Skydiving provides thrills for BYU students


    Imagine floating at the top of glistening clouds during twilight and feeling ice crystals brush across your face like Janna Pope.

    Imagine floating in the air 1,400 feet above Niagara Falls during sunset and gazing at the awe-inspiring view like Leszek Stachyra.

    Several BYU students have become skydiving enthusiasts despite its expensive costs because they get pure joy, an adrenaline rush and a feeling of comradery.

    “It’s an indescribable experience,” said Anne Taylor, 24, a senior from Orem, majoring in therapeutic recreation. “You really have to go and experience it to understand it.”

    Pope, 21, a senior from Austin, Texas, majoring in international studies, said skydiving was a great stress reliever.

    “After a really tense week, there is nothing better than jumping out of a plane to show that nothing else matters,” she said.

    The adrenaline rush is different from any other sport because it builds in anticipation for so long, said Jim Mercier, one of the owners and a chief instructor of Skydive Ranch, a jump zone in Calgary, Alberta. The experience is a culmination of 15 to 20 minutes of built-up adrenaline.

    Mercier said the adrenaline starts to pump with just planning to jump out of a plane.

    “We give people their training, and they start to get butterflies,” he said. “It starts to build. Then, they get in the plane and wonder, ‘Oh man, am I really going to do this?'”

    When the plane takes off and starts to climb, the adrenaline continues to build, he said. The plane levels off, and by that time, their heart is pounding.

    “We tell them to get all the way out of the plane, and they think, ‘Are you talking to me?'” Mercier said. “So, then they get out and hold on to the strut of the plane. Finally, they let go and all the adrenaline seems to be released in one moment.”

    As soon as the jumper is out of the plane, relaxation ensues.

    “You’re totally scared until you jump, and then it’s just you and the wind,” said Dani Hoagland, 24, a junior from Orem, majoring in psychology. “You don’t feel the roller coaster rush. It’s like flying but not flying. You’re out in the air, but you don’t feel like you’re falling. You wouldn’t realize your falling except for the rushing wind past you.”

    Then, as the skydiver approaches their landing, the adrenaline starts pumping again, Mercier said.

    “Once they’re on the ground, they start to think, ‘Holy mackerel, I did it. I looked fear in the face and stared at it,'” Mercier said. “It’s a feeling of accomplishment and overcoming the challenge. You pushed yourself to the limit, and you made yourself a superhero. You did it by yourself; it wasn’t a team effort, but it was all you.”

    Taylor said her first jump was supposed to be a one-time thing, but she scheduled the second time as soon as she got down.

    “When I landed, all I wanted to do is go right up again,” she said. “If I’d had another chute, I would’ve.”

    Stachyra, 33, a junior from Calgary, Alberta, majoring in geographic information systems, bought all his gear immediately after his first skydiving trip.

    “People were like, ‘Wow, you’ve already bought your gear and you’ve only jumped one or two times?'” he said.

    However, the sport of skydiving isn’t cheap.

    The average cost to get certified is approximately $1,500, Stachyra said.

    “Once you’re certified and have your own gear, it’s only $15 to $20 per jump,” Pope said. If you’re renting gear it’ll be around $20 to $30.

    Instructors, frequent jumpers and employees that pack chutes make a community of friends that are like a family to those in the sport, Taylor said.

    “That’s one of the things that keeps me going,” she said. “There are so many different walks of life and we’re bonded in one group because of a common interest. It’s like a community. We even hang out doing things outside of skydiving.”

    Pope said another reason for the family-like atmosphere is that sharing personal experience, such as facing your fears, naturally draws people together.

    Even though everyone is looking out for each other, occasionally things do go wrong.

    Once, while doing a dive with a cameraman, Pope said things went wrong.

    “I got to the pull altitude and signaled to the camera man that I was going to pull,” she said. “He veered away from me, and I pulled the rip cord. Nothing happened. I had a successful pull but unsuccessful deployment.”

    She said she nudged the air canister in her pack thinking that would help, but it didn’t.

    “I looked back and saw I had a bag lock (when the chute won’t deploy right because it was packed wrong),” she said. “I had my hands on the emergency chute and was ready to pull it when all of the sudden the main chute flew open.”

    Pope said she was calm at the time even though things weren’t going right. She knew she was prepared and trained right.

    Some question the safety of the sport. Approximately one in every 100,000 jumps results in a fatality.

    Most fatalities aren’t from faulty parachutes or student divers but are most often the result of landing errors with experienced skydivers, said Christopher Needels, executive director of United States Parachute Association.

    The latest fad, he said, is after generating lots of speed, a skydiver will level off right before hitting the ground and swoop along the ground for long distances at 60 mph.

    “They are hot landings,” Needels said. “We used to be landing like we were in a Cessna plane. Now, it’s like landing a jet.”

    To ensure the safety of those involved in the sport, there are safety and training advisors from the USPA on site at every jump zone, he said.

    The association, which is a self-regulated body for skydivers, ensures that both the jump zone and the skydivers comply with the regulations.

    Whether motivation is for the sport and challenge or just for the joy and exhilaration, skydiving gives a different view on life, Pope said.

    “It’s really something that changes your life,” she said. “You’ve faced your fears and done something few have done.”

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