Cheating Death

This week’s challenge is one I’ve been wanting to do for a VERY long time, but have never been able to force myself to do it. Finally, like many others, I’ve been given no choice. It’s go time.

Challenge #22:

SKYDIVING!!!!!!” – from Jamie Humes

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Jamie is a friend of the family that I met many, many years ago. Our fathers are both members of an organization called YPO and have our mothers were in Junior League together. They are great friends of the family. Jamie and I have grown close through our community involvement and many other activities. She’s a brilliant young woman that chases her dreams. This was numero uno on her bucket list so she went with me!

Jamie has tried to go skydiving multiple times, each time ending in cancellation due to weather. My first thought was, “Maybe this some sort of divine intervention and you’re not supposed to do it.” Her thought, this simply fueled the fire and made her want to do it more.

Let me preface this with a little story. When I was younger, maybe 8 or 9, my parents packed my family into a caravan and drove us around the country for 3 weeks in a big circle. We stopped at many popular tourist attractions, including the Cheyenne Rodeo, an Oregon Trail adventure and the St. Louis Arch. Upon arriving in St. Louis and being told we’d be riding in this little contraption (from my memory, much like the egg that Mork arrived in on Mork and Mindy) to take us to the top of the arch, I got a little excited. My family boarded our little carton and began the 630 foot climb to the top. And then we got stuck. For 2 hours. There were college kids singing songs either above or below us and my mother tried to entertain all of us with a crossword puzzle. This is the moment we discovered that I was claustrophobic. Eventually our little carton of hell started to move again and we finally made it to the top. Upon exiting the “elevator,” I ran out and took a look out the window looking down over the river, that had flooded everything in site. I immediately backed up to the exact center of the arch and refused to move until it was time to leave. This is when we discovered that I am afraid of heights. Big time.

So. Neither of these things make me a good candidate for riding up in a tiny airplane and launching myself into free-fall 13,000 feet from the ground. Regardless, I’ve always wanted to do this and test my fears. I expected more than one of these to end up on my challenge cards and was surprised, but delighted, when this was the only one I received.

We both talked with our parents about it and neither were particularly keen on the idea of us throwing ourselves out of a perfectly good airplane. I asked my parents if they’d like me to call them before or after the jump. They said both. Jamie and I scheduled our jump, accidentally, for Friday the 13th. We were filling out our paperwork upon arrival and I said “Jamie…do you know what day it is?” She replied, “The 13th!” and I said, “I know.” I’m pretty superstitious so this wasn’t exactly our brightest idea.

We went through the video and signed our life away. Do you have any idea what they have you sign at those places?! Basically, no matter what happens, plane failure, manufacturer defect in the suit/harness, what have you, you, your heirs, or anyone representing you is not permitted to sue under any circumstances. If you DO sue, you have to pay the court costs and all other fees endured of the company. That’s. Crazy.

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Signing my life away...

Signing my life away…

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Jamie and I then headed over to the hanger where we proceeded to wait. And wait. And wait. And then we waited some more. Turns out you’re not allowed to jump through clouds. This was devastating for me because, for as long as I can remember, I have wanted to know what it felt like to go through a cloud. Big, fluffy, cumulus clouds.  I wanted to know if the Care Bears were on to something spectacular. Can you bounce around on them like big pillows of cotton candy? I mean physics tells me that no, that is not in fact possible. Looks like I’ll never know…

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So we sat on the tarmac of the airport for 6 hours waiting for the cloud cover to dissipate. One group went up in the plane finally, only to return back to ground, disheartened that they could not jump. Several people did what’s called a Hop and Pop. This is at 5,000 elevation and you pull your chute the second you jump out of the plane.  I was freaking out for the better part of the day. Repeating “OhmygodOhmygodOhmygod” and “Holy Sh*t!” and “WHAT ARE WE DOING THIS IS CRAZY?!” I spoke with many of the instructors, made new friends, and asked as many questions as I could. Many of them do it for a full-time job. It’s tough because they get paid per jump and if you don’t jump due to weather, you’ve made no money that day. We talked to a guy named Gila and a guy named Lonnie. Lonnie was very helpful and positive. I kind of wish I’d requested to jump with him since he knew how nervous I was the day before.

During a conversation with Gila I had mentioned how scared I was on Friday. He said “Being scared is perfectly acceptable. It’s the people that aren’t scared that really freak me out. If you think about it, humans weren’t meant to fly. There is nothing normal about this.”  Totally stuck with me.

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I think this was actually truly beneficial to me because of the way the rest of this adventure pans out. It came down to like 5:00 and Jamie and I gazed out at the sky. We realized these clouds weren’t going anywhere and had to make a decision. We scheduled ourselves to come back at 5:00 the following day to give it another shot. At this point, Jamie has been turned down 3 times because of weather. I’m not feeling good about this fact. Feeling a little let down, we headed back to Cincinnati.

I woke up Saturday morning incredibly excited. The feelings were totally different. I was surprisingly comfortable with the idea of skydiving. I picked Jamie up and we headed back to Middletown (www.startskydiving.com) where we repeated many of the previous day’s steps. They called us just before we left to inform us they were running on a two-hour delay so we knew we weren’t in any real hurry.

I kept waiting to freak out. It never happened. My instructor’s name was Dave and my videographer’s name was Hannah. They were scheduled for a jump right before mine so they had to suit me up early. Jamie didn’t get pulled in for prep until at least 20 minutes after me. Thankfully, her videographer got some shots of us together. We both bought Rockstar packages to document every minute.

