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What, Me Panic?
Rick Reilly
November 24, 2003
So, what would you say, trembling at the edge of an open airplane door at 13,500 feet with a videographer waiting on a ledge outside the plane and 10 world-class jumpers harrumphing for you to get out of their way, and then the 225-pound brute you're attached to hollers in your ear, "Are you ready to skydive?"
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November 24, 2003

What, Me Panic?

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So, what would you say, trembling at the edge of an open airplane door at 13,500 feet with a videographer waiting on a ledge outside the plane and 10 world-class jumpers harrumphing for you to get out of their way, and then the 225-pound brute you're attached to hollers in your ear, "Are you ready to skydive?"

"No, I'm not ready to skydive!" you want to say. "I'm about to suffer a premature deployment in my boxers and jettison my lunch here! Every other flight I've ever been on, they won't let us off if the jetway isn't within two inches of the door, and you want me to step out into the bottomless blue sky? I'd sooner floss crocodiles, thanks."

But how do you tell the U.S. Army Parachute Team—the legendary freaking Golden Knights—that?

How do you explain that everybody you've talked to and everything you've read and everything you've feared since you agreed to do this has knocked on the inside of your eyelids as you tried to sleep and screeched, Don't do it, you dumpster brain!

"You'll hardly be able to breathe at that altitude," my family said. "You could pass out. Or get knocked unconscious by a bird."

"I've heard that guys break their sternums on their chins when the parachute opens," my golf buddy said. "If it opens."

"Do you have a death wish?" my agent said.

Even the man I was trusting my life to, the man I was attached to by strap and hook and faith, my 42-year-old tandem master, Sgt. 1st Class Billy VanSoelen, was no help. On the way up he kept slapping his wrist altimeter and holding it up to his ear, as if the damn thing wasn't working.

Very funny, Billy.

And when I worried aloud about how much protection the headgear was going to give me in a crash (seeing as it resembled Gerald Ford's leather football helmet), Billy replied, "Oh, no help at all. But it'll keep the skull and brains together for the investigators."

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