How Skydiving Changed My Life

Stan Shepherd

Adapted from “What Early Jumping Did for Me,” a chapter of “Skydiving: Full Flight” by Stan Shepherd

Logging three jumps before my senior year in high school probably did more for my general outlook and wellbeing than anything else. I’m not saying that jumping was the only thing that got me to think more positively about my future, but it certainly was one of the things that helped me to plan ahead and be more prepared for the next day and then the day after that. I was at the age of independence where I wanted to break away from home and family—to live my own life—and anything that helped to define that new life was welcome. I had three jumps under my belt, and they helped to bolster my resolve to leave the home of my youth.

Jumping boosted my self-esteem and self-confidence sky high, and it gave me a sense of real-world accomplishment that was not there before. Although I was athletic and scored above average in school, there was something that had been missing from my total makeup, and jumping provided what was missing.

Many people do not jump because of the risks that are associated with the sport. Taking rides at a carnival carries risks and so does driving a car, but not to the extent of bailing out of airplanes. What many people don’t realize is that performing such acts of sheer daring yields intangible dividends that more than compensate for the risks … and in ways that make a real difference to the soul and spirit.

Most people consider skydivers as risk-takers or thrill-seekers. Except for those who are young, very few people ever side with a thrill-seeker, and most people consider them dangerous. (I have often felt that way about others myself.) As far as the majority is concerned, no one in their right mind would ever jump out of an airplane for kicks. I quickly learned not to expect to win friends and influence people by telling them I parachuted.

I began viewing myself as being different from others in certain ways, and I derived comfort from it. In fact, people who skydive are different from others. Whatever makes a person jump is the difference. And for good or bad or whatever, that difference separates us from others. My friends in high school had never risked their lives jumping out of a plane.

 Also, jumping was for me an all-purpose safety valve. It released bottled up steam that accumulated for whatever reasons. From then on, I would use skydiving as my personal safety valve to relieve pressure whenever the stresses and strains of life reached a boiling point, as they often do. Even today, as I continue to jump, I consider jumping a healthy and reliable safety valve that relieves stress and inner pressure, although some may doubt whether skydiving can in any way be good for your health.

My early jumps also helped to smooth my rough edges and iron out my increasingly bad attitude. Maybe it was because I now viewed things from a different angle, a different perspective. I had seen sights and wonders and done things that hardly anyone else had. I had risked my life three times and lived to tell about it.

The result of all of this was, surprisingly, that I could focus better on my studies at a time when wholesale temptations ruled supreme and siren calls lured many swiftly away to rocky shoals. It was time for me to determine for sure whether I was going to further my education or get off at the next stop (which for some of my friends in high school turned out to be the end of the line).

The decision was made for me in the spring of 1967, when I was accepted to the University of Colorado. But that did not end my jumping. My attraction to the sport remained strong. In the summer of 1967, before I departed for Colorado, I made static-line jump number four in Tecumseh, Michigan, at a new DZ closer to home. It was another dummy-ripcord pull, and I passed.

Stan Shepherd | D-28911
Phoenix, Arizona

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