries, the accomplishments. I don’t really speak about the emotions. This surprised me as I think I am very emotional and an open book type person. When I think about it, it does make sense. I can sit here and easily tell you every injury I have and the factual events of the last 18 years. I can tell you how great my family and friends were. But to tell you how it all felt and the intimate thoughts and feelings? That is a lot more difficult than I anticipated and why it takes me several days between blogs. It may also be why I have written a page and a half and have not really mentioned the events of September 7, 1997.
When I last wrote, I finished by telling you that on Saturday, September 6, 1997 we were told to come back for our jump the next day. Of course we were disappointed but we remained positive and excited for the next day. I can’t remember what time we got home or what we did that evening. In some ways this saddens me as it was the last night in my life that I was ‘Carol before the accident’. If I would have known, I would have gone for a run. Back then, I was physically fit and would exercise 5 – 6 times a week. Running was one of my favorite things, especially on a treadmill. I would hop on for a 45 minute run and find myself staying for an hour and a half. I felt so free and so proud of myself. The later years of my teens until about aged 21 I struggled with my weight (as I do now). Then finally, one day I decided to make a change. I am not sure what was so powerful about it but it worked. Over the next year I lost 60 pounds and kept it off for 3 years (until the accident). I was so fit, my muscles were so strong, especially my legs, I know it helped save my life. I am also procrastinating about the real topic again……….
I remember arriving early on Sunday morning for our jump. It must have been about 9am. We were excited and once again got suited up to go. I, my friend, the instructor Kim, and a long time skydiver hopped in the van and drove to the airfield. We arrived and crawled into the Cessna. I remember there was conversation about who was sitting where and who would jump first. I am pretty sure that during this flight, I was meant to go first.
Kim, the instructor, was talking to the pilot about the weather and the conditions for flying the small plane and for skydiving. We were planning to jump at 3,200 feet. The long time skydiver was jumping at 10,000.
I remember taking off in this small plane. It was nothing like flying in a commercial passenger airplane. First off, there were no seats in the back. We were crouched down on our knees. There were no seat belts. There may have been some kind of strap that came from the wall of the plane and buckled into something, but I am not certain. As the plane was picking up speed and going down the runway, it felt really shaky and bumpy. Once we were off and up things started to physically feel relatively normal (as normal as possible considering how we were sitting). I was also incredibly nervous. I had butterflies in my stomach and my mind had mixed feelings of excitement and nervousness.
At one point the pilot turned to Kim and said, this isn’t going to happen, we can’t get enough altitude. There were too many clouds. I remember Kim telling the pilot to go higher. We were planned to jump at 3,200 feet but she told him we could safely jump at 2,800 feet. Like the evening before, the pilot seemed frustrated with his boss. He went higher and told her a second time that it was not going to happen. She once again urged him to go higher.
At this point I was getting nervous and thinking how I could ask to jump later instead of during this flight. Luckily, I didn’t have to as the pilot decided that was it. He told Kim he was not going any further, he wasn’t going to be able to get high enough, it was too dangerous. We had to land.
Let me tell you, landing in a Cessna, crouched on your knees on the hard floor is not fun. It was a very hard and bumpy landing. Added to the physical feeling of this landing was the emotional factor. Remember, the day before we were unable to go up in the plane all day because of the rain. When we could finally get up in the sky safely, we were assigned to go last. Then when it was our turn, we got suited up, drove to the airfield and were about to climb in the plane when we were told it was too late. Now, we are landing because it was too cloudy to get high enough to jump. If these weren’t signs telling me this was a bad idea I don’t know what was.
My immediate thought was – there is no way I am doing this. This is definitely more than intuition. This was a clear sign that this was a bad idea. I didn’t care if I got my money back or not – I was NOT getting back in that plane to jump.
I decided to sit next to Kim on the way back to the skydiving school/field. I explained to her that I decided not to jump. I told her that given what happened the day before and now that morning, it was clear to me that I was not supposed to jump. Like any coach or teacher, she explained to me that these things happen all the time. It is the nature of sport. It was fairly common to encounter these types of circumstances. She talked me into going back up when the weather cleared.
You may remember that if I was provided with conditions to jump and changed my mind I could not get my money back. If I changed my mind before I was able to jump I could to get my money back. At this point, I could have gotten the money back. Was Kim encouraging me to go because these things do happen all the time? Was she telling me to go because she was an encouraging and motivating coach? Or, was she pushing me to go because this was also her business and she needed the money? I am really not sure. I never spoke with her again. I like to believe the best in people. During the time I spent at the skydiving school and certainly afterwards, it was very clear that not all was well with this company. They did things that they shouldn’t have. But then again, there were no rules, no regulations for them to follow. Kim was very kind the entire time we were there. One of her business partners was her husband (or boyfriend, I can’t remember). He was the man that was my contact on the ground, speaking to me when I did jump. Kim’s brother was also one of her business partners. As skydivers, Kim and her brother were both well-known and respected. She was also a mother. Her son was 12 years old and at the skydiving school both days. In my heart I don’t believe she had wrong intentions. But there is a difference between intentions and negligence. I don’t spend much time thinking about this topic to be honest as what is done is done. There is no going back. She obviously didn’t want anything bad to happen to me or any of her students. She was a kind and caring person. I will leave it at that.
Once we got back to the site, I told my friend about my feelings and that I was considering not jumping. I told him about the conversation I had with Kim. He was supportive and told me to make my own decision. I can’t remember whether he would have gone if I backed out, but that is irrelevant. I do remember it was his birthday, this is what we were doing to celebrate, we had talked about it for a few years, and he was really excited to jump. I take full responsibility for my decision and know he would have been supportive if I decided not to jump. Since I am writing this blog, I obviously did decide I would jump.
