U club reaches for the heavens

The U Skydiving Club draws friends together for the exhilaration and the calm.

Hayley Odom

Sophomore Lauren Goldenstein glanced anxiously at her friend Kristi Kotenberg and swallowed nervously while she prepared for the biggest jump of her life – a 14,200-foot dive from an airplane.

“Goldenstein, along with 17 other University students, went skydiving Saturday with the U Skydiving Club at Hutchinson, Minn.

When I was sitting in the plane, my stomach hurt. But then I saw Kristi jump off and it scared the crap out of me. I was really excited to go after I saw Kristi jump,” Goldenstein said.

She, Kotenberg and another friend decided to jump with the club because it was one of Kotenberg’s lifetime goals.

“I wanted someone to share the experience with,” said Kotenberg, a sophomore. “It took a year of persuasion, though.”

Before the jump, Goldenstein said she experienced a lot of anticipation because she had all night to think about it, especially after being at the drop zone all day Friday.

At 10:30 a.m. their anticipation dissipated and reality began to set in. Goldenstein and Kotenberg were scheduled to jump in the first load of the day.

“It’s very surreal, but I’d rather go first than last,” Goldenstein said as she suited up.

During the plane’s ascent, she discussed logistics and joked about her nervousness with her tandem instructor, who jumped connected to Goldenstein.

“I ate McDonald’s for breakfast. I don’t know if that was a good idea,” she said.

She was second to last to exit the plane, right after Kotenberg.

Goldenstein said the scariest part was watching everyone else jump before her, but she had no regrets about her decision.

“The best part was standing on the very edge of the plane, looking down,” she said.

While standing on the edge, Goldenstein attempted to remember her instructor’s directions in her last thoughts, seconds before the jump.

“As soon as I got out of the plane I forgot everything,” she said.

Goldenstein free-fell for approximately 60 seconds through the air at approximately 120 mph before her instructor deployed the parachute.

“It didn’t even feel like I was falling. It was exhilarating – unlike anything I’ve ever done,” she said.

“The landscape looked like a picture. I never realized how perfectly shaped everything is.”

Once the parachute deployed, Goldenstein said she was surprised by the sudden silence.

“It reminds you of what you’re doing,” she said. “It was really calming to drift toward the earth.”

Once grounded, Goldenstein and Kotenberg discussed the adrenaline high of the experience.

“I can’t believe the rush I got off of this, and it’s not going away either,” Goldenstein said. “I definitely see why people keep doing this.”

She and her friends ventured Friday to Hutchinson, but were unable to jump because of low cloud coverage.

After Saturday, the trio said they intend to make skydiving a yearly event in honor of their friendship.

Of the 18 unlicensed students who jumped, only one had previously skydived. All but one member of the six-member club are licensed and do not require tandem instructors to jump.

Skydiving women

Participants were almost equally divided between the sexes, a deviation from past groups the club has brought to jump, said sophomore Zabrina Warzonek, a club officer.

“A lot of chicks come with boyfriends or guy friends and are naturally more nervous because they didn’t make the decision themselves,” Warzonek said.

“Chicks are a little more nervous getting started because we’re such perfectionists,” she said.

Warzonek completed her 50th jump Saturday.

Rose Eakins, co-owner of Skydive Hutchinson, said of the 30,000 people who are licensed skydivers in the United States, 17 percent are female.

“We need to get more chicks involved in this sport,” Eakins said.

Her daughter Merriah Eakins, the company’s chief instructor for the class required to become licensed, agreed.

“This is a boys sport, and I wish that wasn’t the case. I think women have a harder time getting over the fear, but once they do females make great skydivers because they are more body aware and detail-oriented,” she said.

She is the only female Accelerated Free Fall instructor in the state.

Common interest

Although less than 1 percent of the world’s population has been skydiving, the sport draws people from all disciplines, Eakins said.

“You’ll see doctors, lawyers, you name it,” said Bob Huebert, club vice president and a University medical student.

Cody Chase, a chemical engineering graduate and club member, said one of the best parts of the sport is the camaraderie.

“I just like hanging out in this environment – it’s like a big family,” he said.

Merriah Eakins, who is also a music teacher, said her skydiving friends range in age from 18 to 65.

“We hang out like we’re all best friends,” she said. “I think that’s part of what draws people into this sport.”