Blue Skies: A Day Out Skydiving

In life, we all want to do something that we never expect to do. It may be wind-surfing, scuba-diving or, in my case, skydiving. Up until I was twenty, I had never really thought of anything like skydiving. My focus at that point was to pass my second year exams and secure a place on Erasmus. Well, that changed when I joined the DCU Cancer Society that year.

Wearing my orange jumpsuit, getting ready for the skydive! (Credit: Sean Gallagher)

The Cancer Society held quite a few fundraising events, one of which was a skydiving session in County Longford. We were given charity sheets and our goal was to raise as much money as we could for the Light It Up Gold Cancer Foundation by the time the skydive took place in April 2016.

This event and the society was really personal to me – I had lost both of my grandmothers to cancer and my own mother survived ovarian cancer when she was in her twenties. I have a young cousin in America who, at only seven years old, contracted a very rare form of lukeamia and required a bone marrow transplant from his older sister. His battle inspired me to take on this challenge and raise however much money as I could.

Over the next few months, I did everything to gather up money. I reached out to my friends, family members, people who worked with my parents, telling them what I was going to do, what I needed. People were generous, they gave whatever they could, whether it be a euro or a cent. By the time the weekend came when I was to travel to Longford for the jump, I had managed to raise €500 for the charity which was an accomplishment in itself. I was very proud of myself for that.

The day finally came and a bus was to take the jumpers to Longford. I forced myself out of bed at about five in the morning, to walk the fifteen minutes to the DCU campus. The cold weather woke me up a little bit, but as the minibus trailed on, I ended up dozing off.

There were only eight of us doing the jump in total. We were to be attached to a regulated instructor and they would take us out on a plane. We had to sign papers and watch a safety video about being stapped into a harness. Watching the video, my thoughts turned to a storyline I had watched in Hollyoaks when a character, Sarah fell to her death during a skydive after her parachute didn’t open. It was a murder-gone-wrong, the parachute deliberately sabotaged but even so, I was still a tiny bit apprehensive, wondering what would happen if my own parachute didn’t open!

Everyone was changed into orange jumpsuits and introduced to the instructors. They led us outside where the instructors would help us into the harnesses. It was a little bit awkward to move about wearing it, I felt a little bit like a robot! But as long as we were safe and ready to go out into the air, that was all that mattered.

There was a surprise waiting for me outside. In the car-park, standing by the gate was my dad and my uncle, who had travelled all the way from Monaghan just to see me jump from an airplane! I knew that my mum and sister had gone to Donegal to see my grandad that weekend, but I had given no thought that anyone was going to see me that day! Looking back on it, I think it’s best that my mother didn’t come – she hates anything to do with heights!

I’ll be brutally honest – the worst thing about that day was not the jump itself. It was the waiting! We were at the area at nine, but the plane was so small, it could only take two of us at a time. There were eight of us doing the jump and I was part of the last two. It took a credible amount of time for the plane to take off, for the people to do their jump and to get the parachutes reset. I had gotten to the stage where I thought that I would never get to do it!

But at long last, just before three o’clock, myself and my instructor were called and we were prepared for the jump. I was given a pair of goggles to protect my eyes and I was firmly strapped to the instructor. We were taken into the plane and it set off. That was when the nerves began to come.

My stomach was in knots, I could feel myself shaking a little bit. It didn’t help that I was sitting right next to the door that would open and let us out! The instructor told me that when we were to jump, I had to keep my hands crossed and my head leaned back until further instruction. I was scared, but it was too late to back out now!

My instructor opened the plane door and the cold air slapped me in the face. He manouvered us to jump out; my legs were dangling outside, which made me even more scared. I remember crying out ‘No, no, no, no!’, before suddenly, we were falling.

I shut my eyes for about a second but the rush forced me to open them. My mouth dropped open in shock at the sight of the world so far below us. The instructor tapped my shoulder and I spread my arms out like an eagle soaring through the clouds.

The wind blew hard in my face, the force was very strong. It may sound like a cliche, but it really felt like I was flying. The world felt so small beneath me, I forgot about everything else that was going on and just concentrated on the feeling of being in the air.

Suddenly, I felt a sharp tug and instead of falling, we were floating. Much to my great relief, the parachute opened perfectly and I could finally see everything at a normal pace. My voice had a mind of its own, I couldn’t stop cheering and crying out ‘Oh my God!’ It felt amazing to be so high above everything else. My dad joked afterward that they could hear me before they saw me!

After the skydive, holding a certificate of completion. (Credit: Shona Gallagher)

The instructor allowed me to hold the handle and steer the parachute so we were spinning around in a circle. He had a camera system attached to his wrist, so he told me to smile in the camera’s direction while we floated downward.

As we got closer to the ground, my instructor told me to lift my legs so I wouldn’t injure myself when we landed. In all honesty, I didn’t think I would have the strength to do it, but somehow, I managed to get my hands under my calves and lift my legs just about right. All too soon, we hit the ground, landing with a bump. For a split second, we were engulfed in parachute fabric before we were freed.

It took me quite a while to get my breath back. The adrenaline was still rushing through me, I still could not believe that I had just done. I had successfully jumped out of a plane from 10,000 feet up in the sky, my parachute didn’t break (thanks be to Christ!), and I had raised €500 for a children’s charity. That day, I was very proud of myself.

Who knows, maybe one day I’ll get back up in the air and jump out of a plane again?

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