Learning on the fly

by

By: Nathan Shearer
Head Wrestling Coach

“Learn on the fly” is an often used cliché when starting a new experience. I am beginning my first season in the W&L athletics department and will undoubtedly be doing so at times. However, a few years ago these words were not a cliché, but a reality.

In 2008 my family drove to Gatlinburg, TN as part of a family vacation. The cabin we stayed in also hosted members of my wife’s extended family. All of the usual happenings were taking place until Jerold arrived. Jerold is married to my wife’s Aunt Nicky. They live in a rural town a few hours from Atlanta, GA. Their home is not a farm, but does house many types of animals beyond dogs and cats. The yard is sprinkled with large excavating equipment, broken down cars, and small barns. He is constantly searching for his next big adventure.

I have never been skydiving before, but when Jerold offered up the opportunity I agreed without hesitation. Jerold “knew” someone about an hour away that would take us. We traveled into obscurity before stopping at a white pop up tent located alongside a corn field. There was no driveway so we drove the car through the field until we arrived at the tent. A card table was positioned inside the empty tent. The walk from the car to the tent was challenging. Mentally, I had prepared to arrive at an actual business that provided first time skydivers the necessary tools and safety measures to enjoy a safe landing. No business, no rules clinic, no safety suggestions! I did sign a few crumbled pieces of paper acknowledging the risks that lie ahead. I was handed a pair of eye goggles and told to board the plane. The body of the plane looked like a phone booth tipped on its side. Four people: the pilot, Jerold, my tandem partner, and myself, crowded into the flying machine. My knees were on the windshield, my head rested against the back window, my right shoulder pressed against the door, and my left shoulder was touching the pilot. Personal space was imaginary. The pilot explained we were getting the “U” take off. We climbed two thousand feet before nose diving and pulling up at the last second. This was the first and only time I have flown vertical!

Prior to take off I was assured all instruction would take place during our ascending adventure. My tandem partner believed a nap was more important. The following 35 minutes I spent conversing with the pilot who assured me this was routine. It seemed like one of those “I’ve done this a thousand times” answers that makes you nervous.  As we reached our designated elevation my tandem instructor calmly awoke to offer these instructions:

  1. Open the door
  2. Grab the bar that braces the wing to the plane
  3. Position both feet outside the plane
  4. On the count of three….JUMP!
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