Know the Arch. Love the Arch. Be at one with the Arch.

*****Disclaimer – this is a rather long blog.  Unlike the filmakers who took on the Harry Potter movies, I refuse to cut scenes.  Because of that – it might be a little long in the wind…

A few weeks back I posted a pic of me in a Tandem and wrote about how amazing that jump was and how the picture embodied all of the feelings and emotions of that particular jump (for me).  Now, as I look back at that same picture, after having experienced my first solo IAD… sigh… I see everything I did wrong.  Know the Arch…

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Just because I avoided the arch does not make that jump (or this picture) any less amazing to me.  This picture was of my first step in an amazing new direction (up).  However, any experienced skydiver will point out the fact that my knees are bent into a modified puppy position (no, that is not a yoga position).  I did not know the Arch.  I was definitely not at one with the arch.  Matter-of-fact, if there was a reverse arch, this might be it.  In an accurate jump, the pelvis should be thrust forward as if you are humping air.  I know I might catch a little crap for it (BUT) everytime I practice the skydiving pelvic thrust I think of Wayne and Garth.  You know…. shwing!  Next time I jump, that might be my call to the sky god as I exit the plane “SHWING!”…

See, Garth is at one with the Arch!  …I digress…

I have not found a way to fully support myself financially with skydiving (give me time though) so I do have a regular 9-5/M-F job.  This week that job was just plain torture.  First big payroll of the rafting season, new timekeeping program, tons of returning employees requiring drug testing and updating personnel records.  Yeah, not the “fun” side of the adventure sport world really, but still a necessary part of it.  To say the least, I was stressed to the max.  But under all of that was a building excitment for my first solo IAD.  This whole week, in my brain the song “Who’s The Man” by House of Pain has been on a constant rotation.  My happy thought had a theme song (although I am not a man and I definitely did not have the master plan – but it felt good).

Friday night I made my way to Huntington to Robert Newlon Airpark to finish up the last part of my coursework.  I met with Rocky Martin who would be my IAD Instructor for this event.  He was kind enough to meet me on Friday evening because my work schedule during the week, coupled with my weekend work responsibilities for the Skydivers, leaves little extra time in my schedule.  I made it there a little after eight and we wrapped up a little after eleven.  We went through the video (and because I was so stressed about my day gig while trying to watch it during the week, my retention of information was shit).  Rocky is a very thorough instructor and I appreciated his patience as I asked questions as we (literally) stood in front of the big screen TV an he pointed out the various pieces of equipment, explained their uses and covered the “what if” scenarios I could one day encounter.  Once we wrapped up the video, we moved to the actual gear.  I am a hands on person so getting an actual “feel” of the type of equipment I would be using makes a huge difference in my education.  Using the student rig, I was shown how to cut away and pull reserve.  I have found that, while being urged to do it…do it…do it… I kept forgetting to (“do it” and) drop the handles.  Patience Grasshoppah.

One thing that was driven home by repetition: “You must ARCH!  The one thing to always remember: ARCH!  Know the Arch, love the Arch, be at one with the Arch.  If all else fails, ARCH!”  I was given the task of finding a focal point on the wing of the plane, just outside of the door.  I was to be given a series of commands once it was time:  “Door, stop!  Are you ready to skydive?  Yes!  Skydive!!!!”  At that point, you are to push yourself out of the plane, staring at your focal point on the wing and thrust your pelvis forward to give yourself the proper Arch.  Easy, right?  I knew it was going to be.  I would not let my skydive family down, I would not let Rocky down – I was GOING TO have the best first time solo IAD arch on record.  Boy, was I wrong.

Below is Rocky minutes before my jump (took time from prepping our dinner to encourage me).  You know what he was saying right there?  Arch.

The weather Saturday was just plain sucky.  Overcast with a spattering of rain.  My adrenaline was at max early in the morning because I thought I would be able to jump right away.  Crap weather = no jumps.  The day wore on.  Weather started looking better around midday.  Nope, still crap.  My adrenaline levels were in a state of constant flux.  Later in the afternoon I had resolved myself to the fact that my jump was, more than likely, a no go (insert violins playing a sad sad tune).  Then, all of a sudden, Garrido pops around the corner, points at me and yells, “Ready to skydive?”  “Hell yeah!”  Bathroom break and then I threw on my chucks, strapped on my gear and I was ready to go.  I would like to stop here and thank Aaron Webb.  He took it upon himself to personally pack my chute for me and then he took some pictures.  I was tickled to see that he knows me well enough to know the photo I needed to capture.  Below is the pic of my Chucks as taken from beneath the plane by Aaron.  Aaron would be the guy packing my chute in the second pic.

