B.A.S.E. Jumping Para's

 

On one day each October since 1980, thousands of people have happily accepted the invitation to "take a flying leap" from the longest single-span steel arch bridge in the western hemisphere. The 31st annual Bridge Day was held on October 16, 2010, at New River Gorge National River in West Virginia.

This event is a big draw for fans of BASE jumping; "BASE" is an acronym for "building, antenna, span, earth," the fixed objects from which these jumpers leap with their 'chutes for what's hoped to be a controlled descent. Officials estimated attendance last weekend to be somewhere between 120,000 and 200,000 people.

According to a park spokesperson, Highway 19 was shut down for about nine hours while visitors watched over 400 base jumpers make a total of just over 1000 jumps; 22 rappel teams also performed about 100 rappels. The base jumping time window, normally about six hours, was extended an additional half hour after Governor Joe Manchin, who attended the event, requested an extension due to early morning fog delays.

The size of the crowd, relatively remote location and the potential for injuries make this a rather complex event, which was managed under a unified incident command team that included over 20 federal, state and local agencies. More than 50 National Park Service employees from all divisions were assigned to the event.

   
 
   
 

Bridge Day had something different this year, two of the jumpers were paralized. Long time member of Extreme Chairing Minna Mettinen-Kekalainen was there with new EC member Lonnie Bissonnette. Lonnie has jumped before but for Minna it was her first time BASE jumping. She has been skydiving for years and is only one of a few paralized solo sky divers in the world. This was deffinetly not going to be a regular jump, it was going to be a completely new experience. She explains and writes bellow how her Bridge day was...

     
 

Bridge Day 2010

By: Minna Mettinen-Kekalainen
Truly one of the most peaceful moments of my life. On the platform, then finally jumping. The beauty of the New River Gorge.

The whole experience was so much different then I imagined. When I have jumped before, it’s always with few people around. Yet at Bridge Day, despite the crowd being large, as it came time to jump, the noise faded away.

When I was up on the jump-platform, I heard nothing. As if no one else was there.

Later, as I recounted the day, I was surprised by this. Why? Because I have never jumped anywhere with so many people and so much noise. As I listened to the announcer while others jumped, I thought to myself, “This never happens at my other jumps!”. The jumpmaster told me I was clear. Just the couple of words I needed to hear.

                     
   

As I left the platform, my mind turned the voice of the announcer silent. The crowds went silent.

Time seemed to stand still, as if this particular moment, were only for me. As I flew I noticed the tree branches and their leaves. Ripples in the water. I felt the movement of air upon my face, with the greatest intensity. For those few seconds it was as if everything were magnified and I had the whole world to myself alone.

It was a peaceful feeling. One I doubt I will ever be able to fully explain.

Later as I was talking with a friend, I explained, “If I died tonight I would be ok with that. I felt the most peaceful moments of my life during that jump”.

He laughed and said, “You always say that when you jump”.

This was different. I tried to explain it like this:

It reminds me of past kayak races at the Nationals and some International events. During sprint races, time would blur. With each paddle stroke I took, I felt the intensity throughout my body. Each heartbeat seemed to echo. Bridge Day was like this for me. As our team sport psychologists would say, I was’in the zone’.

This is what the jump gave back to me. As my ALS adventures have brought me far from those racing days, I have only experienced that feeling jumping on a few other occasions. The intensity of that feeling can’t compare to what I experienced on the New River Gorge Bridge.

I did one jump. I had only planned to jump once and then to soak in the moment. Much like you, I enjoy watching people, visiting the booths, and taking in the surroundings. For me, it is SO much more about the whole experience, then rushing to try to jump again.

I needed that jump.  I needed to be on that Bridge.

It brought me peace. That jump has liberated me from the feeling of uncertainty of my future and my ability to continue on fighting with this illness, knowing what is coming in the future. I was growing tired, and was thinking that soon I wont have the mental tenacity to keep on dealing with the various things that I will be facing in the future.

I didn’t join the evening festivities following the day of jumping. I felt the need to hold on to the feeling I had found earlier.

Being sick with ALS, I know that jumping at another Bridge Day will never be in my sights. Being there to jump this time, has meant more to me then I am able to describe. The experience is one that helps me to accept my ‘fate’ in life before I leave someday to move on to some other existence.

It is really impossible to describe, you just need to go out and do it. Experience it for yourself.