Student jitters, take two

For one of my jumps on Saturday, I had to play the role of a student.

The new plane has an entirely different type of door than the other planes we've used in the past. It's really wide and there's a teeny tiny step on the outside. That means the instructors have to take on completely different positions than with the other styles of planes we've used in the past -- especially if there's a camera person tagging along with them.

So the instructors wanted to practice. I agreed to be their faux student.

In 2003, in the beginning of this whole skydiving thing, I made two tandems, the kind of jump where you're strapped on to an instructor.

Then when I became a real student, I did the accelerated freefall method, also called AFF. I had my own parachute on my back. I jumped from 13,500 feet. I deployed the parachute myself and had to land myself. But two instructors came along with me during freefall, one on each side. They literally hold on to the student, kind of like human training wheels. They give you hand signals to teach you how to fall in a stable manner, how to turn or do barrel rolls, when to check altitude, when to pull and ... HEY PULL!!

If the student messes up in some fashion -- like if they forget to deploy the parachute -- these instructors will do it for them. Or if a student goes into the fetal position, the instructors are there to pry the person's limbs apart. They save you from dying, basically. And if you don't do things properly, you fail that level and have to do the jump all over again.

AFF was really hard for me. Mentally, it was difficult because it was so much more responsibility than going for a ride as a tandem. I couldn't believe these people trusted me with my own life. Like, I had a very real parachute on my back and if I didn't deploy it and if something happened to the instructors and if ... whatever, there was VERY REAL DEATH waiting for me at the bottom.

And physically, it was really frustrating. Skydiving looks so easy in the movies. But it's actually very difficult to maintain stability, to work with the wind to accomplish certain moves and to remember all the necessary steps for survival. I kept getting discouraged because the whole process wasn't coming to me naturally. (That's before I realized that there is nothing natural about jumping out of a plane. Of all the things humans do, it's probably the least natural of the bunch.)

To get through it, I had to pretend I was a movie star stunt double. I would silently psych myself up for it on the way to altitude like, "Cameron Diaz is such a wuss she can't even do her own skydives, so I need to do the job for her. Stupid Hollywood crackwhore." (Actually, Cameron Diaz has made skydives in real life -- so woot! Go her!)

I had to do that for about, oh ... 40 skydives or so. Seriously.

Then something clicked. I began to trust myself. I allowed myself to enjoy the experience. And I relaxed into the skydive.

Now I love it, and I can't imagine my life without skydiving.

But on Saturday, I found myself on the edge of the door yet again, two instructors flanking me. I yelled the exit count of a student -- "Check in! Check out! Prop! Up -- Down -- OUT!"

I arched out of the plane ...

And I was nervous all over again.
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