I’m turning 30. Well, sort of. Again. On May 11, 2011 I will officially have had Type 1 diabetes and a busted pancreas for three decades. In all my years with this stupid disease, I’ve never celebrated my diabetes anniversary, so I’m making my inaugural celebration a hootenanny.
I could wait until May 11 to celebrate, maybe have a cupcake, create a piece of art, or eat an entire pizza by myself to give diabetes the proverbial pricked middle finger, but I’ve decided to start celebrating a little early. I’ve made it 30 years with diabetes, so I figure I might as well take a month to celebrate it. After all, 30 years of living with diabetes every single day is kind of a big deal. Even one year of living with diabetes every single day is a big deal.
On April 16, I kicked off the first event for my 30th Diaversary celebration by doing something that most people would never consider doing, but that I’ve dreamed of doing for years.
The day started like any other. That is to say, “It was a dark and stormy night…”
I got up early due to thunderstorms in the area, plus I was too excited to sleep anyway. I took care of the dog and cat, went through our morning routines, then met up with A-Flizzle and a couple of friends for the half hour long drive to a semi-deserted air field in rural north Florida. We might have also stopped at Starbucks so that somebody wouldn’t be cranky because he hadn’t had his morning coffee. Coffee is up there with such necessities as insulin and glucose tabs in my world. We all have our vices.
Fortunately the weather cleared and we arrived at our destination, where the nervousness that I had before was replaced with the excitement of the adventure that I was about to go on.
To kick off the celebration of my first ever and 30th Diaversary (and thanks to A-Flizzle for getting it for me for Christmas!), I was going to jump out of a perfectly good airplane at the School of Human Flight. (Feel free to draw your own parallels between skydiving and living with diabetes.)
First, my buddy and I had to watch a training video. The video, circa 1985, starred a short little attorney guy with a beard down to his belly who was an avid skydiver and needed about fifteen minutes to basically tell us that we were taking our lives into our own hands. I do that everyday with diabetes, so not a big deal to me. Skydiving Rumpelstiltskin at Law also shared that they wouldn’t be held liable if we plummeted to our deaths. Considering that I’d probably be more concerned about the ground than anyone’s liability if that were to happen, I took that for what it was worth and signed my life away so that I could get to the fun parts of my adventure.
So next we got on-the-ground training from our skydiving instructor. He was a cool guy, with angel wings tattooed on his back, long blonde hair, and A-Flizzle said that he reminded her of Patrick Swayze in Point Break. All I could really think after that comment was, “You mean that dude from the pottery scene in Ghost is going to be strapped to the back of me while skydiving?!” Fortunately, instructor dude was way cool, and even though he had jumped out of an airplane so many times that he had lost count, he was just as excited about my first jump as I was.
Then we came to the part where we had to put on the jump harness, also known as the apparatus that makes sure I stay securely attached to the instructor who has the parachute while gravity is pulling us toward the earth at 120 miles per hour.
All straps were securely fastened, and everything was tightened to the point of cutting off circulation. My chariot awaited…
Now let me tell you, there is absolutely nothing that feels anything remotely close to natural about jumping out of an airplane when you can look out the window of it and see clouds. When the pilot opens the cockpit door, and the cold wind hits you in the face with a hurricane’s force, and the instructor who you hope is securely attached to your harness tells you to step out onto the 12 inch jump platform on the plane’s wheel well, it defies every single instinct you have not to hold on for dear life. You take a deep breath. You find this eerie sense of calm inside where there is no room for panic. You hear the instructor count down “Ready, set, …” And then you jump, and you see the plane fall away into the sky, and you fly.
Skydiving is the single most exhilarating thing that I have ever done. I can’t wait to go again, and I’m now toying with the idea of getting certified so that I can eventually jump on my own, without an instructor. It takes 25 jumps to get there, so I have a long way to go. However, I’ve conquered three entire decades of diabetes, living a daily life of highs, lows, finger sticks and needle pricks. What’s 24 more jumps out of an airplane?
I’m living proof that if you work hard enough, are just stubborn enough, and absolutely refuse to never give up, there really isn’t anything that you can’t do in this world. Just remember to have fun while you’re doing it!