On August 3, 2017, I dislocated my left shoulder while attempting to launch an 8-way. It was my last jump at Skydive Chicago’s Summerfest boogie in Ottawa, Illinois, before I headed back home to Indiana. Fortunately, I am right-handed, so I had little difficulty extracting my Racer’s pull-out pilot chute at the proper altitude. After an uneventful landing, I was gathered up and taken to the hangar, where a fellow skydiver—an ER doctor—easily relocated the shoulder. I spent the night loaded up with ibuprofen and headed home the next morning with my arm in a makeshift sling. A few days later, an orthopedic doctor took X-rays and everything appeared to be OK. He prescribed physical therapy and told me to take some time off to recuperate.
Four weeks later to the day, I traveled back to Skydive Chicago. After a few uncomfortable jumps, I decided I was not ready. If the shoulder had tissue damage, it could easily dislocate again. I learned that others with similar injuries used a shoulder brace, so I went and got one. Over the next three weekends, I made four solo jumps at a small DZ closer to home. The brace helped and gave me the confidence I needed to go back to Skydive Chicago the next weekend. Unfortunately, my shoulder dislocated again while reaching for a leg grip on my second jump.
This time, the dislocation was much more serious. I tracked the best I could and deployed at the proper altitude. I managed to get my right hand through both toggles, but was able to flare only to my shoulders. My basic training kicked in: I relaxed, looked at the horizon and did a PLF. Once again, I was gathered up and taken to the hanger, but this time the pain was so severe that I had to fight to stay conscious.
Friends hurried me to the Ottawa ER, notifying my wife on the way. Others gathered up my belongings at the drop zone and looked after my vehicle. A few hours later, the hospital transferred me to Peoria, where they could better treat the dislocation, as well as a broken humerus that was centimeters away from being a compound fracture. The next morning, an orthopedic surgeon relocated the shoulder and realigned the broken bone, warning me that my shoulder would not endure another dislocation. The next day—armed with the recommendation of a good surgeon back home—the hospital released me.
Ten days later, a local surgeon repaired the broken bone with a plate and screws, leaving me with a 35-staple incision. Three months later, the same surgeon repaired my shoulder, assuring me that if I followed through with physical therapy and the proper exercises, I could be skydiving in four months. At that point I was unsure if I wanted to continue jumping. At age 66, I had 30 good years in the sport and more than 2,800 jumps.
Some of my non-jumping friends felt my luck was running out and recommended that I quit. But it wasn’t long before the desire to jump returned. It was probably too soon, but I did an hour in the tunnel three months after the surgery. Three weeks later, I was jumping again. I was careful to not overdo it and continued to wear the brace for a year.
This past September, almost exactly four years after my second dislocation, I made my 3,000th jump. To my surprise, five of the six jumpers who assisted me during my two incidents were present to be on the jump. My wife also surprised me, making the three-hour trip to witness this achievement. She has always been very supportive of my decision to continue jumping.
The jump was a smooth six point 6-way. We took our time for good photos. Dear friends and perfect weather made it a day that I could not have planned. I’m glad I didn’t listen to my non-jumping friends and decided to keep jumping.
Nick Yoder | D-17758