I guess most rational people look at skydiving the way you’d look at putting metal in the microwave; it shouldn’t ever be done, it’s terrifying when it happens, and once is all it takes to learn your lesson and never do it again. But I see jumping as a huge rush, and the feeling of flying then floating through the air is incredible. I was lucky enough to jump out of a perfectly good aircraft a week ago, and I am still re-living the experience in my head! If it’s that awesome, why did I wait till now to jump? Because it’s spring…basically, one big carte blanche! April is that one month out of the year when I get to do exactly what I feel like doing – if I want to go kayaking in the river, I can do that and not worry about messing up my training for skiing. If rock climbing for the day sounds fun, I can do that. If it’s raining and cold and miserable and I don’t want to go outside…I don’t have to! And if I happen to twist my ankle when landing with a parachute on…then this is the right time of year to do that.
Being an athlete is a funny kind of job in the sense that while you might only spend up to 5 hours a day training, you don’t get to “clock out”, either. Everything you do will relate to how well you train and how fast you race; how you eat, how you sleep, what you do in your time off during the day (do you rest? Or do you run around and get tired and compromise the next day’s training?) So, from May till the end of March, it’s a 24/7 job, and that’s why April feel so spectacular. I can stay up late if I want to and I’m not worrying about things outside my control, like getting sick. I can go camping for a couple days and not worry that I’m not getting in enough ski-specific training. You know you’re a total dork when the idea of staying up late and getting sick is exciting…just saying.
Don’t get me wrong – I love my job! So much! And I love having a training plan and knowing exactly what I’m going to focus on for the day to get one step closer to my goals. By end of spring I’m always itching for a training plan and to get back into full camp mode, and of course I already miss my teammates like crazy. But hopefully my explaination of why I get so excited about April makes sense. I mean…why else would you get excited about the rainy month when it’s still cold and grey outside?
Which is why I flew down to Arizona for a couple days with my Mom to visit my Grandparents! It was a short trip but I was so happy to spend some time with them. And I’d never been to Arizona before, so that was pretty neat! The first thing my Grandma did when I got to the house was prank me with a rubber snake and a cactus…and I totally fell for it. Arizona has such a different kind of beauty than Minnesota. Except for when you’re actually on a mountain, the land is dead flat with small cactus and saguaros everywhere. It’s a dusty, dry heat which felt perfect to me after a long winter, and the sunsets were long and gorgeous. We went hiking in the superstition mountain, around Casa Grande (where my Grandparents live) and up Picacho Peak.
However, the most exciting thing I did in Arizona by far had nothing to do with saguaros or hiking…it was skydiving! I jumped in this little town called Eloy, which is an international skydiving mecca. In the chute packing room there were flags and people from around the world, looking like they just stepped out of the surf with tanned skin, windblown hair and the outward calm you only get after you’ve done something truly wild. The town was full of tents, RV’s and motel rooms rented out for weeks at a time to these jumpers, who basically lived at the jump site. Planes took off every half hour, and in between you could see people playing basketball, packing their jump gear, learning to juggle, slacklining, running in off the landing field, wandering into the general store to pick up a cold drink and a sandwich. It looked like the kind of place you could wander into and easily make friends, then end up staying for a year.
I’d wanted to skydive for a couple years, especially after going bungee jumping in Whister the summer of 2009. I decided on a tandem jump since I wasn’t in town long enough to do the real class and get certified to jump solo. My Grandpa, who has jumped 5 times and only stopped about a year ago, told me no less than 21 times to do the “wild weasel” (it turned out to be a fast spin!). We got into the plane and headed up to 13,000 feet! Any higher and they said they’d need to hook up oxygen (it wasn’t pumping through the plane since the door was cut out so we could jump through it). When they opened the door and people started throwing themselves out the plane one by one, I felt like I might have left my stomach back on the tarmac in Eloy. Kim (my tandem jumper buddy) and I were the last ones out of the plane, so we got to watch everyone jump before us. One lady plugged her nose like she was jumping into a pool. Uh…..huh? It’s funny how logic tends to leave you when you’re scared.
