No school board. No board rooms. No meetings or email. Just me, the sky and the superintendent of schools leaping out of a plane.
I placed my hand on the white plane paneling as we were about to take off Sunday morning.
No clouds dotted the sky, not even a wisp. I found it perfect weather to jump from 14,000 feet out of an airplane.
After a windy Saturday nixed earlier plans, I made the trek back out to Waverly, Tenn., to fall to the ground with Superintendent Mike Looney at Music City Skydiving.
Come to find out, this is what his weekends are full of: jumping out of planes without hesitation or fear.
A couple of weeks ago, Looney asked me to go. I thought he was punking me, and come to find out, it was a serious offer. I agreed, only to find myself sitting on bench in a small plane, questioning my sanity.
I can trace the decision to make that leap back to the West side of the family. My grandfather took every grandchild skydiving but me. He flew and jumped out of small planes regularly, shipped his BMW bike to tool around Europe and rode across the country countless times often up to Alaska. He died when I was seven, but I grew up hearing those stories. I wanted that sense of adventure, too.
And here was my chance. As Looney scooted us forward on the bench toward the door, I realized flaking out wasn’t an option. Up until that point, I felt no fear, no anxiety. My Type A personality didn’t take over until I was about 30 seconds away from jumping. Everyone else had already leapt out, leaving just us last to go.
When you skydive, it’s similar to that “ready, set, go,” ordeal. You cross your arms, and place your thumbs through these loops. With Looney as the expert, he was my tandem partner, about to guide us on this journey back to solid ground.
Once my feet hit the open door, I decided to look straight ahead at the landscape. Looking down seemed like a horrible idea being that high up. Seconds later we fell out and entered into freefall. Those 60 seconds felt like minutes, the cold air rushing past my face. I never felt a sense of terror, although it felt more like an out-of-body experience. I seemed more or less felt disoriented; it was like nothing I could have ever imagined.
Finally, Looney pulled the ripcord and we started parachuting down in our candy-cane-striped ‘chute. It felt like a relief. I could breathe normally, and it was beautiful looking around. I could see the Tennessee River and a rock quarry. Houses looked more like tiny Legos. It was amazing and for a time relaxing – nothing could touch me thousands of feet off of the ground.
In total, we were only swirling around in the air for maybe four minutes. It felt a lot longer than that, feet dangling from my black harness. It’s a much shorter time to reach back to the ground than I imagined.
As we neared the dry patch of grass next to the airstrip, Looney warned me landing was actually one of the most dangerous parts. Your knees could roll under you or your ankle could twist. So instead of using our feet to land, we used our butts.
We practiced in the air, and I feared I didn’t have the abdominal strength to pull it off. It felt similar to playing on the rings as a playground as a kid. Lifting yourself up just so that your legs are parallel to the ground as you pull up on the straps of the ‘chute.
Before I knew it we were landing, legs up and the grass scooting across my paisley leggings. As he unhooked our harnesses from one another, my legs started quivering. I shook out my arms. Adrenaline ran rampant through my body.
As we walked back over to the airport hangar, I looked over at Looney. He turned and smiled.
“Welcome to my office,” he said.