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By Judith Geppert
From the start you must understand that I am quite ruthless when it comes to achieving goals, which seems out of character for a person with cerebral palsy or any other disability for that matter. Most people would not even think about tackling it, let alone getting out there and doing it.
Over the last 50-years, I have achieved many changes in the community by making organizations and community groups aware of the abilities of people with disabilities. Among these is a Diploma of Honor from Paris for my Typewriter Artwork and I have been awarded The Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award just to name couple.
So in 1995 just before my 44th birthday, I achieved yet another of my goals, I went Tandem Skydiving. My skydiving feat was to become a sixty second TV Commercial for The Spastic Centre of NSW.
The day started at 5.30am at Albion Park, near Wollongong NSW, it was a crisp summer morning. So after arriving at the airfield in darkness, I met the advertising agency and the film crew, who were eagerly awaiting my arrival. About half an hour later the plane, which I would jump from, landed with the instructor and the aerial photographer aboard.
At 7.00pm it was time to dress for the jump, so I was dressed in a jumpsuit and strapped into a tight harness - as I have no control over my arms we decided to strap my arms together and strapped them to my body.
I was ready for the next step – lessons in getting in and out of the aircraft. This took about an hour. Getting in was quite easy, because I was lifted out of my wheelchair and placed on the floor of the aircraft. But as for getting out and the landing that was going to be more difficult! It was discussed that we would figure out the landing once the chute was opened.
The plane was a single propeller plane big enough to hold three people, but as there were five of us, the seats were removed, except for the pilot’s.
At 8.00am the plane taxied down the airfield for take-off. There was myself, who was safely tucked into a corner, the skydiver, cameraman, aerial cameraman, the pilot and a wind spotter skydiver all squashed into this plane. Slowly we winged our way to six thousand feet, where the wind spotter jumped out. We kept on flying, heading for the height of ten thousand feet; it was going to take about twenty-five minutes.
As I was sitting on the floor, of this single engine plane, between five burley men. I began thinking to myself, “here I am climbing to ten thousand feet in a small aircraft and about to jump out, I had to be crazy”. It was hard to believe that I had been planning this day for years and now it was finally going to happen. (I had approached many instructors but when they realised my degree of disability they backed out.) So, now I felt very relieved and quite relaxed, it seemed as though time had stood still. At about eight thousand feet it was time for Tony, my instructor and I to start preparing ourselves to leave the plane.
Once we attained the right altitude, Tony climbed out onto the wing of the plane with me attached to him. Hanging there at that height I was thinking to myself, that I must be mad, the wind was so strong it practically sucked us both off the wing. It was an unbelievable feeling that there was nothing between us and the earth below. We hung off the wing for about fifteen seconds, and then we jumped off backwards. It was impossible to yell because the wind was so strong; we were falling at two hundred kilometers an hour. Suddenly I felt free, just floating around, whilst being attached to Tony. We free fell from ten thousand feet to four thousand five hundred feet in forty seconds. It was the greatest feeling that I have ever had – knowing that I was doing something at that moment of time, it didn’t matter whether or not I had a disability or whether I could walk, use my hands or even talk – but I could fly.
It was then time for Tony to pull the ripcord. There was a great swishing noise and the parachute billowed out above us. There was an almighty tug and we were pulled back up-wards into the sky It was just beautiful seeing the patchwork landscape beneath us.
We slowly floated around and down to earth for the next six minutes. During which time I was then given instructions on how we were going to land safely. (Now, I was not too sure on this procedure, because Tony had not jumped with a disabled person before, let alone someone with cerebral palsy. I didn’t want to break my legs, so I was concerned.) During the last couple of thousand feet the ground loomed up very quickly, that was when I hoped that the landing wouldn’t be too rough.
We hit the ground with Tony landing on my foot. But once back on terra firma I was relieved but also exhilarated in knowing that I had achieved something that even the able-bodied may not get to do.
After being picked up and put back in my wheelchair, I decided to have breakfast. As I queued for my food, the director of the film crew approached me. He informed me that the cameraman aboard the plane had missed the shot of us jumping from the wing and he asked if I’d do it again and it had to be done within the hour, because of the light.
This time, as experienced skydivers, we were able to make a near perfect landing, standing on our feet.
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