Then it was my turn! I’d already asked Kim if we could do some tricks, and since she’s awesome she agreed. We swung out of the plane into a backflip, and then straightened out. The first thing I did was open my mouth and scream. The second thing I did was shut it. When you’re falling at an average speed of 115 mph, the wind comes at you pretty hard! We spun in circles, I was able to move my arms around and it felt like I was flying. Only the first 3 seconds were terrifying because that’s when I felt like I was truly falling, while we dropped away from the plane. But after that, the ground wasn’t rushing up quickly the way it does in a bungee jump, and it wasn’t nearly as scary! I did get a suprise when Kim pulled the parachute, because she was over me and I couldn’t see her pull it. One minute we were horizontal and the wind was so loud I couldn’t hear a thing, and the next we were sitting in the harness, floating silently over the perfectly square cotton fields thousands of feet below us. The landing was pretty easy since Kim was steering by pulling the sides of the parachute. It was such a cool experience, and I feel so lucky! I also can’t wait to do it again. 🙂
The trip to Arizona was a great way to reset and enjoy some time with family. While I was home in Minnesota, I got a lot of really good family time, but I was also a very social butterfly! I signed posters at Slumberland Furniture in Red Wing, and helped shoot photos for the store advertisements. Which was great, since the humane society had a lot of puppies that needed to be adopted…what better way to get the word out then to include them in the ad?
I met the Southwest High School ski team (winner of the NNF auction for a school talk!) and showed photos and stories from the Olympics. I spoke to the Scandia Marine Lions Club members and went for a fun mud run in the park with the Loppet Nordic Racing training group. I got to meet with the crew at Podiumwear and talk design and fit and see the cool new ideas they’re coming up with for top-of-the-line racing and training gear. They even made me my own bike jersey!
Fastenal flew me out to Indianapolis for a trade show, where I signed posters and got to test power tools (I loved this). I even got to test out a sledgehammer….on a car. It was an old beater car, but still! When else can you smash up a car like that and not get arrested? So needless to say, it’s been a busy month, and I have a couple more events coming up in May before I leave for our first training camp. But this is the fun part of my job! This is when I get to spend time with and give back to the community that has supported me for years. It’s fun to meet young athletes in the area, and hopefully my future teammates!
Alright, confession time. I did something really dumb. “Again, Jessie?” you ask…but yes, sadly, I did. I signed up for a race I have no business doing. None at all, and here’s why: I hadn’t gotten on a bike since I did the 75 mile Ironman Minnesota ride with my Dad last year. I did do a lot of spin biking in the gym when I injured my foot, but I havd’t hopped on a real bike since last May. But I decided that it’d be a great idea to sign up for the 100 mile ride this time around, and my Dad was game, so heck why not? Ironman Minnesota 2014! I did get out for about 2 rides beforehand, which was just great. Since clipless pedals terrify me, I decided to once again go on my trusty ol’ mountain bike. It’s ok for you to roll your eyes at this point, I won’t mind. Anyways, the forecast was pretty grim, but we thought we’d give it a shot.
We started biking right from our house, and after an hour and a half of cold wind I was thinking, hey – this might not be so bad! I can get used to being a little bit cold and wind sucks but it’s ok…and that’s when it started raining. Ugh. It was a constant cold rain and somewhere in the next hour I crossed the line between cold and miserable to hypothermic. We made it to an aid station after biking for 2.5 hours, and decided that as much as I really wanted to bike the whole route, it was going to be stupid and kind of dangerous to continue. Especially since I was having issues forming coherent sentences. I don’t get cold often, but when I do, it’s usually really bad. Like, blue-lips-shaking-limbs bad. So Mom came to the rescue to pick us up, which was really lucky for us! It took me 15 minutes of jumping jacks before I started to have feeling in my toes again. What a bummer! So, Dad and I decided that while Mother Nature really didn’t have any interest in making the ride possible today, we would do our own epic ride later this spring when it was nice enough to enjoy it. And hey…good karma points for effort, right? 🙂
Ok, last little note in this long blog post! I’m looking forward to a chance to thank more of the community for their support and celebrate the season on Wednesday April 30th, from 6-8:30pm at Lake Elmo Park Reserve. I’ll be showing a slideshow of photos from the season, sharing stories from the Olympics, and signing posters. It’s free and open to the public, and I’d love to see you there!