The Big Dog Remembers The ‘World Free Fall Convention’!
I was driving back from Peoria the other day when I looked up in the sky ahead of me and saw a skydiver with a blue parachute. It brought back some great memories of when Quincy hosted the World Free Fall Convention at Baldwin Field. For those who don’t know, the convention brought thousands of people to Quincy from the late 1980's through 2001. Increased costs and complaints about illegal activity prompted an increased police presence which eventually led to the convention leaving Quincy for Rantoul, Illinois.
In 1992, I got the opportunity to take a tandem jump and loved every minute of it. I actually was broadcasting live on the air for WGEM during the entire jump through the landing. You could hear my accelerated breathing on the air as my anxiety level was through the roof.
While in the plane, I remember seeing the solo skydivers ahead of me jumping out. It looked like they were being sucked out of the plane. Actually they were running to the door of the plane to make their jump. Then it was my turn with my tandem-jumper named Bjorn from Sweden. Here I was with my body outside the plane, except my heels of my shoes, and Bjorn attached to me still in the plane (I was actually flying outside the plane).
With my being live on radio for all to hear, there was no turning back now. I was about to “jump out of a perfectly good airplane”. How many times had I heard that line before? So off we went. Despite being schooled earlier not to look down, the first thing I did was…. look down. Bjorn grabbed my hair to pull my head back. He did so several times during our free fall to keep us from going into a tumble.
Then it became time to open up the chute with a radio audience hearing the roar of air passing through my microphone. That microphone was attached to a small transmitter that was taped to my body. Once the chute opened, the change from horizontal falling to perpendicular falling ripped the tape which caused the transmitter to come loose and smack me in the mouth splitting my bottom lip.
With a bleeding lip I found myself “floating” through a cloud and serenely gliding back to earth. The peacefulness of it all was what stood out the most. It was so quiet with the only noise being my breathing hard and a few conversations between Bjorn and me for our radio audience. I was oblivious to my lip problem as I was enjoying every single second of my excursion through the air.
As we got close to the ground, Bjorn reviewed our procedure for landing. We didn’t quite pull it off with grace, but I didn’t care. I also wasn’t a poster child for sky-diving either as the jacket I was wearing was covered with blood from my split lip. All I know is, I just experienced one of the greatest moments of my life!
Wouldn’t be nice if we could attract another World Free Fall Convention to Quincy? For those who weren’t here, it was fun for the whole family. Many people would take their blankets and coolers and spend an afternoon at the airport to watch the colorful skies filled with skydivers from all over the country and the world. I miss those days and am thankful I had the opportunity to be a part of it!