WITH AN AMPUTEE
“Nobody ever woke up on top of a mountain.
Sometimes you have to go climbing.”
With untold thanks to my cousin Louise, who dragged me up this particular
mountain without questioning my ability, and without hesitation.
a bit bowled over at how this happened. I need to learn that people
actually listen and take me seriously when I say, “wow, gotta
do that before I die".
It all came to pass
at a family gathering (2003), when one of my cousins came home for
a visit for the first time in 10 years, after immigrating to the
States. So, there we were….how do families drift apart for
so long? I miss her. I miss all of them.
We (or maybe that was just me) were
drinking copious amounts of wine, and catching up on all the important
stuff that families should really share with each other on a daily
basis. You know the story, when people only get together for funerals
and weddings. So sad. Anyway, Louise’s baby, Christopher,
had mysteriously grown up (where do the years go?) and was a qualified
skydiver! Mmmm, my ears pricked up. There was something that I really
wanted to do. But of course, how is it possible? I mean, how do
you land with one leg? And what if you hurt that leg? So many negative
things to consider, and of course, my mother just can’t cope
with any added stress to her already wild imaginations of Ally doing
anything remotely unusual.
Louise just shook her head. Of course
it was possible! The tandem jumpers were so clever, and the landings
so gentle, like a feather. Yip, I had seen people land like that.
And so the plot was hatched. Ally would jump. But you know how it
goes, you say goodbye and “lets do lunch”….and,
well, you know the rest.
Yeah right! A phone call from Louise.
Done deal, the jump is happening next weekend. Be ready, we are
fetching you at the crack of dawn. Actually, that would be BEFORE
the crack of dawn. Ungodly hour when the birds are still sleeping,
or they should be.
So, I was up at 5.30am (gasp!),
legless, breathless and waiting. I think we arrived at the airfield
at about 8.00am. There’s a form you fill in where you say
“I’m in perfect health” and “I won’t
blame you if we plummet to earth” or something along those
lines. We decided that I was physically un-impaired (well almost),
I met the tandem pilot, and then we waited. We sat at the edge of
the airfield and watched the skydivers landing. We watched a good
few other tandems come in as well. And still we waited. I have a
feeling that they made me wait so long so I could change my mind.
And it was daunting, to say the least. The more I watched, the more
I realised that something could go wrong. But I doggedly stayed,
nothing was going to change my mind.
reluctantly I thought), at around 4.30pm, it was decided that if
we didn’t do this thing now, the weather would be too bad
and it would be too late. I wasn’t going to wear a flight
suit because of the one-leg story. We bundled into the little plane.
Now let me tell you about the plane, because this was probably the
most frightening bit of the whole jump! It was small, so very small.
And it sounded like it was powered by an old Volkswagen Beetle engine.
The seats had all been removed so we could squeeze 4 people into
it. Tandem person, Ally, and two other experienced skydivers. I
was sitting between Mr Tandem’s legs and it felt like we would
climb forever. Up past the 3,500 foot mark where novice skydivers
jumped from, up and up. Until we reached 10,000 feet. People often
say that they would never be able to skydive because they have a
fear of heights. Not so, strangely enough. From so high up, your
perception of height is very distorted. You are no longer ‘high’,
you’re just ‘up there’.
My biggest fear (apart from the
rickety plane, and that fear was only realised when we were actually
taking off) was landing. It’s all fine and well watching able-bodied
skydivers land, but I had slightly different issues. Which Mr Tandem
sagely acknowledged, but when I asked him “how?” he
said “let’s discuss that when we are out of the plane”.
Mmmm, well, no point arguing that or pushing the point. At that
stage we were strapped together and almost ready to leap. They gave
me one last chance to back out, and then it was time. When the pilot
says GO, you have very little time (like a couple of seconds) to
get out, or you’ll land way off target.
The guys were very supportive and
they all shared the same sense of whacked out humour. I guess you
have to be a bit on the bent side to do this. There is nothing natural
about throwing yourself out of a perfectly good plane. They asked
me if I was a screamer. Huh? No way, not me. Ok then, I had to remember
to empty my lungs or I would have a problem catching my breath.
No problem. I can do that. I’m asthmatic. Breathing issues
don’t scare me.
Pilot says “GO”. And
Mr Tandem says “ok, MOVE NOW”. Oops, problem. His instructions
were to roll over with him to my left and onto our knees, and then
we would both stand on the supporting bar outside of the plane,
then let go. In theory. That wouldn’t have been an issue if
I had a right leg to actually step out with, or two knees for that
matter. Mr Tandem fixes that though. He uses all of his body weight
to throw us out the door. Without warning we are tumbling out, way
above the clouds…
And we are free
falling. And the strong harsh wind catches me by surprise. I can’t
breathe. Dammit I can’t breathe. Mental note to self : Never
dis a screamer again! It forces the air out of your lungs during
these crazy initial seconds of falling. I look up and there is a
skydiver with a video camera in front of me. So close I could reach
out and touch him. And Mr Tandem pulls the chute open. My head is
almost disconnected from my body. And then…ah man, the most
awesome silence. We’re floating. I feel suspended in time.
I am free, I am omnipotent, I am in awe, I am Ally, master of my
universe. And I am incredibly safe.
We discuss landing.
The plan is that I will simply lift up my leg, and land on top of
Mr Tandem, cushioned in his lap. Yip, that’s definitely do-able.
And then the fun starts. We do somersaults and I feel like a kid.
So much fun for an adult seems taboo. So much fun for an amputee
is hardly spoken about. We are treated like people who have had
a bad turn of luck, and now must accept the scraps of life that
are thrown to us. No way. Not any more. I realise that this experience
is the tip of an iceberg of gimp-fun. Yeeeeehah!
The landing was
fine. Absolutely fine. For me anyway. When I watch the video of
Ally’s First Jump, I can see the look of relief on Mr Tandem’s
face as we finally reach terra firma. And I don’t realise
yet that I am going to spend the next few months on the biggest
natural high I have ever experienced in my life!
I am free,
I am omnipotent, I am Ally, Master of my Universe.
With thanks to Louise, Mark and Nicholas
who made it possible.