Just like any other ordinary island kid, I grew up in Hithadhoo, Addu City, running around the neighborhood whenever I can get out of the house. Climbing walls, hiding on rooftops, resting high above on trees and literally anywhere above ground was the usual way of life for me. I enjoyed climbing and had no fear for heights or acropbobia (At least, I didn’t know then). To my dismay, few years back, I discovered that I had extreme catapedaphobia (fear of jumping from higher places). Even the thought of jumping makes me go frantic. I guess its hardwired into our brains for survival.
During a training in Australia, that I attended five years ago, I had to do a bungee jump from a 40/50 feet tower. I kept on engaging in other activities to evade the jump. It was a team building activity. Everyone else jumped, and there was no escape for me! Finally, I held my breath and did the unthinkable. I jumped… and survived!
Few years after that, a 30 feet jump tower was built in Feydhoofinolhu in 2014, on a platform extending out from the edge of the reef, which was used as a training
tool for confidence building. Though I did a bungee jump once before, the fear has not gone, and jumping from the top deck of this tower (30 feet) was absolutely terrifying. On one particular trip, I got up on the top deck, and stayed there for over half an hour. Every time I step out to the edge, trying to jump, this uncontrollable fear shakes me up, and I take several steps back. This went on for a long time, and I did not jump that day. But in the following months, with many tries, I was able to jump from the top deck a few times. This seemed to be the thing that frightened me the most.
In 2015, one key event of 50th Independence Day celebration of the Maldives was skydiving. For this event, there was a training opportunity paid by the government, open to all locals, for 50 extremely lucky and crazy individuals. I applied (just for fun) with the intention of overcoming catapedaphobia. For someone who shakes, trembles and melts, standing on a 30-foot tower, I can’t even imagine having to stand on the open doorway of an aircraft, flying thousands of feet high, with the intention of jumping out, and landing safely, where your safety depends on your ability to stay calm, react quickly, and following very strict guidelines to the letter.
My first jump was incredibly terrifying. It is very difficult to put into words. I still remember the first day, as if it was yesterday, getting suited up in a bulky orange jumpsuit, wearing a heavy parachute (about 10-12 kg), and boarding a twin otter (without a door or seats). Throughout the flight, all of us (new jumpers) sat worryingly still, sweating in the open cabin of the doorless aircraft, even with the rush of chill wind. Though nobody said it out loud, tingling with fear and chills of anxiety, we all were praying silently, taking deep breaths to relax, and rehearsing the strict jump-out and parachute maneuvering procedure.
Unlike most skydive trainings, where the first jump is a tandem jump with an experienced skydiver, we were going solo. One out of the plane, we were all by ourselves. Our life depended on not panicking and doing exactly as we have been taught, which was very difficult given the circumstances, when you are extremely nervous and all you can hear is the labored breathing and quick pounding of your heart, which might stop its job or pop out of the mouth any second. The scariest part of the jump was the first minute or so just before I jumped out of the plane.
I do not remember the first few seconds of my first jump. With a minute to go, I was standing on the edge of the open doorway, one arm extended holding the aircraft like I was holding on to my dear life (it was my dear life), in a very uncomfortable squatting position. I remember the jump-master giving the command “GOOOO!!” following which you have to exit the aircraft. That’s what I did. Well, I don’t know. That’s what I must have done. As I said earlier, the first few seconds between that command and me coming to my senses is blurred, if at all I can remember.
When I came to my senses, the parachute was open and I was being taken away fiercely by the wind. I was okay! The parachute was okay! Now the only thing that would get me safely to the ground was the radio hooked on my right shoulder. With the wind in my ears, I can barely hear the ground commander on the radio. I did the mandatory parachute testing maneuvers, and flew around a bit before landing safely (assisted by the ground commander). What happened in the few seconds between the time the jump master gave the c
ommand to jump and hanging on a fully open parachute, I do notremember. Those extremely important seconds has not registered in my conscious mind, and remains a mystery. I think survival instincts kicked in, though I don’t know what really happened.
I was absolutely terrified to the point of dying few minutes back. And now, after having completed my first skydive, and most importantly to have landed safely, I was smiling ear to ear, full of excitement. First couple of jumps were scary. Learning so much from each jump, confidence was slowly building, and I felt more comfortable later on.
The following is a post I shared during the training, trying to put into words the moments before the actual jump.
“The longest one minute of our life: standing on the edge of this doorway, from that alarming sound of the “one-minute” bell, till the jump-master says “GOOO!”. In a very uncomfortable squatting position, wearing a bulky jumpsuit and a heavy parachute, with the cold wind on your face and body, pushing you back, the heart racing faster than the aircraft, with tingles in every nerve, the only thought in your head is exiting the aircraft with a perfect arc-pose – as we have been taught. Looking straight you’d see the left wing and a high-speed propeller, and looking down you’d see small islands and mostly ocean, and quite a big area around the islands appear pretty shallow! The jump-master shouts “GOOO!!!”, short of time, you jump sideways into the sky (sometimes into the clouds), and the wind instantly catches, pushing you and turning you, as the gravity pulls you down faster and faster, till the parachute fully opens. That’s the longest one minute and few seconds of our life, only a skydiver would understand”.
The training consisted of few weeks of ground training in Male’ City, a month of jump training in Addu City, and another month of parachute rigging training followed with training jumps in Male’ City. Although there were over 160 participants at the start of the training, quite many were dropped out or got disqualified for different reasons during different phases of the training, 19 of us were among the final squad of skydivers trained and licensed.
Standing on a 30 foot tower to jump into the sea, used to give me extreme chills. A year ago, I could not have imagined myself jumping out of an aircraft into high winds at 4000 feet above ground.
Taking this opportunity as a challenge to confront fear in the face, and it worked out great for me. Though the first couple of jumps were in the extreme zones, with practice (and experience) I was able to grow out of it and adapted to the extremes this sport required. Having completed a total of 25 jumps, we don’t fear jumping out anymore, but there’s certain level of anxiety in each jump, which I think is necessary to keep us alert at all times and react quickly.
Some says skydivers have a death wish. Others call them adrenaline junkies. I don’t know what you may think we are, but there might be some truth to it. However, my reason for taking the jump is to get over fear of jumping. This most certainly was a life changing experience for me. It changed and started shaping my life in a way which I have never imagined before, opening the gateway to a life that I have imagined as a little boy, and which I almost have forgotten, growing up in the hassle of busy work and city life.
Fear can keep you in tied up in desperate situations, stop you from living up to your potential, and the life of your dreams. The most important lesson that I learned from this experience is that the best way to overcome fear (anything kind of fear) is to brace yourself, put the shining armor of bravery on, and face it head-on. Don’t let fear limit your capabilities, and most importantly don’t let fear define you. The time you spend outside your comfort-zone, makes it grow exponentially.