I was told once, ‘the longer you put it off, the worse it will get’. I’d been apprehensive all morning, in anticipation of the day’s event. I’d refused coffee and breakfast, preferring just to process the anxiety internally. My boyfriend asked if I wanted to back out, I refused. He seemed to get upset that I wasn’t talking, which was unusual for me.
Normally I get in trouble when I say something wrong, not by saying nothing at all. It was part rational and part irrational fear; my friend had told me her experience had been awful, that she couldn’t breathe, which I thought was entirely possible, but I didn’t understand why everyone else loved it? Surely free falling whilst asphyxiated wasn’t fun?
We had tried to go skydiving twice before, but each time the weather was not in our favour, and they had to be cancelled due to high winds. We had made it to Twizel (or Twizzel, as we had nicknamed it), in the South Island of New Zealand and signed up for a dive at the small airstrip. The small town lies in the shadow of Mount Cook, also known as Aoraki by the Maori community.
It was a stunning location; the snow-covered mountain was illuminated pink by the sunset as we camped on the lake shore. The next morning I knew that today was D-Day, I was going to chuck myself out of a plane at 12,000 feet.
I’d had the same feelings before when learning to scuba dive. After one day of failing to breathe underwater I was already feeling inadequate and pretty pathetic, but then I joined other divers for dinner. A couple of hours later, I had heard numerous diving related horror stories, including tales of disappearances and deaths. I was petrified.
It was only down to the kind consideration of my instructor did I even manage to submerge my face again. He noticed that when I started to relax, I would naturally smile, letting water into my mouth. Once I knew to make the shape of a narrow-mouthed frog, I was able to complete the course.
En route to the dive, my silence had been filled by the tunes played on the local Kiwi radio station. As we pulled into the airfield, a familiar and very appropriate song burst through the air. It was ‘Free Falling’ by Tom Petty. Suddenly, I felt that the skydive was going to be fine, that this was a sign, a good luck coincidence. My mood lifted, I was excited. I climbed out of the van and had one of the best experiences of my life. In fact, when I landed I asked if we could go again.
Thanks Tom, you gave me the confidence I needed to reach my goal.
A special tribute post in light of the sad news of Tom’s passing.
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