By ANDJELKA BOGUNOVIC
Some sports require speed, agility, strength or stamina. Skydiving requires only the desire to jump out of a moving plane at an average of 13,000 feet above the ground, free fall at a speed of approximately 126 mph and hope that the shoot opens.
Mount Mary University math instructor Dr. Suzanne Caulfield is in her seventh season of skydiving at Skydive Midwest located in Sturtevant, Wisconsin. Caulfield is terrified of heights but does not let that come between her and her passion for skydiving.
“You don’t really appreciate life until you have risked living,” Caulfield said. “It [skydiving] puts your life on the ground in perspective.”
While new skydivers are required to jump tandem with a certified instructor attached to them, Caulfield is a certified solo jumper who packs her own parachute.
According to Caulfield, even though the safety risks involved in skydiving cannot be completely eliminated, certain precautions are taken to minimize those risks. Each backpack contains two parachutes as well as an automatic activation device.
“The automatic activation device is programmed so that if you are still falling at a programmed speed, at a particular altitude, it starts a reaction that ends with the opening of your parachute,” Caulfield said.
Paul Hartmann, a 32-year-old West Allis police officer, has skydived more than 15 times. Hartmann said despite his experience, the initial fear of jumping remains.
“You are going to be scared no matter what but this is healthy,” Hartmann said. “To this day, the scariest part is when they open the door to the plane 13,000 feet in the air.”
The entire adventure lasts about 6 to 7 minutes and begins at roughly 13,000 feet. The period of time before the parachute opens is known as free fall.
“My average free fall rate is about 126 mph and lasts roughly 1 minute,” Caulfield said.
The altitude at which the rip cord is pulled depends on the experience of the jumper.
“For tandem jumpers, we pull the cord at about 5,500 feet,” said Skydive Midwest instructor Colleen Baker.
Both Caulfield and Hartmann warn that it is hard to jump just once.
“The adrenaline rush you get once you land is absolutely addicting and leaves you wanting more,” Hartmann said.
This addiction has a hefty cost. Prices for skydiving vary depending on where you jump. Many companies offer discounted group rates, however.
Josh Runge, a 31-year-old full-time student at Colorado Metropolitan State University, has skydived three times at Skydive Chicago in Ottawa, Illinois.
“I usually go with a group of friends and pay about $160,” Runge said. “It’s the best money you will ever spend.”
For those who have experienced a jump, the price is worth the thrill.
“You have not truly lived until you’ve skydived,” Hartmann said. “It’s a fun activity that you can do with your friends while you’re young and have the time.”