Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Skydiving: Lesson Learned

"What?!" was my reaction when Rob told me he wanted to go skydiving. Rob is the most level-headed individual I know, which is exactly why I thought he would never be insane enough to skydive! In our 16 years together, this topic was never discussed. I had no clue this was something that he was even remotely interested in.

It's raining skydivers

Rob can surprise you though, and that is one thing I learned. While not a risk taker per se, Rob does enjoy activities like mountain biking, he's not afraid of heights, he likes to snorkel, he likes to go camping, and though he doesn't seek out danger for some sort of "high", he also doesn't back down from things out of fear. He doesn't do this because he wants to be seen as "a tough guy", he is genuinely interested in things that might be a bit out of the ordinary for most people and will take advantage of trying those things if the opportunity arises. I swear, if going to the moon was a reality for him at this point in his life, he'd do it.
Joe and Rob showing off "Tandem Style"

Let me back up a bit here; my brother-in-law's fiance said my brother-in-law, Joe, wanted to go skydiving for his birthday. She asked me if I thought Rob would be interested in going along. Initially, I thought there was no way Rob would want to go but to my surprise, after talking to him, he said he wanted to go. I must admit it here and now, I was a little freaked out. We have four children, he has a wonderful life, not to mention the fact that he has me, why would he ever feel this crazy urge to go skydiving? Remember, it's something he had never-ever even showed any remote interest in up until that point.

Rob checking out the sky he'd be falling from
After the initial shock and a bit of back and forth, I decided I was being a bit irrational and agreed that if he could provide me with some statistics on the safety and/or dangers of skydiving, then I could make an informed decision. Instead of opposing the entire venture because of my own personal fear-based, emotional reactions and feelings, I should be informed of the facts and look at it from a scientific point of view. Just because I would be freaked out by the entire concept, doesn't mean he couldn't enjoy it.

Scout imagining what Joe would look like during the dive
Parachuting dates back to 1100's in ancient China, but "parachuting" as we think of it did not occur until after World War II. With the massive surplus of parachutes left over after the war, soldiers continued to jump for sport and soon sky diving competitions began. By the mid-1950's, the first commercial skydiving centers opened, with schools popping up a couple of years later.
The safety statistics, according to the United States Parachute Association, are quite interesting:
  • With 3.1 million skydiving jumps in 2012, there were 19 fatalities.
  • USPA reported that with 3.1 million jumps in 2012, there were 915 injuries. That statistic means there are around three injuries per 10,000 dives.
  • Most injuries are caused by human error, not because the parachutes fail (which was my biggest fear).
  • Each year, because of better training and technology, skydiving only improves and becomes safer.
Random Skydiver and Jet
The most interesting point, and one I couldn't argue with, was this bit of information that came from a Discovery News article, "...there are an estimated 3 million jumps per year, and the fatality count is only 21 (for 2010). That’s a 0.0007% chance of dying from a skydive, compared to a 0.0167% chance of dying in a car accident (based on driving 10,000 miles). In layman’s terms, you are about 24 times more likely to die in a car accident than in a skydiving one."

Allowing myself to be educated about skydiving worked. I had faced the facts and realized, though I personally have zero interest in skydiving, I couldn't stand in the way of Rob's skydive. If I were to do that, I would also have to stand in his way of driving to work each day because of the statistics about car accidents.

When we arrived at Skydive Dallas, I realized there was nothing to worry about. People skydiving into the drop zone was at a constant while we waited for Rob and Joe to go on their dive. The entire thing ran like clockwork and the people who work there take safety seriously, but still have fun.

Time to Suit Up!

Two (seemingly) worrisome issues of note while we waited were:
  • The man sitting next to us that had a broken arm and leg. He went skydiving in the morning and had landed badly, breaking his arm and leg. He was there waiting while his friends jumped. He was from a big group of people from Sweden who come to Dallas every year to go skydiving all day.
  • During one of the rounds of jumps, we saw a lone parachute gently falling through the air with no diver attached.
In both instances, the jumpers were solo and not tandem, and tandem is what Rob would be doing, so I was a bit relieved. The guy with two broken limbs did not land correctly after trying a trick. The lone parachute was from a jumper who had tried a trick that didn't quite work out and the strings got tangled. He cut the strings and used his reserve parachute.

Finally, it was Rob and Joe's turn to go up. It was strange, but I wasn't even a tad bit nervous. I was actually excited! At an altitude of 13,500 feet, Rob had a 60 second free-fall. After landing, Rob said it was truly awesome. With a huge smile on his face, he stated without hesitation, "It wasn't anything like I expected."

Skydive Time!

The plane approaches
The tiny black speck is Rob and his tandem instructor, the even tinier white speck is the camera man

Rob (blue, white, and black) and Joe (yellow)

Rob coming in for a landing
Look at that face!


Joe's turn to land


Happy to see his fiance
This skydiving thing really taught me a lesson that I hope to apply throughout my entire life: I tend to react quickly on a subject and make decisions without hearing things out first. Rob showed me the stats and the numbers are hard to deny; skydiving is safe if rules and safety precautions are taken seriously. Jumping out of an airplane may not be my cup of tea, but it is Rob's, and I have to respect that. In order to be a rational, scientifically minded person and have evidence based beliefs, I need to evaluate things a bit more before jumping to conclusions.

Oh, and Rob has a new convert to skydiving...Jude. Right after Rob landed, Jude came up to me and whispered, "I think I want to skydive." The old me would've tried to talk her out of it, the new me smiled and told her she'd get to do it for her 18th birthday.