Overconfidence can be a killer. This is especially true in the realm of high risk sports such as Sky Diving or even Scuba Diving. I can personally relate because I have experienced this feeling of overconfidence, which overtakes you in thinking you are somewhat invincible while doing the activity at hand. This feeling of confidence you exude can help you in your endeavors to become better in what ever it is your doing, but can be a treacherous and fatal hindrance if left unchecked. You will hear people will tell you to “ride within you abilities not beyond them”. Ride can be for Dirt Biking, Motorcycling, etc… and this can go for any activity that can be dangerous if trying to go beyond your abilities too quickly. Everyone wants to advance and improve, but how fast and at what cost? The truth is some people progress faster than others and this can hurt an individuals ego to the point of risking life and limb to try and catch up. This is never a good idea. Once again you should perform any activity within your abilities and not beyond them.
The following cautionary tale I am about to divulge is not meant to scare anyone off from Sky Diving, but rather illustrate why one should not try and progress too fast. Skydiving is meant to be a lifelong sport. My problem was I did fall into the trap of becoming over confident and – furthermore my ego was hurt because a friend that I had brought into Sky Diving far surpassed me in number of jumps and ability in a relatively short amount of time. This is why I ultimately ended up in a twisted mangled mess after a relatively uneventful free fall and landing pattern which could have left me paralyzed or even worse dead…..(not actually sure which one would be worse; I guess it would depend if you talk to the paralyzed version of me or to family and friends of a fallen Sky Diver).
The reason I say relatively uneventful is that before I even exited the aircraft I had a problem with my parachute harness (How Skydiving Works) not fitting correctly. This was also my fault for not having anyone check it while I was still on the ground. Thankfully I asked someone on the aircraft and they noticed there was a problem with the height adjustment of my risers. The individual was able to correct the issue while ascending to our exit height just in time. Had I exited the plane without fixing the issue, and pulled my chute, I may not have been able to reach my toggles in order to steer the parachute properly. Just another issue that could have been avoided early on had I gotten my head out of my ass and just asked for help.
I need to backtrack a bit and mention that before this event in which I ended up on my head, there had already been three other jumps with two different types of parachutes in which I did not land properly and could have been seriously injured. This all stems from taking a canopy course that is intended to help you learn to land better. I had done pretty well in the class and was able to land almost perfectly with a parachute size of 240sqf. Now just so you all know, one brand of parachute that is a 240, is completely different from another brand of parachute that is also a 240. My confidence was brimming and thought to my self “I got this and I am going to drop my chute size to a 220”. Once again though the chutes being used are student rigs and unbeknownst to me that the non-student rigs fly much differently and considerably faster.
On recommendation of a friend I was told to try a Spectre 230 instead of a Javelin 220 student rig. Again, my confidence was up and I figured “sure, no problem, I got this”. So, I try the 230 and after releasing the brakes I noticed right away that this thing was flying differently (Downsizing Parachutes) than the other parachutes I flew. A lot faster and more responsive. I come in for my landing and flare (to pull down on both of the canopy’s steering toggles in order to lower decent rate and forward speed just prior to landing) too high and did not hold the flare which is a big no-no, so I ended up landing hard and spraining my ankle. This was the first jump of the day and I was already out of commission. After a few weeks of healing I come back out and tried a Pulse 230 which has a different flying angle; a bit flatter so you travel farther. On the first jump I landed by sliding in on one leg. Not what I meant to do, but if no one was the wiser then it could have looked as if this was done purposefully. Only problem is that one of the instructors came over to me and asked if I had my A license which I did, but that I need to be landing in a different area. A bit embarrassing to say the least. I guess he could tell It was not my intention to land in such a way. The second jump of the day I almost landed perfectly, but was coming in so fast that when I fully flared at the end, my momentum threw me forward and had to pull off a PLF or Parachute Landing Fall (which is what you are taught in the military when using those huge, round parachutes that are un-steerable). Not pressing my luck, I decided that was my final jump of the day and went home.
The next time I went out I was determined to use the smaller chute and nail it. As stated above there were signs from the beginning that I should not have been jumping that chute. When I came in for my landing, I flared and somehow when my feet touched the ground, I was back in the air flying through my risers, landing on my head and back. At first, I thought I just had the wind knocked out of me. Still, I lied motionless for a bit and then began to slowly move my extremities to make sure that I was still capable. The scene from Kill Bill when Uma Thurman commands her big toe to move comes to mind. I slowly rose and had another jumper go get a vehicle to pick me up as I was struggling to breathe and move. There was another jumper who is also a paramedic who took a look at me and stated he could not be sure, but he didn’t think anything was broken.
Turns out I had three mild compression fractures of the spine: T5, 7 and 8. For the next three months or so, it would take me at least twenty minutes to get into or out of bed. People definitely take mobility for granted, until you have to struggle just to do basic activities such as sleeping. Had I not been wearing my helmet, I can say with pure certainty that I would not be here today writing this article and still enjoying life. This situation could have taking a turn for the worst, because as stated previously, I could have been paralyzed or died that day all in the name of Ego and being too confident for my own good.
Well, after hanging out a bit I drove home in extreme pain trying to figure out what had gone wrong. So what had gone wrong? Thinking about it now I would say I went wrong. I was way to confident in thinking I could handle the high performance chutes I was trying fly. I was my own worst enemy and what is ironic, two weeks after the incident there was an article in Parachutist Magazine about people in my very situation either getting hurt or dying from being over confident and trying advanced chutes and maneuvers beyond their abilities. If anyone tries to tell you to do something and you are not fully confident in your abilities or even if you are: tread lightly. Make sure you work your way up at your own pace and disregard other people’s recommendations if you do not feel you are ready. Because ultimately it is your life and you have nothing to prove to anyone but yourself.