The day my life got reallyfuckingawesome.

The Beginning of the End of my Flourishing Career – the day my life got reallyfuckingawesome.

Originally published in the April issue of Blue Skies Magazine.

Early one Friday morning, dubbed “June 11th – the day my life got reallyfuckingawesome,” I received a message from a guy named Barry, the dude that manages the AFF school (Freefall University at CSC). He said that the weather was looking like it might be sketchy on Friday and Saturday, and that if I wanted to come out to the DZ earlier, we could get through more of the first jump course that night, maybe the whole thing. I managed to escape the city before the Blackhawks parade traffic was really bad, and was at the DZ by 5:00.

I remember driving out there and being really, really, REALLY nervous. What if I suck at this? I had built up this skydiving thing SO HARD at work, I was so amped about the possibility to skydive all over the country once I was licensed… What if all of this was just beyond the scope of something I could accomplish?

The whole time we were going through the gear check, pictures of malfunctions, drills, etc, I was nodding and saying “uh-huh” after everything he said. This is what I do. It’s how I listen. I nod and say “uh huh” when I have heard and understand something.

Barry looks at me and says: “Are you paying attention or are you just saying ‘uh huh’?”

I blushed and said “Yes, I’m listening! That’s just how I listen, I nod and say “uh huh.”

And so it goes.

I nearly aced my test – star pupil right here! And of course, Mother Nature was deciding to be a huge bitch so Saturday was looking horrible for AFF. I drove back to the city, feeling accomplished for having rocked the test, a bit nervous about the first jump, and just, different. Something had changed that night, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

I head back out to the DZ on Sunday and I’m waiting and waiting and waiting and finally, I get to gear up. I was completely oblivious to what was going on at the dropzone, turns out one of my instructors had just had a canopy collapse and a Cypres fire. We watch the video, he reminds me the importance of me finding my handles, especially under canopy, and we get on the plane.

UM, WHAT? This was my first experience with the whole “I’m not here to do a tandem” shit and one of my instructors just kissed Death and told him to fuck off, and now he’s getting on the next load? These people are crazy! I’d learn later that you gotta get back up after a cutaway, or else it screws with your brain. So, up we go.

In typical first jump fashion, I’ve got my legs on my ass and I don’t really arch for shit, but I managed to fly through my handle checks and I wasn’t totally out to lunch – so yay! I pass!

Fast forward to level four which frustrated me to no end. My instructor reminded me that you aren’t cool if you don’t repeat level four – so considering it took me three times to get it right, I was a legend in the making.

PD New Beginning

Fast forward through AFF (I kill it) and then to my 15th jump. Standard run-of-the-mill coaching jump, I think we were working on altitude adjustments and fall rate stuff, I track (you know, how awesome we all track when we have 15 jumps, a hot wobbly mess) and pull, all is well.

Then all isn’t well. Then my canopy looks like a bowtie and I’m starting to spin. Like a robot, I chop it and before I can even get over to my silver handle, my reserve is already over my head. My first thought was, um, what the fuck? At the time, I didn’t remember the little discussion we had about the RSL and I thought that MY Cypres fired too. Then I just remember getting my wits about me and making a beeline for the landing area.

Breathe in. Holy shit. Breathe out. Holy shit. Breathe in. Holy shit. Breathe out. Holy shit.

I landed that jump smack dab in the middle of the landing area (pretty sure that’s the only time that will happen all season) and the same instructor that had a Cypres fire right before my first jump runs up and says “Welcome back.”

That’s it. A hug, kiss on the cheek, and welcome back.

These people are certifiably insane.

The DZO rolls over on the golf cart and asked what it was and I, while under canopy, was trying to remember what the hell the stupid flash card was called.

“It looked like a bowtie and I was spinning,” I said, still panting from my “holy shit” screaming under canopy.

“They train you to chop those? Unacceptable. I’d ride that out,” he says with a smirk, then gives me a high five.

Seriously I couldn’t wrap my brain around it. As far as I know, I just almost smashed into the ground at a relatively high rate of speed, and all of these loonies are giving me high fives. What. The. Fuck. did I just get myself into?

So I go to my car, call my parents, tell them I’m alive, take a nap, maybe cry a little bit, and then get on the next load that I can.

And so it goes. My first cutaway before I had my A-License. That’s some cool shit right there. Or you know, not.

Things were pretty boring between that and number 25. But that’s another story for another day. ;)



  • That’s a GREAT article. I just completed my AFF and am making my first “off student” solos this weekend. I just want to make sure I land in the same zip code as the DZ, I hadn’t even thought about the possibility of a malfunction this early on. I guess you’ve joined the elite ranks early on. Yahoo! Thanks for the excellent and inspiring read. 


  • I guess now that I think about it, my first cutaway was before I had my license too – mine was on like jump 56. There’s many reasons why I ended up with like 140 jumps before I got my A, but suffice to say, my experience was very similar to this one. I deployed, I was in a slow turn. I’m thinking toggle fire, because I’d just had one the day before. So I pop my brakes, and I start to spin faster. And faster. I look up at my canopy and I’m like – oh – that’s a bow tie. Line over. G forces start to increase. I finally start thinking that they had said that sometimes you can clear these with a flare. But by this point the G forces are really getting higher. I’m like screw that – and chop it. Same thing as yours – reserve is out before I even get to the silver handle. Oh, and the first thing anyone says to me after landing – “Do you have your handles?!?!?” I’m like “WTF???” Don’t you want to know what happened? You just want to know if I have my handles???? F*ck no I don’t have my handles! No one ever told me to save them! Then I look down and realize the cutaway handle is still there, only because it’s still held in place by the longer cord…

    Glad I got that out of the way early though – I feel far more confident in how I’ll deal with a malfunction now… :-)

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