Learning to fly with the U Skydiving Club

One hundred and forty University students skydived for the first time with the group in 2011.

Mechanical engineering graduate student Johan Kolstoe Soenstaboe deploys his parachute into the wind while waiting for jumping conditions to improve over the drop zone Nov. 5 in Winsted, Minn.

Mark Vancleave

Mechanical engineering graduate student Johan Kolstoe Soenstaboe deploys his parachute into the wind while waiting for jumping conditions to improve over the drop zone Nov. 5 in Winsted, Minn.

Amanda Bankston

Sala YussufâÄôs family still doesnâÄôt know what he did last month. The University of Minnesota senior doesnâÄôt know when or even if heâÄôll tell them.

 All he knows is that he woke up early one Saturday morning and did something crazy âÄîsomething he said forever changed his life.

 âÄúIf the jump didnâÄôt kill me, I knew my mother would,âÄù he said, a week after skydiving for the very first time with the University of MinnesotaâÄôs U Skydiving Club on Oct. 29. âÄúBut I will definitely do it again in the spring.âÄù

He is one of nearly 140 students who took their first jump with the U Skydiving Club this year.

At least once per semester, club members orchestrate a large weekend event when 50 to 100 students are able to skydive in the metro area at a reduced rate.

 âÄúIt was really like a dream,âÄù Yussuf said. âÄúYou have wind in your face and youâÄôre free falling, and you can hardly breathe, but youâÄôre trying to remind yourself to watch and remember everything thatâÄôs going on.âÄù

Micah Ternet, a board member of the skydiving club, has taken more than 100 jumps since last summer, when he first got into the sport.

He said the large jumping events open his classmateâÄôs eyes to the sport he has fallen in love with.

âÄúDuring your first jump, your body is in sensory overload,âÄù the graduate student studying security management said. âÄúBut every time after that you pick up a little more of whatâÄôs going on.âÄù

Ternet is one of about 10 core members of the group who have made skydiving a central part of their lives.

 Club President AJ Stuyvenberg said they make sacrifices âÄî such as working extra jobs, limiting their social outings and focusing less on their studies âÄî to jump as often as possible on the weekends.

âÄúOur Friday nights are more docile than other college studentsâÄô,âÄù the computer science junior said. âÄúThis is the kind of thing you donâÄôt think you have the money to do, but it can definitely be done.âÄù

But for both Ternet and Stuyvenberg, no sacrifice is too great.

Both talk about their favorite moment in the sky âÄî the moment they spend their weeks waiting for.

âÄúItâÄôs my therapy,âÄù Stuyvenberg said. âÄúWhen the door flies open and I jump with my friends itâÄôs the most content I can be.

IâÄôm completely comfortable in the sky. I think we all are.âÄù

Most of the club officers are licensed skydivers able to perform solo accelerated free fall jumps. But first-time student jumpers, who were able to jump for $170 âÄî a deep discount âÄî in late October, perform tandem jumps with master jumpers.

Yusuf plans to test TernetâÄôs theory that the experience gets better each time. He said as soon as his parachute opened, he turned to the instructor strapped to his back and told him he would be back in the spring.

The skydiving club holds meetings, chalks University sidewalks and demonstrates ground launches with parachutes on the Northrop Mall lawn to attract students.

On the day of the jump, they place students in carpool groups to the drop zone and support them through the process.

Stuyvenberg said people donâÄôt have to be a member of the club to tag along; they can contact them at any time to join the group on a weekend jump.

Yusuf said without the group setting and accessibility, he and his friends probably would have left the experience on their âÄúbucket listsâÄù for a very long time.

âÄúThese were U students. I felt like I could relate, which made it a lot more comfortable at the time,âÄù he said. âÄúNow we have this experience that is a part of me and a part of them. We have an understanding of each other.âÄù

As the U Skydiving Club remains hopeful for good weather this Thanksgiving weekend so they get a few jumps in, Yusuf said heâÄôs beginning to revise his âÄúbucket list.âÄù

âÄúMy life has definitely changed after this,âÄù Yusuf said. âÄúIâÄôve started seeing the world so much differently.âÄù