Back to my tryout for the team in Florida: After a day of attempts to build a 72-person formation with four airplanes, several cuts were made where people were permanently “benched.” I was thrilled and somewhat amazed that I had survived these cuts and we were now down to three airplanes and 63 jumpers. On the fourth day we succeeded in building the formation. I was elated. Not only was this my largest formation ever, but I was part of a state record!
Having succeeded in being part of the record, and having met so many wonderful new people, I was now completely bitten by the “big way” bug. The very same summer I took part in a new Canadian record of 59 skydivers in formation over Wainfleet, Ontario. In September I flew to California to take part in a 90 way attempt which didn’t quite build to completion but which resulted in some great video and still shots of our skydives. In November I did a training camp in Arizona, and the following March of 2007 it was time for yet another Florida State record attempt. Unfortunately we got rained out. However in July I drove down to Ottawa, Illinois, where once again I was the only Canadian on the Illinois State Record attempt.
This time we built the new record of 64 on the third jump. By now I had met so many new people on my “bigway” excursions that every event found me meeting and hugging newfound friends and acquaintances from previous events. The Illinois record was followed shortly by the Canadian women’s record of 34 held once again in the skies over Wainfleet.
Up to now I had accumulated a list of national and state records, but had yet to hold a world record. How I wanted to exceed the 100 person mark on my next jump, and sure enough, the world POPS record attempt arrived in October of this year. With my prior experience, there was no problem in receiving an invitation to take part in this event.
126 jumpers were officially registered for this event. We had three days and fifteen jumps in which to break the previous record of 110 “POPS” skydivers in formation. Day after day we took to the air in six airplanes. I was assigned a slot in the outer ring and was put into an airplane with plenty of familiar faces from the previous Florida attempts. The usual cuts of team members were made and the usual mishaps and formations blowing apart occurred. There were a few minor injuries and a couple of reserve parachute rides, not unusual for an event of this size.
On the third day I was beginning to wonder whether we would succeed. By now the team had been whittled down to 113 people and we needed at least 111 to break the previous record. By jump number 14 we were down to our last chance. The sun would soon be setting and the event would be over. Up we went and everyone gave it their best shot. Every skydiver focused on his or her slot. Everyone flew in the proper sequence. Nobody caused another jumper to be knocked out of the formation. Suddenly, there we were, flying together – all 113 of us – flying smoothly and steadily with barely a ripple in the entire formation.
We held this position for several seconds and then the inner ring kicked their legs as a signal for “breakoff”. At this point the outer ring turned 180 degrees and started flying away from the formation. This is called “tracking” and involves flying with your feet straight out, toes pointed, hands straight out by your side, which aerodynamically causes you to freefall at an outward glide angle instead of straight down. At 5000 feet, I along with the outer ring tracked away to put a safe distance between ourselves and the rest of the group. Then came the middle ring, tracking out at 4000 feet. Finally the inner ring tracked away at 3000 feet. This method allows all 113 skydivers to deploy their parachutes in a very large airspace with a minimal chance of two open canopies colliding. Failure to track properly is grounds for being benched.
On the ground there was a joyous frenzy of whooping, hollering, and “high five” hand slapping. We created a new POPS world record. (The general World Record of jumpers in formation without age restrictions is 400 and was achieved in Thailand in March of 2007.) 113 skydivers from all over the U.S. including ten of us from Canada went home happy. One jumper sported a T-shirt that summed it up best: “You don’t stop skydiving because you get old - you get old because you stop skydiving.”
Perhaps there is such a thing as addiction to the adrenaline rush. The sensation I feel in my heart and stomach prior to exiting a plane is remarkably similar to what I felt when standing backstage in a concert hall, eyeing a grand piano parked in the middle of the stage and hearing the rustle of an expectant audience waiting for me to sit on that piano bench.
Airplane pilots speak of flying, yet piloting a plane is no more like flying than driving a motorboat is like swimming. Skydiving gives you the illusion that you’re defying gravity. You’re actually flying your own body. Skydiving fulfils my childhood fantasy and makes it a reality. I have earned the privilege of having the sky as my playground.
Why I jump out of airplanes (4)