Profile of Tara Annis, Skydiver
Intro: If you are looking for an adrenaline rush, the adventure of skydiving should do it. See what drew Tara Annis, AFB intern, CareerConnect mentor (and shall we say “thrill seeker?”) to the Tri-State Skydivers club.
The Story: Sitting down for a family meal, reading, or watching television are all typical activities that many people enjoy on a Sunday afternoon—but not me. One sunny November Sunday five years ago, I decided to go skydiving with my university’s outdoor adventure group, the X-treme Fear Club. I had already joined them for horseback riding through the West Virginia countryside, downhill skiing, and whitewater rafting on class VI rapids (rapids that are considered so dangerous that completing them with raft and passengers intact is considered a matter of sheer luck). Now I wanted even more adventure in my life, so I was one of the first people to sign up for the skydiving trip to Tri-State Skydivers in Chesapeake, Ohio. Although this first jump was five years ago, I still remember everything—from the preparation before the jump to the freefall through the sky, and the exhilaration I felt when we reached the ground in one piece.
The club had planned on going skydiving in late October, but heavy rain prevented us from doing any jumps. I was surprised to receive a phone call several weeks later from a club member asking if I could get ready in 15 minutes; since the weather was perfect, we could do the jump that day. I hastily gathered my belongings, ran out the door, rushed into a club member’s car, and headed on over to Ohio.
Upon our arrival we were handed a huge packet of paperwork which described all the dreadful things that could happen to us, and then declared that by giving our signature, we took full responsibility and would not sue Tri-State Skydivers if we were injured. I was not nervous about jumping until reading this document, and then I was positively terrified. Larry, the head instructor, put me at ease by describing his numerous skydiving experiences, from jumping out of a hot air balloon, to being able to see the curvature of the Earth during jumps performed at extremely high altitudes. I figured that the training session would be lengthy and complicated due to the mass of paperwork, but it only lasted about ten minutes. Before we got started, Larry looked over at me and said, “Are you going to jump too?” I said that I was, and figured I was going to hear a lecture about how I shouldn’t jump because I was blind and could get hurt. Surprisingly, Larry just said, “Cool,” and that was it. From then on, I knew I would be treated like everyone else. He said he would do all of the work, all I had to do was cross my arms over my chest and tuck my knees underneath me so that my body would be the most aerodynamic for the beginning of the freefall. As I soon discovered, you do not have to have 20/20 vision to jump from an airplane.
Now for the jump. I put on a jumpsuit and harness, one that is similar to those used in rock climbing. Larry and I boarded the plane along with another club member and her jump instructor. All I could hear was the roar of the engine as we began our ascent. About twenty minutes later we reached the desired altitude of ten thousand feet. We got into position—Larry sitting behind me and both of us facing the front of the plane so he could fasten his harness to mine. (I definitely made sure that this step was done correctly, since he was the only one with the parachute!) Larry yelled, “Door!” as he pushed it open, and then all I could hear was a blast of wind. He shouted for me to place my foot on the narrow board outside the plane which serves as the diving platform. He then placed his first foot on the platform, I placed my other foot, Larry did the same, and there we stood on the platform, ready to jump. This was the scariest part of all because I just wanted to get the jump over with, and be rid of the nervousness I was experiencing. It is similar to being at the top of a roller coaster hill, preparing for the drop. Finally Larry yelled, “1…2…3!” and we just fell off the platform. The plane flies away from you, so you don’t actually have to jump, it is more like a prepared fall.
At first our bodies were parallel to the ground. All I could hear was that roaring wind as we descended. It was difficult to determine how quickly we were falling. Later, Larry told me our speed was around 150 miles an hour! After approximately twenty seconds into the free fall, he tapped me on the shoulder, the signal that I could uncross my arms to an outstretched position, similar to a bird’s wings. This is the position skydivers believe allows a person to feel the most freedom during a jump. I let out a scream, but after a while got tired, and my mouth was dry from all the wind. So believe it or not, I actually relaxed and enjoyed the fall. It was not that scary after all, because I was awe-struck by the beauty of my surroundings. It was like a hole new world up there, and of course, one of the most spectacular sights I have ever witnessed. Larry then pulled the strings that deployed the parachute, there was a slight jolt, and then our bodies were perpendicular to the ground. We fell for around seven minutes at a much slower speed, then prepared for the landing by holding our legs straight out in front of us. Surprisingly, the landing was quite soft. I was expecting to plop onto the ground with a thud, but we almost tapped down and then slid a few feet. I breathed a heavy sigh and then smiled at the approaching onlookers. Due to all the adrenaline rushing through me, I found myself talking to them very rapidly about the entire experience.
I loved skydiving so much I have gone twice since then, once with a co-worker at AFB, and the most recent time, by myself, with family and friends watching. While the adventure of skydiving drew me to Tri-State Skydivers, the enthusiasm and positive attitude of the staff was just as much incentive to return. So, next time you are relaxing on a mundane Sunday afternoon, call up a group of your friends, and head out the door to go skydiving!