Sam Tomlin was my in-the-plane instructor.  He is a new IAD instructor.  I was his third student of the day (and third student of his career).  I have watched a number of his jumps and I knew he would be a great coach.  Before take off, he made sure I sat in the door of the plane, rolled through the choreography of a jump and then (after seeing my face) told me to “just breathe”.  Inhale.  Exhale.  It was time.  We were in the plane and taking off.  In addition to Sam and I, on our hop was Chase Duffield, Charlie Stapleton and Sarge.  (I always knew Chase would be a part of my first jump.  He is a great “encourager”.  He makes my experience with the skydivers a more upbeat one.)  As we continued our ascent to a little over 4,000 feet, Sam would periodically look at me and motion for me to breathe.  Then the moment was upon us.  Ryan (our pilot) looked over his shoulder and shouted: “DOOR!”  My heart raced (it races even know as I type this).  Sam spotted for me (to spot means to look out the open door, get a fix on our location and as we approach our exit location instruct me to jump).  Once we reached our exit destination, he began screaming the commands:  “CUT!” – at that point Ryan cuts the plane’s engine.  “DOOR! STOP!” – I scooted what felt like three tons of ass to the door and pulled to the edge.  “ARE YOU READY TO SKYDIVE?” – I’m ready!  “ALRIGHT! SKYDIVE!”

Let us pause here and reflect on what we had learned up to that point.  Know the arch.  Love the arch.  Be at one with the arch.  Remember how I wanted to be the best damn archer the IAD world had ever seen?  Yeeeaaahhhh.  They also tell you another thing – if you look somewhere, your body will generally go in the direction of your line of vision.  As I scooted my ass to the edge, I found my focal point, I looked at my focal point, I repeated “ARCH” in my head.  When I left the door of the plane, I could not fight the urge to look down.  And the rest of me followed my line of vision – toward the ground with no arch and knees slightly bent in the wrong direction.  I flipped the arch the proverbial bird.  If you click to minute 1:58 of this vid:  MRod’s First IAD Video  you will see my exit of the plane, my barrel roll and the string of the pilot chute flutter up my arm (and scare the everloving shit out of me).  Fortunately for me, there was no tangle, the chute delpoyed and all was well. 

I would like to pause here and thank Andy, our Rigger, who came out of retirement to talk me down on the radio.  He is probably my favorite (don’t tell the others).  While gearing up it did not occur to me the placement of my radio was on my left (deaf) side.  There was a little bit of a struggle for me to hear the commands on the way down but I was able to steer (fairly well) and bring my chute around for a landing.  I like the idea of once the chute is deployed and you are underneath a canopy you go from being a parachutist to a canopy pilot.  Yay, I was a pilot!  🙂   I came in hot, didn’t hear the “flare” (put on your brakes) command and ended up landing at full speed on my ass.  Good thing it rained – made it kind of like a big ole slip-n-slide.  When I landed I realized I was a giggling fool.  Andy came out and taught me how to daisy chain the lines (to keep them from tangling) and then I walked that proud walk to the hanger to hand off my chute.  I liken my jump to an “ugly prom date”.  But holy hell that was the most amazing ride of my entire life. 

In my next blog I will cover experienced diver personalities and coaching styles.  LMAO – it was like having ten big brothers who all wanted me to do well, use their style of jumping and then fussing over the details after I was landed and safe.  To close out this blog, let me give you a few extra visuals.  Thanks for reading!  Ciao!

Sam (in-the-plane instructor) and I.

Chase – my favorite cheerleader!

Andy giving me the pep talk on the way to the plane.

Barrel Roll Exit

Chute Deployed

Coming in hot.

Riding an invisible motorcycle.

Landing in a fit of giggles.

The day’s manifest.  Jump 5, Student, M.Rodriguez – yeah, that’s me.

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