Everyone has their list of daring things they’d love to do that are perhaps just a little too intimidating, a little scary or just out of reach. Maybe it’s running the New York Marathon or hiking to the top of the highest mountain in Africa. Or maybe it’s skydiving.
It was the first season of Arizona Highways Television and I wanted to dazzle our viewers with an extraordinary adventure. So I asked a friend of mine who knows no fear to let us film him and his best friend skydiving out of a hot air balloon. It was a cold morning in Eloy, Arizona, as we prepared to film this spectacular feat. Suddenly, we were told it’s a no-go because there is just too much wind and they couldn’t send up the balloon. So, I ad-libbed!
“Look, we are here at Skydive Arizona, the largest drop zone in the world,” I said. “Let’s just do a regular skydiving story.” My director of photography looked at me and said, “Are you going to do it?”
I quickly shook my head. With a look of disgust on his face, he turned around and in his heavy German accent said, “Then we have no story!”
I don’t know if I was intimidated, or just determined to at least pretend I was fearless, but I looked him in the eye and said, “Okay, I’ll do it.”
The next thing I knew, I was stepping into a flight suit while watching a video of all these people doing acrobatics in the air and giving the thumbs up sign as they glided to the ground. Next, my tandem instructor gave me pointers on what to do and not to do. Last but not least, I had to sign a waiver saying I wouldn’t hold the company liable for any misfortune that should occur. That’s certainly a sure-fire way to make any “wanna-be” warrior feel secure.
At that point, I should have ripped off the suit and made a mad dash for the car, but instead, I was smiling and extremely calm. See truth be told, I had a secret that I wasn’t telling anyone until we were 13,000 feet in the air. Only I knew that this was all a big charade and I was just pretending to go along with all of these shenanigans. Bottom line, I was never planning to jump!
As we began our ascent, my photographer was sitting across from me with his lens pointed directly at me looking for any hint of emotion. I remained stoic, going over in my head what I was going to say into the camera as I revealed that I had decided not to jump. All of a sudden the doors flung open and my friends who were going to jump out of the balloon looked into the camera yelling, “this is Arizona Highways” as they leaped out of the plane. Before I could take a breath let alone utter a word, I was crouched at the edge of the plane. My instructor grabbed my chin pointed it to the camera and said, “smile, you’re on candid camera,” and I was out the door.
My heart was pounding out of my chest and I honestly thought I was having a heart attack. My instructor assured me I was hyperventilating and told me to take a deep breath. Seriously, doesn’t he understand that this was not the way the story was supposed to happen!
When he finally pulled the rip cord, everything went suddenly still and it was so quiet that it was if there was no sound. We slowly drifted to the ground and instead of all the videos I watched of people with big smiles giving the thumbs up, I collapsed in a fetal position onto the grass sobbing like a baby. I don’t know if I was happy to be alive or happy I overcame my fears. But regardless, I realized that sometimes we just need a little push to force us out of our comfort zone, or in my case, jumping out of a perfectly good airplane.
— Robin Sewell is the host and executive producer of the Emmy Award winning Arizona Highways Television.