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Thrill-seeking Fiona Whalley describes her experiences of skydiving for St Catherine’s Hospice.

What do you need in order to attempt a tandem skydive? Bravery? A head for heights? Determination? Not necessarily – your greatest asset will be patience! You will gaze at cloud formations until your neck is stiff, you will dodge showers and keep your fingers crossed until they hurt, waiting for that window in the weather that will let you suit up, get your helmet on, dash to the plane, and get into the sky for the most exhilarating 60 seconds of your life. And then you’ll want to do it all again…

I arrived at the Black Knight’s parachute centre just after eight in the morning, and walked into the café, which was pretty full as the initial briefing took place. Then paperwork was sorted out, and we started to wait. It had rained heavily on the way up the motorway, and I wasn’t optimistic about jumping at all that Saturday, the weather wasn’t on our side.

Fiona_skydive_2_webWe went through the briefing process in small groups – everything was explained to us, from how to put our harnesses on to how to position ourselves during freefall. There were around fifty people due to jump throughout the day – a real mixed bunch, all ages and sizes, many jumping for charity. There was an air of excitement, which didn’t really disperse throughout the day, despite the waiting.

The first large patch of blue sky appeared and it was all systems go! Three plane loads went up, one after the other, and the rest of us watched. It was finally sinking in that – sooner or later, that was going to be me up there.

Unfortunately the weather worsened, and it was to be a few hours later that I found myself in the plane, with eleven other people, taking off into a blue patch of sky between angry grey clouds.

Fiona_Whalley_skydive_webJust a few minutes later the plane door was opened, and the first jumpers were out. Then it was my turn. Strapped to my instructor, Paul Yeoman, I sat on the edge of the doorway, arms crossed over my chest, head facing to my left shoulder. Then we were out of the door… and into the most indescribably amazing experience of falling through the sky. I wasn’t expecting to really “dive” but that’s what we did – after exiting the plane we were falling at around 200MPH, head first – and that felt pretty disorientating. Paul then released the small drone chute, which slowed us to around 120MPH, and we assumed the classic freefall position, belly down, legs and arms bent. There was no fear, just total exhilaration, and despite the wind noise and the speed an incredible feeling of peace as we looked at the blue sky, white clouds, and the patchwork of fields as the ground hurtled up towards us.

The main parachute opened after around 60 seconds, and it was quite a jolt – we slowed from 120MPH to around 30MPH very quickly. This second phase of the jump was altogether more peaceful – I took my goggles off and had a good look around – the world looks truly beautiful up there, with no glass or metal barriers between you. It was still very strange looking down and seeing the ground so far away beneath my feet. The landing was textbook, very smooth, thanks to my instructor. We rushed to get our harnesses and overalls back for more jumpers to use.

Fiona_skydive_3_webI’d like to say thanks to my instructor Paul Yeoman for looking after me and making me feel safe, and photographer Phil Symons for taking some amazing shots. Thanks to all at Black Knight’s Parachute Centre at Cockerham. And last but not least, to St Catherine’s Hospice, for giving me the chance to have this great experience while raising money for charity at the same time. I’m hoping to raise £500 for St Catherine’s from the freefall. You can still sponsor me by clicking here.

Next month I’m abseiling down the side of the Holiday Inn Hotel in Preston, but that’s another story!

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