I Go To Extremes

April 9, 2008

 

I got into skydiving the same way many people do -- I did a tandem jump one weekend thinking it would be a one-time thing. However, I was immediately hooked, and I enrolled, right then and there, in what is known as the Accelerated Freefall Course ("AFF"), and three weekends later, I passed the test to be a licensed skydiver! It was an intense love affair from the start, and skydiving was pretty much all I did for the next ten summers!  I jumped with wonderful people, who became close friends and family, traveled all over - U.S. and ex-U.S. - to participate in different skydiving events.  It was an awesome and fantastic time in my life.  

 

Skydiving is a gateway to BASE jumping. BASE is an acronym which stands for Building-Antenna-Span-Earth. These are the objects from which the BASE jumpers jump. I steered clear of it for a long time, fully believing I would never BASE jump. No way was I ever doing that!  But then one day, while at a BASE jumping competition event, supporting my friends who were competing, my friend Lisa said to me "Ya know, we should start our own all-girls team.  There has never been an all-women team in the BASE competition circuit."  The moment I heard competition and all-girls team, my ears perked right up, and my head spun toward her.  "Oh reeeeeally???" I replied, full of curiosity and possibility.  ...and the rest - as they say - is history!  We had named the team and chosen the remaining two members within the hour!  

 

I trained for a couple months and found that, much to my surprise, and possibly a little trepidation, I was enjoying it a little too much for my own comfort.  The Vixens began competing in the circuit right away.  At that time, the BASE competition circuit included five competition events per year, each in a different part of the U.S. including bridges in California and Idaho, the Red Rock Cliffs in Moab, Utah; and the culminating event at the New River Bridge in Fayetteville WV, as well as one ex-U.S. country chosen each year. 

 

The media typically swarmed each event, and needless to say, being the only all-girls team, we got a lot of media attention.  At first I was skeptical and thought it was nothing, but eventually, after being interviewed for local TV news stations at every event, we began to get sponsors! Whaaat?  Manufacturers of the gear we used provided our rigs, helmets, knee pads, sunglasses.  Our jump suits, packs, parachutes, packing mats, cargo bags all had our Day-Glo colors and team logo. It was crazy-awesome!  Eventually, my skepticism faded a bit. I began to fantasize that we'd land a Mountain Dew commercial. I was already planning my retirement.

 

Well, that didn't happen (damn!), but those BASE jumping competition years were some of the best times of my life!!  Traveling all over the country and world with my favorite peeps, doing this thing we loved to do, meeting new people and seeing new sites.  It was a dream!  

 

Eventually LIFE began to happen to each of us on the team.  One girl got married, another got pregnant (and married), and so it was, that The Vixens had made their last jumps as a team.  It was the end of an era, but it had been a wild and fabulous ride!  About a year after that, a group of us went to Moab, Utah to jump the Red Rock cliffs - just a fun-jumping trip on a long weekend.  At one of our last jumps, the winds had picked up, and I caught a gust as I left the cliff, which caused a tough landing. I landed pretty hard in a ravine between two cliffs and had to climb out, injured.  Not entirely uncommon in the BASE world, but anything that goes wrong in skydiving and BASE jumping is automatically 100 times more significant than most other sports.  These are unforgiving sports.  Mistakes and accidents can be severe.   

 

Luckily my "eventful landing" was not so bad. Nothing was broken and I was able to climb out without requiring any official rescue, but I suffered a severely bruised hip and several torn muscles which led to about six weeks of recovery time.  Ugh! hate being on the bench!  It shook me, and on the next jump (yes, we made another jump after that!) I was hesitant.  In this sport, hesitance will get you killed.  Thank goodness my voice of wisdom and reason was screaming ever-so-slightly louder than my voice of pride, and was loud enough to pull me out of my own way... 

 

...and that was my last BASE jump....

 

People used to call me a dare-devil, but I do not believe that's accurate.  I think dare-devils cheat death, and even cheat life. Even though I was involved in extreme sports for a long time, I was on the conservative end of the spectrum.  I didn't push my limits, I employed all safety practices at all times, etc.  I think "thrill-seeker" is a more accurate description of me.  Even to this day, you'll find me on the fastest roller-coaster, highest diving board, zip-lining, traveling across the world by myself...  But I won't be the one tempting fate, trying to push it past where anyone else has gone.  I'll leave that to my dare-devil friends, and pray their voice of reason is loud enough.

 

If you spend any time in either sport, you'll attend more funerals than most people do in a given lifetime.  It's weird, because in a strange way, being in those sports for so long, and having so many good friends who have passed, has better prepared me for dealing with the death of loved ones.  It also has given me an entirely new and different perspective on life and death, than I otherwise would have had.  I am eternally grateful, not only for the many gifts of adventure, fun and close friends I gathered from skydiving and BASE jumping, but also for the gifts of a deeper understanding, respect, and love of life, and just how fragile and precious it is.

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