Students get ‘higher’ education

Students jump with U Skydiving Club.

The red building of Skydive Twin Cities was all but invisible from 13,000 feet in the air. The green and gold plains of Baldwin, Wis., were barely recognizable, and Minneapolis was a tiny dot 50 miles to the west, as the tandem instructor and first-time jumper dangled their feet over the edge and counted down from three. Then, University of Minnesota psychology sophomore Samantha Trelstad did something she always wanted to do âÄî she jumped out of a plane and flew through the air at 120 mph, falling through clouds in the crisp Saturday air. Trelstad was one of 26 area college students who went skydiving last weekend at Skydive Twin Cities in Baldwin through the U Skydiving Club. âÄúNo regrets,âÄù Trelstad said upon landing, a huge grin on her face. âÄúIt was fantastic, absolutely breathtaking.âÄù The club was formed in the 1970s and is intended to introduce people to skydiving and get more people involved in the sport. Senior communications student Byron Stuart , U Skydiving Club vice president and tandem master at Skydive Twin Cities with 1,480 jumps, said the number of people attending the clubâÄôs semester tandem jump has gone up steadily each year. U Skydiving Club president and third-year medical student Zabrina Warzonek said about 40 students came to the event last semester, but the number tends to be higher in the fall because of its proximity to the fall activities fair. In past years, fewer than 15 students came out to each event with the club, Stuart said. He attributes the increasing numbers to the clubâÄôs effort to publicize this year, including the activities fair each semester, painting the Washington Avenue bridge, presentations in classes and word of mouth. However, he said less than 10 percent of students he talks to end up going to the event. The main reason people are afraid to skydive, Stuart said, is the common fear of heights. âÄúA lot of people donâÄôt realize that the reason theyâÄôre scared of heights is because of depth perception,âÄù he said. âÄúIn skydiving, you donâÄôt have that. ThereâÄôs no way to gauge exactly how high off the ground you are.âÄù Stuart said in the more than 800 times heâÄôs jumped with someone else, he never had a passenger say they didnâÄôt like it. âÄúIâÄôm really glad that IâÄôm able to give that experience to other people,âÄù Stuart said. âÄúThatâÄôs by far the best thing that IâÄôve ever done in life is showing somebody the time of their life.âÄù Kerry McCauley , University alumnus and co-owner of Skydive Twin Cities, is an instructor with more than 9,000 jumps. McCauley said he is passionate for his profession and bringing the fun of skydiving to people. âÄúEveryoneâÄôs out here to have a really good time, so the energy is great,âÄù he said. âÄúIf you can make a living doing something you love, youâÄôve hit the jackpot.âÄù He said people who are afraid to skydive often change their mind after watching others land with huge smiles on their faces. Risk and reward Some of the students on Saturday, like first-year Rachel Raveling , were anxious but excited about jumping. âÄúWhen I got here I was really nervous and my stomach was churning,âÄù Raveling said while waiting for her turn to load onto the plane. âÄúWhen you see the people do it and you watch them land, youâÄôre like âÄòOK, itâÄôs fine.âÄôâÄù Despite the fun aspects, skydiving does have risks. Statistically, McCauley said, the sport is getting safer because the number of jumps has been increasing while the number of fatalities has stayed the same. Out of a total of about 2.6 million jumps in the United States in 2008, there were 30 fatalities reported. One of those fatalities was at Skydive Twin Cities when a skydiver with more than 5,000 jumps made a hard landing after trying to turn the parachute too low to the ground. It is the businessâÄô only fatality in more than 30 years of operation. As with the case at Skydive Twin Cities, most fatalities and injuries are not a result of equipment malfunction, but happen during landing or as a result of poor judgment. Stuart said tandem students are rarely injured, but the highest cause of injury is students trying to stand up before their instructor upon landing, which can result in a broken ankle. U Skydiving Club president Warzonek said besides getting as many people involved as possible, her goal is to see more continue jumping after their first skydive through the club. Telstad may be the next student to continue skydiving. âÄúDefinitely something worth doing twice,âÄù Trelstad said as her instructor undid her harness. âÄúIt went by so fast. IâÄôll have to make sure thereâÄôs a next time.âÄù