By Josh Zammit
2014. What an amazing year.
Funny thing though, if you would have told me in November 2013 that in less than a year, I would have all ratings recurrent, be jumping every weekend, and be back on the staff of Skydive San Marcos, I would have laughed in your face. Funny thing, life; it has a way of surprising you—and this year, mine has been full of surprises. Here is the story of my favorite, my skydiving phoenix saga.
January 2014, still reeling from my bad-ass celebration of New Years’, I started off the year feeling as I am sure many Texans did: “Fair to midland.” No I didn’t spell that wrong, here in what Texans refer to as the center of the Universe, we use that to mean “above average.” The year was bright; I had a house, a dog, a girl and a daughter. My family was on the rise in the city of San Antonio.
What was flatlined, however, was my skydiving career. In January I had not jumped for almost four years. Not since my 1,298th jump in February 2010. A memorable jump and number for me, as it ended—after an uneventful freefall with a tandem slide-in landing—with a loud “pop” sound, and my leg broken in six places with my ankle dislocated.
As I lay healing, that girl who had my baby decided she no longer approved of my part-time job. In the interest of my traditional family, I hung it up, sold the rig, a couple of jumpsuits, and moved along. I kept my logbooks and a Da Kine Rags suit along with my helmet for sentimental value. I vowed to her that I would never jump again.
That was of course, before January 4 and the overnight bag, ironically made by Da Kine, that I found in the backseat of her car.
Picture this: You give up what you love, for someone you love. You feel obliged to do so, seeing the large sacrifices they made for you (i.e., childbirth.) In the end, you catch them doing something they promised never to do. She had moved on from me. I was, in a moment, heartbroken. Worse than anything I felt, I got a little crazy from grief.
I mourned her loss and some of the powers that be/were in my life did not understand, nor did I take the proper time to explain. I tried desperately to become a single parent in a small amount of time, and my methods were far from efficient. I had to leave work early so I could pick up my daughter from day care. I worked multiple side jobs, and the bosses noticed every bit. I would end up fired mid-March from the nonprofit I served, and in my heart feeling completely lost at the bright young age of 34.
Fortunately, when I feel lost, I like to go for a car ride.
I drove there without even knowing where I was going. I sang along to country songs with the 4-year-old in the back seat. Before I knew it, Willow and I traded the city with its streets and buildings for the back roads and barns of my favorite parts of Texas. We drove until perched in the road in front of us was a sign for a business, nestled in the wreck of a Twin Bonanza.
I was at a place that I once called home, Skydive San Marcos.
I loved visiting my old stomping grounds and walking through there that day, I felt all of the beautiful contradictions that skydiving exposes to us. I felt nostalgia and alienation; the place had grown in my absence. I felt warm hugs and cold shoulders; with many friends there I felt welcomed but held at arm’s distance by the noobs. All those feelings passed away when I came into contact with my old friend, Eric Butts.
Eric is not a small man. To some, he is so large that he could be considered frightening. He has no time for drama or petty drop-zone bs but he always, always has time for a friend. His appearance reminded me of one of his old nicknames, “BarbEric.” He looks like a motorcycle gang member. That day he hugged me, as he has many times in the 10 years we have been friends, with the glow of a giant teddy bear. Eric asked about life and I regaled him with the story that was just relayed to you, dear reader. Eric was quiet for a moment, and without much fanfare he asked a simple question: “Would you like to come back to work for me.”
It only took a minute to decide and I was back to the contradictions. I said yes. Yes to a second chance, a second act in skydiving. I agreed to any terms he put out there for my recurrence.
I felt the contradictory nature of the first time we all experienced as jumpers: fear and exhilaration.
Old emotions swirled in. “I love this thing but it could kill me.”
I felt anticipation again.
I felt assured of the love of my friends, all the while fearful of their crazy, daredevil natures.
I felt the warm hand of the universe, as I have come to understand it, active in my life.
Nothing, not my feelings or friends, could prepare me for how it would feel to jump again.
I chose Kevin Hawkins as my coach for jump #1,299 on May 3, 2014. In the years that I have known Kevin, he has always encouraged self-awareness and self-discovery. Knowing this, I asked Kevin what he thought would happen. He told me simply that no one knew. I would only know once I was up there.
Would I love it again? Would I only hear the sound of my bone breaking and live my life in fear of it? Kevin had a powerful point: There was only one way to find out.
The sky was clear and the winds were favorable. With my totally terrified appearance, some rental gear and that old helmet I had kept, Kevin and I boarded the plane. I remember watching the way the light danced around the plane as it made its circular climb to altitude, friends staring at me to see if I would puke, and the powerful sound of twin turbine engines.
What happened next, I remember vaguely, just like many of the jumps I have made from Twin Otter 122PM with Kevin Hawkins. What I will never forget is how the jump made me feel.
I was 21, on my first jump again, screaming at the clouds of San Marcos.
I was 24, getting my first license.
I was 30, laying in the landing area surrounded by people who cared about my well-being, as my jumping came crashing to a halt.
I was home. I landed and hit my knees in a moment of reverence and gratitude.
The next month flew by, and I got my coach rating recurrent. I found a way to trust the Sigma once again with my and another’s life, then I found three new friends brave enough to ride it with me at the helm. Thanks to Tandem Instructor/Examiners Kevin Purdy, Connie Krusi and Vic Krusi, I was able to conquer one of the most crippling fears. Vic even let me start working again, right after that last recurrency jump.
I said words once lost, and broke down in tears soon after. “Hi, I am Josh and I’m your instructor.”
I believe in the healing power and growth factor of skydiving again.
It’s the holidays, and in a time we all take to say thank you, perhaps it’s a hard time for you to do that personally, perhaps you are right where I was not all that long ago. Perhaps you feel lost, without direction, and broken and that is all right. My name is Josh Zammit, I have been up and I have been down but not out, and I believe that the best is yet to come, for you and me both.
May you find it in your heart to keep going, to be grateful, and to jump. In those jumps may you find joy and perspective, gratitude and peace. May you surrender to the sky as you have come to understand it, may you admit your faults to your family and friends and join us on a happy path to destiny.
You never know, your Eric Butts may well be waiting for you not too far up ahead, grinning from underneath a ball cap, mischief in his eyes, saying, “Tell me old friend, what are you doing here?” Just like that, leg straps, chin straps, seat belts and closing pins will be in place, and in no time at all, as it seems from the last, you are flying.
Blue skies, love and laughter,
About the author: Josh Zammit works at Skydive San Marcos on the weekends; on the weekdays find him dreaming about it. He is not done writing for you yet, skydivers—more to follow.