Leap Day

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News November 2013

Parachuting out of a plane at 13,000 feet with two friends was a happy birthday for this travel writer.

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Most birthdays involve cake, candles and presents. But when it came to my 30th birthday all I wanted was blue sky, a plane and a parachute.

“Can you skydive three people who are paralyzed today?” Charlene Vine inquired to Bill Dause, owner of Parachute Center in Lodi, Calif. “We have been trying to skydive in Monterey [Calif.] for the past few days, but they can’t seem to get their stuff together here for us.”

“Yeah sure, no worries, just get out here,” Bill responded warmly. “We will be jumping all day.” 

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Steven Sanchez, Charlene and myself decided to “get there.” It would be a nice change from what had been a full-out inaccessible weekend. It started with a hotel that messed up reservations. That resulted in emergency camping at a challenging campground, but we made it work.

“We’ve come this far,” I laughed, “We have to at least try.”

I was determined to skydive for my birthday, wanting to experience the feeling of flight. So the three of us headed out from Monterey for the 160-mile trip inland to Lodi.

“Supposed to Open”

Parachute Center was busy, but after doing some paperwork it was time to get dressed for the jump.

Ashley Olson and the “Tall Russian Guy” enjoying the free fall after jumping at 13,000 feet.

The three of us were escorted into the fitting rooms where we were helped into safety harnesses. This included one additional adaptation to keep our legs together for the fall and the ability to lift our legs up for the landing.

After getting all geared up, we were greeted by our individual tandem jumper who explained the simple directions.

“…And then the parachute is supposed to open, but one never knows,” my tandem jumper, nicknamed the ‘Tall Russian Guy,’ laughed. “And don’t forget to have big smiles cause it’s fun; yes!”

When the plane arrived we were the last onboard. The tandem jumpers easily worked together to hoist each of us onto the plane, leaving our wheelchairs on the ground.

Being the last to board meant we were going to be the first to jump.

Floating Like Dandelions

The plane climbed higher and higher to reach the 13,000-feet marker. The Tall Russian Guy’s watch monitored the progress,

“When this (pointing to his watch) reaches 13,000 we go out, but now we take deep breaths and enjoy the view,” he said.

It was hot in the airplane so the door was pulled open to help with ventilation. Everyone on the plane appreciated it and Steven got the best ride of his life sitting right on the edge, strapped to his tandem jumper.

It was time to go. Without any formal announcement, I watched Steven plunge out of the open door and out of sight. Then a second later Charlene was out of the plane. Then it was my turn to head out into the “wild blue yonder.”

Hurling back to earth with legs flailing about, the three of us danced with gravity for a full minute flying at speeds over 100 mph. Then the parachutes opened gracefully, like flowers blooming on a nature documentary that had been sped up for effect.

For the remaining descent we floated like dandelions in the wind, swaying in all kinds of directions, until landing in a soft grass field. No broken bones, everything was intact. Wheelchairs were brought over immediately along with strong men to assist us getting back into them.

What A Rush

So would we do it again? That would be a resounding yes.

“Traveling extremely fast, using your body as a vehicle without any energy is an exhilarating feeling,” Steven said, grinning.

“My heart is still racing,” I added.

The best thing about skydiving is “the rush that you get from putting it all on the line and jumping out of a plane,” noted Charlene. “But once that is over, the sense that you are flying is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. It’s spectacular!”

I agreed with Steven that there is nothing else like it and Bill was quick to concur.

“I’m still having fun,” says Bill, who has made more than 36,000 jumps. “[Skydiving] is more of a peaceful feeling than a thrill-seeking situation. With today’s equipment, technology and training, skydiving is accessible to everybody.”

So how many people in wheelchairs can skydive at the same time? Bill estimated that if every person had a cameraman he could fit 10 per plane, but more is possible and, of course, the plane takes many rides to the sky per day.

For more information on Parachute Center visit 


by Ashley Olson

Ashley Olson founded and operates She is a frequent travel contributor to PN.


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