Sometimes there’s one that makes you remember what it’s all about...

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As a tandem instructor I've experienced periods of jumping where groups of students seem to just wear you down with no end in sight. Sometimes it seems like all you seem to get are self absorbed types who want a "ride", ignore instruction, whine when you tell them "no flips", and the most important thing they have to say in their video's closing interview is to complain about how their ears hurt, or how the harness was too tight.

They seem to come in waves, and all you can do is smile and try to remember that you're a professional, and find that one in a hundred that's there to actually have an experience and maybe learn something.

Today was finally a break from those types, had a group of students over on an exchange program from Ireland, a few guys out on a motorcycle ride who asked all the smart questions, and had a ball, and a mother daughter and sister in-law out for a day of fun.

But there was one student that turned out to be more special to me than most. This one I'll remember.

Cue Alice.

Alice is from Northern California and came out to visit her daughter who's going to school in the area. Apparently the daughter told them that she wanted to go skydiving so they made plans before even coming down to visit. I came back to the hanger with my 6th student of the day, dropped of the rig, de-geared the student, wished them well, and checked the board to see who my next student was. Introduced myself to Alice, started my briefing, sensed she was a little more nervous than most, switched to the "soft, sensitive" briefing, finished up, grabbed a rig and headed for the plane with student in tow. We were going up in the 206 with the daughter and her instructor and the husband would be on the last load. Somewhere between briefing and plane I find out Alice has jumped before with her father. Cool, not uncommon, based on the ages I assume a static line maybe in the late 80's.

As we get in the plane I casually ask "how long since your jump with your dad?" She piques my interest when she says "we jumped when I was a teenager in the 70's". Wow. I'm impressed. So I run with that conversation since Alice is pretty nervous, asking about the gear she used, she seems surprised I know so much about it, especially the Capewells, and she definitely remembering her training from that previous experience. So I segway into the improvements in gear, explaining the three ring, RSL, AAD, why we have a drogue, and how the harnesses connect.

I ask what part of the jump make her so nervous, and find out it's the "hanging off the edge", and falling feeling that seems to be the issue. We talk a little about her previous experience, and how she did several S/L jumps but was afraid to try freefall and my thoughts on "falling feelings" and she seems to relax. A little.

A bit of joking, I surprise her by telling her she'll be opening the parachute today, reassure her that I'll make sure she gets it right, then it's time to get ready. Jump run comes, daughter, instructor and video exit, and now it's our turn. She shows real grit, slides into the doorway, puts in the effort to assume the exit position, and I give the count. I can hear her yelling in freefall enjoying the experience, point out her daughter's drogue, and canopy deployment, then guide her hand to the handle, and give the "pull" command. She does great. A little briefing on landing, adjust the harness, then play with the parachute, right turn, left turn, flare. She's having a good time. A few more spirals, then downwind, bas, final, and a tip toe landing.

I flip a quick joke about "that's better than a PLF" and we load into the van to head back to the hanger. While in the van I tell the daughter how tough her mom had to be to make those jumps, and they both smile and blush a little. Mom says, "I'll have to get you to sign my log book, I still have my little red log book."

"Sure, no problem" I say, it's not the first request like this.

We get back to the hanger, de-gear, and show the hand cam videos while mom heads out the car to get her logbook. Call me a geek, but this is where it got really exciting for me. Mom hands me a little 3 by 5 inch red vinyl book with a snap closure. I open it and the first thing I see is an "Elsinore Parachute Center" decal still on its original backing. There are two. OHmygosh. I begin to flip through the pages; the first entry is June of 1973. She tells me the story. When she was 13 she saw a commercial on television featuring parachutists, and that year when dad asked what she wanted for her birthday, she said she wanted to go skydiving. Finally 3 years later she got that wish.

She told me about finishing PLF training from a tabletop, and then the instructor informing her the winds were too high, they had to come back the next weekend. She made 5 S/L jumps over the next 2 years, the last one 4 months before I was born. They were from 2800 feet, on 28 and 35-foot mains, with 24 or 26-foot reserves. I start looking for names of instructors; don't recognize any, the last one being "Larry F." I regret not writing down the license or SCR numbers. I very humbly put my entry in as jump number 6, making sure to document her unassisted pull.

There's a folded up certificate in the logbook and I ask if I can look at it. She says yes. I open it, and there is what I was hoping for. My connection.

I've always thought of the community of skydivers I jump with to be a family of sorts, dysfunctional at times, but family all the same. Sometimes they seem to be separate family groups, the family I knew when and where I started at SkyDance, the one that was there 4 years later when I moved on, the Perris peeps, the Ranch Crew, my SBjumper friends, my internet community friends. But they have a common bond and love.

On that certificate of Alice's there was the name of the pilot. Gary Douris.

I haven't seen Gary in at least 3 years, possibly 4. But I've known of Gary since at least 2000, and met him in 2003. Gary may not remember me, but he always had time to talk to me on the DZ at Perris or Elsinore, and impart some of the vast history and rigging knowledge he's accumulated over the decades.

Gary's name completed the full circle connection I had with Alice. Sure I had just made a tandem with her as her instructor, but Gary's name brought home the fact that I am part of a legacy, something far greater than I will ever be, but something I can contribute to. 16-year-old Alice stepped up to the plate and hurled herself into the wild blue, and now 30+ years later she did it again.

Alice, welcome back to the family, in my book you're every bit the pioneer that Jacques-André Istel, or Lew Sanborn are. Thank you for letting me be a part of your skydiving life.
You're not as good as you think you are. Seriously.

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"Larry F."

Larry Fatino -- died in the 1992 Perris Crash

He had been manager of both Perris and Elsinore at various times over the years.

Did you by any chance photo copy that logbook page? If you didn't, any chance you can contact the student and ask her to make a copy?

One of these days I've got to spend the time to scan all my old logbooks, just in case.

Blue Skies!

"Harry, why did you land all the way out there? Nobody else landed out there."

"Your statement answered your question."

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Thanks! That was a great story.

May I suggest you submit that story to Parachutist magazine, and they might publish it. It is of interest to all skydivers.

I would have, but I don't think they can publish anything by me till after the election.

You're not as good as you think you are. Seriously.

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