Training for skydiving is no piece of cake

By dakota cheese , CNN Written by Skydiving is the most exhilarating yet dangerous sport. It requires impeccable timing and perfection to conquer such dizzying heights. Athletes hop on an airplane (literally), take to…

Training for skydiving is no piece of cake

By dakota cheese , CNN Written by

Skydiving is the most exhilarating yet dangerous sport. It requires impeccable timing and perfection to conquer such dizzying heights. Athletes hop on an airplane (literally), take to the open air and do exactly what it says on the tin.

Pilots and skydivers must watch out for a host of unknowns, from gear malfunctions to unseen air currents. These tiny details can be irrecoverable.

However, all has been by way of preparation, with proper flight training and physical preparation a vital part of the health and fitness regimen for skydivers.

Off-roading, mountain biking and climbing are all preparation mechanisms for a successful jump, which includes carrying new equipment and learning how to use it.

The Art of the Jump

More than 200,000 men and women learn to take to the sky in the United States each year, says Dennis Koch, president of the Association of Skydiving Sports — and nowadays the average age is around 32.

Many do so on their own, being single or living off what little savings they have. “Older people just like having that outlet,” says Koch. “It’s a lot of fun, and a lot of freedom.”

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This type of fitness is the more traditional method for training for such a high-risk sport. And nothing sends a person soaring in high-energy excitement quite like a skydive.

Training for a skydive takes plenty of enthusiasm and grit.

“It’s about getting excited about it,” says Nicole Scherr, a retired mechanical engineer who plunged from more than 11,000 feet in Orlando, Florida, in December.

“People have a bunch of bad habits when they’re jumping — you’re going to fall,” she says.

In Scherr’s view, enjoying a jump serves to help overcome many habits — “that ‘rush,’ ‘energy,’ ” she says.

For Joe McNulty, jumping opens the door to a completely new experience.

“I find that an experience like this allows me to step back in time, goes back to my childhood,” he says. “It gives me a ‘hey, that was cool, remember that?’ It puts everything in perspective.”

For McNulty, the entire process is quite enjoyable, and the thrill starts even before takeoff. “I wish I had more time to relax before the jump, so I get pumped up with a few more drinks,” he says.

Koch points out that skydiving is “not a pain-free sport.” It takes a lot of pressure off the body, and for many people they just want to get it over with. “It’s difficult, but in many ways it’s an exhilarating journey,” he says.

Lifetime coaches

Hockey player Sammy Harkins, an avid skydiver and emergency medical technician, has helped train hundreds of fellow athletes.

“My goal in skydiving has always been to improve myself as a person,” he says. “We’re all committed to getting better every day, whether it’s skydiving or whether it’s life. Life’s going to present it’s challenges, and skydiving is another way to stay focused and keep up with the journey.”

Harkins has also learned much from his peers, who teach him that you have to be careful what you ask for.

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“You want someone that’s doing everything they can to help you. Some people can take things for granted and don’t value the money they’re receiving. Others can’t help but show their true colors when the game’s on the line,” he says.

Retired diving instructor Stephan “Schoaker” Stevens takes pride in offering a new route to skydiving for the more experienced member of his group.

“I try to teach them to relax the body, and not bring too much adrenaline,” he says.

It all comes back to the final goal.

“I tell them what I’m doing is a challenge and something I can only hope to achieve, and hope it’s something that has a happy ending,” says Stevens.

He emphasizes the importance of being able to focus through the pain. “You’ve got to work through it, you’ve got to take care of your body.”

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