Taking a Leap of Faith from 440 Feet Above the Ground
Standing in line for a roller coaster. Looking down 96 stories from the top of the Hancock building. Riding a bike along the Golden Gate Bridge. Taking off in an airplane. The mere thought of skydiving. If you love heights, I am confident all of these activities seem worthwhile. Although I love to travel, I much more prefer to be on the ground. AT ALL TIMES.
I am sincerely, utterly, and to the core, beyond afraid of heights. Ask any of my family or close friends and they will vouch for this massive fear of mine. Heights and I go together almost as much as peanut butter and mayo.
On Friday, March 13, 2015 at 9:27 p.m. EST, something changed. I was on the phone with my brother Jonathan and we were halfheartedly joking about the idea of jumping Nevis, one of the most intimidating bungy jumps on the planet. A mere 440 feet! For my international readers, that is a free fall of 134 meters, equivalent to the exact height of the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia (the very TOP of the bridge to be precise). Jonathan laughed. He is an adrenaline junkie and said “There is no way you will do that! If you do, I will donate to Run4Papa, mainly because that is just downright crazy!” And that harmless twenty minute conversation spurred #JUMP4PAPA.
I needed to cement the idea in stone and ensure there would be no point of return. Therefore, despite my insane fear of heights, I sent a mass email to all my supporters with a YouTube video of a man bungy jumping at Nevis saying I would do the same for the cause. I nearly threw up watching it. There was no turning back…
July 30, 2015 – Queenstown, New Zealand.
I signed a waiver which literally had statements such as “Jumper cannot sue for psychological trauma” and “Jumper may experience severe cases of nausea.” I didn’t bother to read the rest, but I am sure I humbly signed away my unborn children, my life savings, all of my marathon medals and my man card if I didn’t end up jumping.
I found myself on a 60-minute bus riding with my friend Emma cross backing up a mountain (no railings) listening to the driver play “Highway to Hell.” My hands were sweating (standard operating procedure) and my heart was clearly beating faster than usual. Mind you, we still couldn’t see the ravine, the hanging gondola, or anyone bungee jumping. We arrived at the top of the mountain, and the staff proceeded to put a full body harness onto my frail frame. The woman placing the equipment on me was being trained. OK. Now, normally I am fairly calm, but this was not going to happen. I asked several “veteran” staff members to triple check my harness, carabineers, and to see if my eyes looked dilated or my throat was unusually swollen.
As we walked out the main building, she was prominently hanging over 600 high feet in the air between two long cables. Nevis, in all her glory, over-looking this beautiful ravine with a flowing river beneath. I never thought you could lose feeling in your legs, stomach and head all at once, but it happened. I was nervous. No, I was scared out of my mind and literally mumbled, “what the hell have I gotten myself into!?”
For one minute and twenty-five seconds, Emma and I headed along in a shaky cart from the safety of land to the swinging gondola where a staff member was munching on an apple with no worries in the world. “WELCOME!” he said.
With that friendly introduction, we were on the gondola, getting prepped to plunge a mere 440 feet. Fortunately, Mark was selected to go first and watching him jump within seconds was beyond helpful. He didn’t stand up there for minutes or back out. He got all hooked up, smiled and off he jumped like a champion.
I was next and I was ready. No doubt in my mind this was happening. I sat in a chair, was instructed by the staff to pull a particular cord once I plummeted 440 feet. What would this cord do? Basically, flip me right-side up once I had survived. They must’ve told me to pull this cord about 10 different times.
I gingerly walked out onto the ledge and knew my life was forever going to change. I was here for a purpose and an important one. Sure, this was the chance of a lifetime to leap from one of the most intense bungee jumping areas in all the world, BUT, without RUN4PAPA, there would never be a JUMP4PAPA.
I glanced and Emma, Mark, and Jenny, said an introduction on camera, looked at the staff members and they said “3…2…1!!!” Over 8+ seconds of free falling felt absolutely incredible. I kept my eyes open the entire time and have never felt a rush through my body like those 8 seconds. I ACTUALLY loved it! I was ricocheting like a doll in the middle of New Zealand attached to a bungee cord that I was promised would save my life and had a 0% casualty rate, but I did it. For the cause. For my family. For so many other families. And certainly to prove to myself, that anything can be conquered in this world with time and sheer will power.
After ricocheting a couple times, I was dangling upside down. Not uncomfortably at all. If you think that I was going to pull ANY cord in this harness to potentially flip me right side up, you are crazy. I was so afraid of pulling the wrong cord, that I let them pull me up the entire way up: feet first and head down.
When I finally reached the jumping ledge, I was dangling slightly away from the gondola and begged them to pull me in. “Why didn’t you pull the cord” they asked? “Pull me in, pull me in!” Admittedly, I told them I was scared to pull the wrong cord and was not embarrassed in the least about it! I freaking JUMPED4PAPA!
When I got all unhooked, besides hugging Emma, Mark and Jenny as hard as I possibly could muster, I noticed a sign that on the gondola that read:
Mark and I actually thought about it for mere 30 seconds and then decided once was enough for a lifetime and beers were now a top priority. Did this cure my fear of heights? HECK NO!
I am just as afraid of heights as I ever was before, but I know that the mind is a funny thing. And when it comes to raising dementia awareness, I will almost do anything on the planet if it brings more attention to this cause. For now, I will continue running marathons all over the globe, but should another opportunity arise, you know where to find me!