How Skydiving Changed My Life

Julia Hubbel

I owe skydiving a great deal. My first jump was under an ancient Army orange and white—you oldies like me will recall—with the reserve on the belly like a bulging green tumor. I was in the Army and it was 1974. I lasted ‘til my second 10-second delay after nearly breaking my arm on the strut. The boyfriend at the time convinced me to sail instead.

But I was terrified of heights, and that’s why I jumped. In the years that followed, I spent time living in Australia and took up scuba diving. Why? I was even more terrified of drowning than I was of heights, but jumping had taught me to say “yes.” In fact, I got my license to fly ultralights there too.

In 1988, I returned to jumping, attracted by an ad in Westword for Skydive Colorado. I promptly signed up for AFF. On my seventh jump off student status, my ripcord whipsawed behind my leg. I whipped out my reserve and damned if I didn’t float down backward and hard under an old orange and white. No way to steer, just mind the deer. I went right back up the next day, my legs purpled from the reserve.

My job took me close to Dollywood, near Knoxville where they had a wind tunnel. The guy who ran the op was a fellow jumper, and after-hours, I’d show up and practice. My body control improved immeasurably. In no time, I was flying base and doing relative work like someone who had five times my number of jumps.

At Coolidge, with barely 90 jumps under my belt I was hurtling out the door, flying base for big stars, and docked eighth on an eight-man. The ice-cold beer bath in that cold desert night aptly earned the title “epic.” I still remember a nearly perfect 10-point 2-way, complete with a total malfunction. That was the only time I put my tootsies smack in the peas, only to be dragged aloft by my buddies to do a Horny Gorilla before I could think. I had spotted that jump.

Then a neck injury—serious enough to stop freefalling. But jumping had taught me to say “yes,” and the year I turned 60, I said yes to Kilimanjaro and trained like a banshee. Within seven months I’d also done Macchu Picchu and the Everest Base Camp.

I have kayaked the Arctic, ridden spicy horses from Croatia to Kazakhstan and dove the Sardine Run off South Africa. Fifty trips and umpteen countries later, I just committed to another Kilimanjaro summit the year I turn 70 to raise money for animal conservation and to combat deforestation. That first exquisite leap back in 1974 did a lot more than open my eyes. It fundamentally retooled my DNA.

In Croatia a few years ago, I was the oldest person on a multi-sport trip. I was teased ugly about being old, until it got to the bungee jump from the tallest bridge in Croatia. The group knew I was going to take the jump and couldn’t wait to watch me back out or bonk. I waved at the pick-up guy in the boat far below and launched into a picture-perfect swannie that lasted through the second bounce.

The entire group was gobsmacked. Nobody teased me after that, especially since our loudmouth lout showoff screamed and lost his form halfway down. Priceless.

It’s not clear if I’ll return to freefall, but that’s not really the point. Had I never skydived, I never would have leapt off that bridge. I never would have tracked gorillas and chimps, traveled the Bale Mountains of Ethiopia or pitched a tent in 60 mph winds on a Mongolian mountain pass. 

Jumping taught me courage and competence. I do what most blather about but never do.

Now that I’ve renewed my license, I’ve no clue what’s next. But chances are, I’m likely to say “yes.”

Julia Hubbel | A-11066
Eugene, Oregon

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