Taking a dive: One UMass student recounts her first skydiving experience

By Angela Stasiowski

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Courtesy Angela Stasiowski

From my future, to the reliability of my 12-year-old Chevy, everything is a risk these days. But, I never thought I would risk it all by jumping from 13,000 feet in the air to the open fields of Connecticut.

At Connecticut Parachutists Inc. in Ellington, Conn. I was graciously given the opportunity to test the boundaries of my comfort level with my very first skydiving experience – and what an experience that was.

Mind you, I would not classify myself as a daredevil by any stretch of the imagination. This just goes to prove that anyone can skydive; it just takes the right mindset and willingness to try.

The adventure started with a phone call from my mother. “I know you’ve always been one to try anything,” she said. “So, I was wondering if you’d be up for skydiving.”

When your mother asks you to skydive, it is very difficult to refuse. The next day we were booked for a 7:30 a.m. jump on Aug. 15.

“Be sure to come early,” the email confirmation said – as if it were possible to wake a college student up before 7:30 a.m. on summer break.

Sure enough, when the day finally came, I was up and at ‘em by 5:30 a.m. wondering what I should wear to jump out of a plane. I again consulted the e-mail, which suggested sneakers and anything comfortable. After the crucial wardrobe decision, it was off to Ellington.

The staff at Connecticut Parachutists Inc. was thrilled to see new faces, and did everything in their power to put new jumpers at ease, mostly by making jokes about parachuting accidents. Oddly enough, the technique worked wonders.

One of the airborne funnymen was a trained videographer whose job was to record everything from our pre-jump nerves to the jump itself. Not just anyone, not even any professional parachutist can fill this role, however. One must be trained with specialized classes and have thousands of jumps under his or her belt to become an in-air videographer.

As a novice, the only way I could hurl myself from a plane safely was with the help of a trained jumper.

Tandem skydiving involves strapping a highly-trained parachutist to your back and letting them take over the important responsibilities, such as deploying the chute and landing with all limbs intact. In other words, the basics.

After a lesson on how to properly fall out of a plane – legs up and arms out – it was time to board our aircraft.

The plane was small with benches lining each side for the jumpers. There were about three other tandem groups jumping, as well as some more advanced, individual jumpers.

The climb to 13,000 feet took about 15 minutes, but felt like an instant. While this sounds like a long way to fall, it is actually safer to jump from a higher altitude.

Suddenly, the door was open, the seatbelt was off and I was sliding down the bench. I remember very little fear after the initial shock of leaving the plane. Mostly, I remember wondering what the clouds below us would feel like.

Never have I felt closer to the feeling of flying. There was about a minute of freefall followed by five minutes of parachuting, during which I was handed the reins and told to steer us to our destination.

Since it is difficult for two people to land gracefully on their feet, tandem jumpers are often told to put their feet up for the landing.

When I finally got my feet on the ground, I was already thinking about jumping again. The whole experience was over too soon. I was handed a nifty certificate for taking my first jump and walked away feeling like I could take on the world.

Interested in taking the plunge? Connecticut Parachutists has student discounts for those with a student ID. There are several other jumping bases throughout New England, including several in the Boston area and in Rhode Island.

In the past, the University of Massachusetts Amherst has even hosted their own skydiving club for interested students.

Prices for parachuting vary from place to place, but the impact of such an adventure lasts a lifetime.

The moral of my experience can be summed up in a few words: An eagerness to try new things can lead to some of the best experiences of one’s life. And if one decides to take such a risk, make sure there is someone there to record it.

Angela Stasiowski can be reached at [email protected]