This week has been one of reflection. On Wednesday, I attended a marketing conference where I had the opportunity to listen to John Jacobs, co-founder of the brand Life is Good. In his keynote, he spoke of optimism and the difference in perspective between the expressions “have to” and “get to.” The message was inspired by a letter he had received from 10-year-old twin boys who had been born severely premature resulting in one losing a leg and the other his sight. Despite their challenges, these boys retained an overwhelmingly positive outlook on life; they felt lucky just to be alive. The Life is Good brand resonated with them because the company’s message of optimism and positivity reflected their own life philosophy. Despite the multitude of challenges we face each day, life is good. It’s just a question of perspective.
On Saturday, I attended the funeral of a 19-year-old man named John Robert Gregoraschuk who died in a car accident. I watched his family and a church packed full of his friends grieve. As I watched John’s parents, I thought of many of my friends who are hurting over the recent loss of Jessica Edgeington, a woman who left her mark on so many. I also reflected on other friends I’ve known and lost including Pete Langehans and Bob Holler. As I thought of them, I realized that the loss of these friends is particularly painful because they were all people who gave of themselves freely to others. They lived as if they consciously knew that life was short and made it their goal to make the lives of those around them better.
Skydiving is a sport of harsh contrasts. It provides the highest of highs and brings the lowest of lows. The endorphins of freefall make us the happiest we’ve ever been and the death of our friends bring us to our knees. The purpose of this month’s column is not to make anyone feel down, but instead to make you feel up—especially if you work in this industry.
If you work in the sport long enough, you begin to observe certain things. My observation is that everyone has a story. Many strangers to our sport arrive at a drop zone searching for something more … to fulfill a yearning. These first-timers are just like you and me in an unfamiliar environment: Their guards are up and they are cautious about who they give their trust to. It’s amazing to witness walls break down immediately following the skydive. We learn that these “strangers” just went through a divorce, or found out they have cancer, or just beat cancer, or recently lost a friend or family member. Gut-wrenching stuff, and as we learn more we realize we were fortunate to be part of their story.
I’ll never forget the words of a tandem student and participant in Operation Free Fall, a nonprofit organization that took a “Two Mile High Stand Against Sexual Assault.” Through sobs of joy and tears running down her face she said, “That changed my life. When the parachute opened, I left all my baggage up there.”
That moment was so profound to me it changed my perspective on what we do in the skydiving industry as owners, managers, instructors and sport skydivers. Every day we are interfacing with people in different stages of life. Some are celebrating, but others are quietly battling. The incredible energy shift that accompanies a skydive brings all of these struggles and victories to the surface and allows us to become a part of our guests’ stories. Skydiving gives us a privilege that few other jobs and sports can claim. We have the privilege to give someone a great day. Perhaps, a day that someone will never forget. What an honor, and a responsibility.
To the owners of DZs everywhere, especially to those who are exhausted, let me remind you: You’ve built a special place that will literally change lives. If you’re wondering why you got in the business of the sport, walk out into your landing areas and just watch what happens there.
To instructors who are feeling burnt out, remember you are part of something far bigger than yourself. It’s so much more than a paycheck and a skydive. You don’t have to jump, you get to.
To the skydiving community, let’s love and encourage each other in a way that honors the people we’ve lost who gave more than they took.
Inspire and be inspired.
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