Sky high: Skydiving an adrenaline-filled, peaceful experience

Reporter crosses Sky diving off bucket list

BROOKLYN — Theresa Rensimer looks out the plane window, watching the fields below grow smaller. She nudges Craig Ziegenhorn.

“Thank you for doing this,” she says.

On a recent Saturday, the couple was among nearly three dozen people crowded into the hangar at Skydive Iowa.

Some were there for the adrenaline rush or to conquer their fear of heights. Several were there to cross an item off their bucket list. All — like Ziegenhorn, Rensimer and this author — were about to jump out of a plane on a static skydive at Skydive Iowa.

“I’ve always wanted to skydive even though I’m terrified of heights,” Rensimer of Iowa City says. “I’m scared of the high dive at the swimming pool.”

A half-price deal on a solo sky diving experience was too great to pass up, though, so Rensimer bought one each for her and her boyfriend Ziegenhorn.

Tom Cline of Fairfax was one of the few students with experience jumping out of a plane.

“I went on a tandem jump when I first moved to Cedar Rapids and I loved it,” Cline says.

That was four years ago, but Cline has yet to forget the sensation of falling.

“I wanted to rush of doing it myself,” he says.

For Christine Morfit, the jump was something of a celebration.

“It’s my senior year in college, so I definitely wanted to do something crazy,” says the Cornell College senior.

Skydive Iowa Owner Bruce Kennedy has completed nearly 6,000 jumps. The first, he says, was a static jump in the 1970s.

During a jump with static line, the parachute is linked to the airplane. The jumper exits the plane under the supervision of a jump master, free-falling for only a few seconds before the parachute is pulled open by the static line.

“People think you can’t make your first jump solo,” Kennedy tells the students. “You’re going to prove them wrong.”

For nearly six hours, Kennedy prepares the students for their jump. The students practice exiting the plane in the arch position, counting off the seconds before the parachute is fully opened. A video explains what to do if the main parachute fails to open, emphasizing the multiple backups that will activate the secondary parachute if a student panics in the air.

Then there’s the landing. As Kennedy demonstrates landing positions, experienced skydivers land throughout the field — some with more grace than others.

Joe Hartman of Swisher is one of the “weekend jumpers.” He completed his first jump soon after his 16th birthday and continued the sport until he started a family. He started jumping again in 2010.

“When you exit the aircraft, it’s all adrenaline,” Hartman says.

Ziegenhorn and Rensimer agree.

“It was so peaceful — after the first 30 seconds,” Rensimer says with a laugh minutes after landing. “There’s nothing else like it.”

“I love how it’s super loud in the plane and then you get out and it’s super quiet,” Ziegenhorn adds.


Reporter crosses skydiving off bucket list




I launch myself out of the airplane, my body flipping forward as gravity pulls me to the ground.


I can’t believe I’m doing this.


I purchased a half-off deal for a solo sky diving lesson and solo jump from Skydive Iowa in September. Skydiving was near the top of my bucket list, so 50 percent off the experience of a lifetime was too good to pass up.


It took seven months for me to work up the nerve to schedule my jump. Once I did, though, I told everyone about it. I posted it on Facebook and tweeted it — everything I could to guarantee I’d actually do it.


I spent nearly six hours in training for the actual jump, but it never seemed real. I made jokes as videographer Randy Roth placed the 30-pound backpack with the parachute and reserve parachute on my shoulders. I was aware of my family watching as I walked to the airplane, but felt removed from the moment. Then the plane took off down the runway.


“Are you ready to skydive?” my jump master, Gary Billings, shouts over the plane’s engine.


That’s my cue.


“Get in position,” Billings shouts, helping me scoot forward in the tiny aircraft.


I swing my legs out the plane’s door. My left hand grips the bottom of the plane’s floor, my right the side of the door, ready to push off at Billings’ signal.




Was I? I was 3,000 feet above the ground. Would I remember to arch my back? What if I smacked my head on the plane’s wing? Could I land without breaking, well, anything?


I jump. I forget to arch backward, my body facing down. I forget to count, neglecting to follow the instructions drummed into me since 9 a.m.


“I’m not doing this right,” I think.


And then the parachute opens.


“Have fun up there,” Skydive Iowa owner Bruce Kennedy says via the radio zipped in the left arm of my jumpsuit.


I pull my toggles left and right, swaying in the air. I can’t hear the plane above me or my daughter cheering below. It’s quiet, calm. The adrenaline that launched me out of the plane is gone. All I feel is peace.


I’m falling at 22 feet per second, but it feels like I’m floating. 


 Soon, too soon, it’s time to land. I follow Kennedy’s instructions as the ground grows closer.


I pull down hard on the toggles and my toes touch the ground. I land softly on my stomach in the grassy field. My nerves, excitement and adrenaline give way to laughter as I get back to my feet.


“How was it?” Roth asks, coming over to help me gather the parachute.


I want to go again.


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