My name is Karen Woolem, adrenaline is my crack and this is my story.
On a very cold December day in Paso Robles, California, way back at the very end of 1990, on my 15th birthday (that’s right, I didn’t even have my driver’s permit yet), I made my first jump. It was a static-line from a Cessna 182. After my jumpmaster and I debriefed my jump, I went to my dad and said, “um, can I make another one?” I thought it best I ask since he was the one paying for everything (don’t forget, I had only turned 15 that very day which meant I didn’t have a job). Being the good dad that he is, he said yes and decided that he would be on the load and watch my exit, then go do a three way with Darby Stephens, the JM, and our friend Stephanie “Hot Lips” Parkhurst. So up we went and at 3,500 feet I made my exit according to plan. My dad was the one to point out to Darby that I was under a round, not a square canopy (yes a round, this was 1990 when square reserves were a luxury). On my first day of skydiving, static line number two, I had a spinning malfunction and my first reserve ride under a round. Man, I was owing a lot of alcohol for someone who wasn’t even old enough to drive yet. Don’t worry, my dad made it right for me.
I had a spinning malfunction where the line twists were spinning in faster than I could get them out. So much so, that I was being whipped around with pretty good force and my canopy and I had gone horizontal (which I didn’t know until I was told later because I was so focused on my canopy and trying to resolve what I thought were simple line twists). When I looked at my altimeter I was exactly at 2,000 feet. I heard myself say out loud, “when in doubt whip it out,” and chopped it. What I felt next, was to this day, one of the most thrilling experiences of my life. When I chopped my main, I hurdled across the sky at who knows what speed as I pulled my reserve handle. Being tossed across the sky like that was amazing! I did my PLF just like I was taught and was then immediately swarmed by people asking if I was OK. I immediately started exclaiming, “That was awesome! It was just like being on the Edge (an amusement park ride) at Great America.”
I was still going on and on about how cool it felt when I cut away as we walked back to the hanger. The DZO at the time, Al Stephens, looked at my dad and said, “Gary, I think she’s ready for her AFF.” Two weeks later I completed AFF levels one and two. A week after that, with Steve Rafferty as my JM, I completed AFF levels three through nine all in one weekend! Talk about being on a fast track. I had 79 jumps when I unofficially retired from skydiving at the ripe age of 17. My rig had developed a tear in the leg strap and was decommissioned. As a 17 year old, I was faced with the choice of funding skydiving or funding college. It was a tough call, but I made the decision to be the first in my family to attend college. I made a currency jump in 1996 and again in 2001, but life happens and I wasn’t able to stick with it at those times.
Then a life changing event happened: a divorce that lasted almost twice as long as my marriage did. Now I am free. Now I can focus on me. And I am. I contacted Adventure Center Skydiving in Hollister, California about getting current. I asked to speak to an instructor to find out what I would need to do to get current. They had Peter Learmonth call me. We got to talking and he asked where I had completed my training. I, of course, told him Paso Robles. He said, “Hey, I wonder if you know my wife. She used to jump there a lot.” As soon as he said that I knew exactly who he was going to say. The last person I would have expected to be married with children. Stephanie “Hot Lips” Parkhurst. She was one of my dad’s jumping buddies. She used to go tubing on the lake with us and I used to embarrass her in front of hot guys by pretending to be her daughter (me 15, her mid 20’s, you get the picture). As a joke we put “mum’s little brat” across my jump helmet (which I am still wearing until my new full-face comes in) and she has been jumping with me since day one (she was on my malfunction load). Sure enough he says, “Stephanie Parkhurst.” My response to him was, “she signed more than half of the jumps in my log book.” He immediately wanted to do a three-way call with her on the phone. It was great catching up with someone I hadn’t seen in 15 years.
The skydiving world is indeed a small one. Not only is my currency jump instructor married to Stephanie “Hot Lips” Parkhurst, who I used to spend a lot of my weekends with jumping, but within 72 hours of posting on the introductions section of dropzone.com, another old jumping buddy from Paso Robles, Lisa Briggs, saw my post and reconnected with me. Then today I decided to pop in on one of my Hollister jumping buddies, Scott Brusaschetti (who coincidentally is related to a friend from high school), during his tandem rating instruction in Marina. His instructor is none other than Steve Rafferty, my AFF instructor. Does it get much smaller than that?
A-12677, B-TBD (haven’t received it from USPA yet, and yes I bought beer)