Like the previous day, it rained and rained and rained. It rained so hard, I think it even rained more than the day before. Never in my life had or have I ever seen rain like that. The entire field at the skydiving school was just drenched. Anywhere you walked your feet would sink a bit into the ground.
To waste some time we decided to go shopping. The Cookstown Factory Outlets were just a few km away. There was no better way to waste some time than to go shopping. There was a Nike Factory Outlet. I remember this because they had these basketball warm up suits on sale for about $15. I love a great deal. I not only love a great deal but when a deal is THAT GREAT I will buy it for anyone I know the item will fit. I will buy it two sizes too small knowing I am going to drop 20 pounds (yeah, right). I remember we each bought several. I must have bought 6 or 7 of them. I got one for my brother and several of my boy cousins. I hope someone in the family has a picture of these silky Nike basketball warm up suits because when I think of them now they were U G L Y! If anyone reading has a picture please send to me as I could use a good laugh. At the time they were super cool – at least in Cape Breton.
I am not sure how long we stayed shopping but it must have been a few hours as it rained all day and the inside of that trailer was stinky. There was no way I wanted to spend time there. I remember us checking in once or twice whenever the rain stopped to see if we could jump.
There are several parts of the day that I do not remember. My memory just does not go there. Other than shopping, it is all in bits and pieces. I remember being excited that it was now time to get ready to go. I remember watching people repack the parachutes. I will never forget it because once again I had another warning sign. The instructor’s 12 year old son was packing one of the parachutes. There were other people surrounding him packing but I am 100% clear. I watched a 12 year old child pack a parachute for skydiving students. Did I get the parachute the child packed – I do not know.
I asked other parachuters and a staff member about this as it gave me great concern. I was told that it was okay, he did it all the time, he packed them better than the guy they hired to pack parachutes, and he had been around parachutes his entire life. Once again, I am embarrassed telling people this. What was wrong with me that even given all of this unprofessionalism I was still going to trust these people with my LIFE? I was going to jump out of a plane and trust these people.
I was so convinced that it was all normal. I was so naive. I try not to get angry at myself for being such a fool to believe that this was fine. A part of me knew it wasn’t right. To tell you the truth, and in all honesty, an even bigger part of me was worried they would think less of me or that I was a trouble maker, that I was rude, that I was disrespectful to them and their business, that I was a bitch making trouble. I was so naive and cared so much about other people and what they might think about me that I risked my life and jumped out of an airplane while in the care of these people.
I can’t believe I did not speak out more or leave. I can’t believe I was too insecure to speak up and worried about what they would think of me. I am sitting here in shock. Going through what happened that weekend in such great detail, I am now just realizing the role my own insecurities played. It is something that is so incredibly disturbing that I can barely admit it to myself. What kind of world do we live in where someone feels so insecure that this would happen? I can’t be the only one whose insecurities allowed them to make foolish, dangerous decisions?
This is not easy to say. Likely one of the most difficult things I have ever shared with anyone but I am telling the full truth as I made a promise to myself to be transparent and honest. I am at a point in my life where I am finally finding the confidence in myself to share my full story because I believe – I know – that my experience can help others in so many ways. At work, at home, at school, with friends. I have learned so much and it would be a waste not to share it.
Remember when I said I knew, my intuition told me I should not have jumped that day? (the intuition before the obvious signs of the failed attempt when we had to land and seeing a child pack parachutes) Well the past several months I have known, my intuition is telling me to share my story and the lessons I learned about believing in your gut feelings and the difference between a risk and a consequence. If I can help one person in some way, it will be worth it.
After seeing and asking about the child packing a parachute I have no memory until the fall. I don’t remember being in the plane, I don’t remember jumping. I really don’t know how I found the courage to jump. I have a video of the fall that I have watched several times. The video also shows me and my friend very excited, in our flight suits, holding our helmets, getting ready to go parachuting. I have watched ‘the fall’ at least 25 times but I only watched the ‘before the fall’ part once, 17 years ago. I cannot remember what we said. I have not been ready to watch that part of the video again. Sharing my story and my truth about this time in my life makes me feel closer to being ready to watch a video of myself in the final moments before my life drastically changed. Once I do watch it, and I think it will be soon, I will share the video here.
The next thing I remember is panic and feeling the wind tug at my legs and body. My memory of the fall is almost like waking up and finding yourself in the middle of nightmare. I remember grabbing at my chest for the toggles to try to get some control. I don’t remember any physical feeling other than the wind. I don’t remember if I got those toggles in my hand.
I do remember the radio. On the ground at the skydiving school there was an instructor on the ground. I could hear him but he could not hear me. We had learned that if we were in trouble and needed our reserve parachute they would tell us ‘look, thumb, pull’. I remember this man’s voice calmly telling me to look, thumb, pull……. I did just that but nothing was happening, I was going faster and faster. I could feel the wind tugging at me and the panic of nothing happening. I didn’t feel the relief of the reserve parachute like I was supposed to. Then I heard him screaming and I could tell he was panicked. I remember him screeching over and over, LOOK, THUMB, PULL… LOOK, THUM PULL…. I thought to myself, ‘Oh Fuck God, I am going to die’.. then, I remember my body relaxing and fainting.
“It’s not what you are that holds you back, it’s what you think you’re not.” Clarence Cresong
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