The twists in the lines caused my parachute to take on an
asymmetrical shape. Receiving asymmetrical inputs, the
canopy did what it is designed to do and initiated a
turn--that’s how it’s steered. The problem
occurred when the turn quickly became a rapid, diving
downward spiral that was spinning me a full 360 degrees
about once every second. This was a problem.
I looked up to assess my canopy and saw something I
don’t often see--the horizon clearly visible ABOVE the
trailing edge of my canopy. This meant my canopy and I
were now on roughly the same horizontal plane. In that
I could see the horizon behind it, I was actually above my
parachute and it was leading our fast-spinning parade
rapidly towards mother earth.
My first need was to acknowledge that I was not going to
be able to solve this problem. This is not as easy as
it seems. Having successfully completed over 2,100
jumps without having to resort to my second parachute, it
was hard for me to believe I had really encountered a
problem I could not solve. I had a natural inclination
to assume I could fix this problem as I had all those in the
Sound familiar? It’s always easy to lapse into
denial when confronted with a problem. Until we
acknowledge the problem and our possible inability to solve
it--or to use the methods we have used in the past--we
don’t have a chance of making things better.
Fortunately, the urgency of this situation caused my
hard-headed nature to yield much quicker than usual.
That decision probably took a second or two.
The next step, having accepted the need to follow a
different course than in the past, was to determine the
course. Fortunately, fifteen years of training and
practice before every day of jumping took hold.
I looked straight down at the two handles on either side
of my chest--one to release me from my malfunctioning canopy
and one for deploying my reserve parachute--and realized I
needed to quickly get them in my hands. I could not
help but notice when I made eye contact with them, as had
been ingrained in me during my First Jump Course way back in
1988, that by now the rapid spins had turned me back to
earth and there beyond my toes was once again the
horizon. This was bad!
Time was of the essence at this point not only because I
was now rapidly progressing toward the horse pasture below
me, but also because the centrifugal force I was starting to
experience would soon make it impossible to get my hands to
those two handles.
With my hands now securely on the handles, I was
confronted with a bothersome question, “Now, which one
goes first.” The wrong order could cause my reserve
parachute to deploy into my spinning main parachute which
would result in an incurable entanglement.
Fortunately, ingrained training once again took over and
I pulled them in the right order. First the handle on
the right side which released me from my spinning main
parachute followed by the handle on the left side to deploy
my reserve parachute.
This brought on a wonderful experience. My
malfunctioning black, teal and magenta canopy was replaced
with a bright, yellow never- before-used reserve
parachute. What a lovely sight! And all this by
1,700 feet--plenty of time to spare.
Many years ago, I read a book about the challenges and
responsibilities of Secret Service agents. One of the
sad aspects of that profession is that agents who never have
the chance to validate their years of training by responding
to a threat sometimes struggle severely in retirement.
They are faced with not knowing-- with certainty--how they
would respond when faced with the paramount challenge their
career can deliver. For this reason, agents who have
faced such a challenge successfully are admired within the
culture of the Service.
That Saturday morning, I had the privilege of facing a
similar, life-threatening--and I now realize
life-defining--challenge. I faced what Secret Service
agents call “the dragon.”
For all of us the greater dragon is not the external
threat, whether it be an assassin’s bullet, the
unforgiving and fast approaching earth or another
challenge. The real dragon is the self-doubt we carry
For those few splendid moments after landing safely, I
was able to put my foot firmly on the neck of the dragon. .
. and it felt great.
Keep this in mind the next time you are confronted with
adversity. On the far side of the experiences the adversity
presents, there could be a valuable gift--a renewed
confidence and certainty.
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