Shanika Williams took some time out of her day to answer my questions about what it is like to jump out of a plane. My most serious question was, how do you breathe up there? She was a good sport and went along with the interview. If you have any questions, let me know. I am sure Shanika will be happy to answer them. She is all about encouraging adventure and self-awareness through exploring the world around you.
1) Shanika, how did you prepare for the jump? Is there a safety video, training course, etc?
First off, I prepare on a personal level by praying. After that I am pretty relaxed. Then I am very intentional about having a grateful mindset throughout the day due to a renewed intention of how I will live and enjoy my life. The entire process is pretty humbling.
Once at the facility, there is about 24 pages worth of liability-releasing paper work a jumper has to read and sign and sign and sign! I even considered bringing a lawyer next time. Once all that is done, there is a brief class and video you sit through, about 30 minutes. Here you are instructed on the function of the canopy and all the fail-safes (one being that you not only have one back-up deployment device but TWO!!!). In addition, you are informed about how the plane will be loaded, the target altitude (14,500 ft) and the harness you will be wearing that attaches you to your instructor. By the way, the harness has 4 hooks that can bear 5000 lbs. EACH! Lastly, you are instructed on how to exit the plane and the posture you hold while free-falling.
2) You said that you make the jump every year. What started this ritual?
Well it has not been every year, although I would like it to be, it has been more like every three years and this is only my second jump. My first jump was in 2009. As far as what started this; the first time I wanted to do something freeing, exciting and spontaneous as an emotional catharsis. The second time, this year, was for a friend’s 40th birthday and when she decided this is what she wanted to do, she asked me for the information. I was onboard straightaway!
3) What keeps you going back every year? What do you get from the experience?
The emotional therapy is my true motivation. Believe it or not, sometimes I can get carried away emotionally and I prefer to express and deal with the overload in what I consider a sufficient and healthy outlet for me. When I am up there, there is a realization that things are much larger than the inconsistency my heart and mind can have at times. The sheer awesomeness of what God has created, the ways we are able to enjoy it and the uncannyness of how silent and pure it is up there. It is like a reset button for me and brings me back down to earth, literally and figuratively!
4) Are you planning to add other adventures to your list?
Of course! First, let me start off by saying surfing is my GREATEST excitement and I CAN NOT wait for the opportunity to learn and perfect this sport/leisure pursuit. I dream of taking an extended vacation to learn the sport as the natives do (I want to be that good and enjoy it that much!). I have been working on my core strength and coordination with snowboarding every so often. Oh, but to be on the water and literally “ride” it, both eludes and excites me at the same time! I am thinking I might do a solo skydive in the coming year or so. In addition, I would like to parasail eventually but I really want to get on a race track! I am a speed demon at heart. When I’m driving a little faster than I am supposed to, I hear that song track, Speed Demon by Michael Jackson, playing in my head. Also, I would love to do some off road ATV-ing and base jumping interests me too. Now that I think of it, I can not even begin to list all the things I would like to try. Just know they are numerous and very adventurous.
5) Do you feel the speed of the plane while you are in the air?
Honestly it is a little weird. When you are in the plane you actually feel the plane climbing during the ascent and the change when it levels off. Other than that, it is just like taking off for a normal plane ride. It is just as loud and you get that feeling in your stomach when the wheels are off the ground and it is all up to the wings. The only difference is that you are in a much smaller aircraft and sitting pretty darn close with the others onboard.
As far as exiting the plane, once you roll out, you and the plane are travelling away from one another in somewhat adjacent directions. You do not realize how fast the plane is really going until you exit one in motion. By the time you look back to see it, the plane is pretty far gone.
6) I imagine it would be difficult to breathe falling at such a high rate of speed. What is your experience?
The breathing is not so tough. The hardest part is keeping your mouth closed! I do not know the physical mechanics but it all works out. At first you might be gasping while trying to get a breathing rhythm because the air rushing past your face, but I noticed keeping your mouth shut and breathing through your nose is key. Plus everything happens so fast and you only free-fall for about a minute, then the canopy is opened and you are just coasting along and can breathe normally.
7) I have to ask. What is it like having an instructor strapped to your back? Do you feel safer?
Well two things, first you are REALLY close and all inhibitions are completely out the window. It is as close to being one as you can probably be before, well…you know. Second, yes you do feel safe. You are really just going along for the ride.
8) Have you ever become ill during a jump?
Nope, it is amazing. You get a little nervous as you stand on the ledge of the plane and worry about what will happen after you jump but then that is over because you are in the air. You do not have enough time on the ledge to panic.
9) What are the key tips the instructors give you before every jump?
You do not actually jump. The motion is more of a roll. I do recommend that you look at the camera, not the ground and have fun!
10) How long is the descent in miles and minutes?
I believe the free fall was about 1 or 2 minutes as for miles per hour, it is FAST! (I think I heard between 90 and 200 mph). But when the canopy is opened, you travel much slower and you get to enjoy the view for quite a while before landing.
The air is cool, very pure and really refreshing. The clouds are cool, passing through them is nice. You have not lived until you feel a cloud on your face! : )
12) Have you ever had a bad jump? If so, what went wrong?
No bad jumps thus far and I prefer that it stays that way 🙂
13) If there was something you could change about the jump experience, what would it be?
That the free fall would be longer.
14) How does it feel to fall through the air?
It feels surreal and it is amazing to realize we have the ability to both, be that free and literally use the sky as a playground.
15) How does it feel to make contact with the ground once again?
It is bittersweet. You want the ride to last longer but at the same time you are grateful to be back in your comfort-zone with your feet on the ground.
16) Have you ever done a night-time jump? If not, would you?
Well most facilities stop jumping at dusk for safety reasons (like not hitting electrical lines). I mean I probably would if I were in the military and needed to stealthily descend into an enemy camp. : )
Knowing Shanika, I have no doubt that she would make a night time jump if given the opportunity. It was a joy interviewing her and I look forward to the next installment of the adventure series.
I am a strong believer in individual accountability and collective action. When not reading, working or blogging, I’m supporting my favorite charities: Teen Living Programs where I am a volunteer and Executive Board member and YWCA Chicago where I am an Associate Board Member. I am passionate about causes related to supporting youth, women and families. Particularly in the areas of education, social services and housing. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to know more about my charities or the blog.