0

The sky's the limit: Skydiving an extreme sport with an extreme rush

By Greg Gelpi

Leaning slightly forward, I clutch the harness tightly, my knuckles turning white as I stare 14,000 feet down at a patchwork of fields and homes, made hazy by the clouds and my goggles.

I Rock forward to the count of "One" by the instructor before a brief pause and the count of "Two." Just like that, we hurdle out the plane, swimming through a sea of cold air.

All during the two-hour drive to Adventure Skydiving Center in Cedartown, my mind tried to imagine exactly what it would be like to jump out of a perfectly sound plane, freefall to the earth and glide by parachute to a safe landing.

Jesse "The Wiz" Watson, who shoots videos and photographs for the skydiving center, chatted before the jump, saying the experience would be life changing.

The sky will never look the same, Watson, 34, of Stone Mountain, said.

Another instructor says the adrenaline is worth it.

"I have adrenaline-itis," Turner V. Drake, 42, of Powder Springs says.

Although he works as a landscape architect by day, in his spare time he's an instructor at Adventure Skydiving Center, where he averages about 10 tandem jumps on a weekend day and has done about 2,000 tandem jumps in all.

With a tap on the shoulder from Drake, the tandem instructor strapped to me, I arch my back and throw my hands out as if Superman in flight. The high altitude's cold air whips through my hair and around my body.

In a blur of pure excitement and pure fear, I lose my breath as I freefall at about 120 mph watching as specks on the earth's surface come into focus and instantly grow larger before my eyes.

Sooner than I expect, the parachute deploys, snapping me upright as we coast the rest of the way down to the ground.

Passing me the handles of the chute, Drake teaches me how to steer, letting me take the controls as we pull hard to one side and spiral almost parallel with the ground below.

Despite the speed of the descent and the height of the jump, Drake takes us in with pinpoint precision to the drop zone as we lightly hit the ground standing up.

"It was probably one of the scariest things I've done in my life," John Price, 25, of Alabama says after landing nearby. "It's probably one of the greatest things I've ever done."

Despite his fear of heights, Price says he would jump again.

"You're going to fast," he says. "It's just an adrenaline rush."

Price is with a bachelor's party, one of many groups jumping together.

"There's nothing like it," Skip Ward, 24, of Anniston, Ala., who jumps for his third time, says. "It's hard to describe the feeling."

Adventure Skydiving Center, which boasts itself as a place for "extreme" adventure, can be reached at (800) 505-JUMP. The cost for first time jumpers is $195 for tandem and $295 for accelerated free fall.

As with many hobbies the cost to get into it is high, but the costs drop with time and experience, Watson says.

Cedartown is about two hours from Clayton County and located south of Rome, Ga.