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As I sat there all suited up in my harness, I felt at peace. I kept telling Jamie that I was “cool as a cucumber,” waiting to freak out. It never happened. We sat and watched other jumpers deploy their chutes and float gracefully to the ground. It looked SO easy. I wished that my instructor had been there before the jump though. I would have liked to have gotten to know him a bit better and get comfortable with the fact that we would be strapped to one another while plummeting toward earth.  As most things go with me, this did not happen. It is so typical of this little adventure that I’m on.

Finally, at about 7:10, it was time to board the plane. We started to walk toward it and my stomach started doing flips. We hopped on and Dave was pretty quiet. I kept asking him questions and we discovered that his GoPro did not have an SD card in it. In retrospect, after having seen the footage, I wish we hadn’t located one. No one told me to “smile as big as you can otherwise your face flaps in the wind.” Lesson learned. I also didn’t know that you could remove your goggles after the free-fall. Bummed about that one.

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So Dave went through his safety checks and reminded me of what I was supposed to do. Left knee up, right knee down, hands on harness, head back, hold on until the double tap and let him do all the work. We reached our cruising altitude and scooted our way down the bench. The clear plastic door on our plane opened and I had my footing all wrong, per usual. I’m incredibly uncoordinated. I was so worried about being in the proper position that I forgot to look down. I’m sort of glad I did because moments later we were barrel rolling through the sky, flipping and turning at over 120 miles per hour. A slew of profanities flew out of my mouth and I edited them out of the video. I do apologize, but it didn’t feel right to show them.

The chute opened and honest to goodness it was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life. Like a child, I pointed at the sun and gasped “Look at that!” The frustration we experienced the day before resulted in us jumping at sunset. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. You all know how I feel about photography. I wish I’d had a camera up there. I could see for miles and the sky was filled with pinks, oranges, yellows, blues and purples with a bright golden sun in the center of it all. It was absolutely breathtaking.

Speaking of breathtaking, humans, as a second nature, tend to hold their breath in situations of stress or panic. I’m not sure I breathed at all during the 40 second free fall. It looks like I did in the video, but I can’t confirm.

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Dave had me control the chute at one point, and I wish I’d known that part was coming. I would have been better prepared and more eager to take the reigns. In Jamie’s video you see her steering it and I’m jealous I didn’t get to experience that feeling. I held myself back from it. I didn’t want a gust of wind to come knock the air out of my chute and send me straight to the ground. Next time. Dave steered us in a few little spirals and tilted us back and forth. I was content with that. The fact that we hadn’t conversed much made it difficult for me to fully trust him and put my life in his hands. Again, next time.

We landed and I have never been so full of OHMYGOD in my life. That’s the only way I can describe it. I was proud of myself for doing it. I was proud of myself for being so calm. I was shocked with myself for that, as well.  It was absolutely, without a doubt, the craziest experience I have ever had in my life. And I highly recommend it to everyone.  They asked me if I’d do it again. I said I would. Maybe not right away, but I would.

Jamie landed and we ran to each other across the field. After a big hug and shared excitement we marched back into the hanger, adrenaline rushing. I decided it’d be a good idea to call my parents and let them know I had landed.  It was cool to recap all of the feelings and emotions that I had just experienced. I’m so glad we didn’t get to go on Friday because there is no way I’d have traded that jump for anything in the world. Sadly, I fear the next time I go skydiving will never compare. Funny how things work out for you…

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So I edited mine and Jamie’s videos together so you could see both of our experiences. Without further ado: Katie and Jamie Rule the Sky.

Jamie, thank you for extending this adventure my way. It pushed me in ways I didn’t expect it to, conquered a huge fear of mine, checked off a huge goal of mine and you made the experience that much more enjoyable. I know it wasn’t as “smooth sailing” as we’d hoped it would be, but I’m glad we did it together! And I’m so very glad you finally got to go skydiving!!!!!!! You rock!!!

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An Eye-Opening Experience…literally.

I have been looking forward to this challenge since I first opened up the envelope. It is one of the more unique challenges I’ve been given and I was incredibly anxious to do it!

Challenge #16:

“Lady Kathryn, I would like for you to go to a public place (with a buddy) and blindfold yourself. Navigate the space (with the buddy close by) for 1 hour.

Since my mom is blind I feel strongly about people understanding this disability and how folks manage with it.” -from Meredith Comin

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Meredith is another friend of mine from Junior League. We had the pleasure of meeting when she stepped in to fill a roll in a fundraiser we were planning, Cinsation 2011. We became friends pretty much from the moment I met her. But how could I not? This girl is the sweetest southern belle, both inside and out. I bet she bleeds sweet tea. 😉 And we wear the same size shoes. And she has awwwesome shoes. Bonus. I can count on her for level headed advice, a great laugh or just plain pleasant company.

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Meredith’s mom, Peggy, is blind. I asked Meredith to provide me with some background on Peggy so that I could share the experience with you.

She was blinded at the age of 2 in a horribly unfortunate accident. Some people would let this define them. If anything, I’d say she defined it. She attended public school until 9th grade, when she enrolled in a private HS and learned to read and write Braille beginning in the 2nd grade. Throughout her childhood, she had several attempts at a corneal transplant which were unsuccessful.

When Meredith was 1, Peggy gave the corneal transplant another go and it gave her back the ability to distinguish between light and dark and very bright colors. Then, about 5 years ago, she had another transplant that provided a great deal more vision. Meredith has told me this before and it never occurred to me to that body language was so visual. She explained that she thought people spoke like porcelain dolls – that only your mouth moved. She had no idea how animated people are or that you use your hands, your head moves, your eyes blink, etc. Her incredible independence can be attributed to Meredith’s grandmother raising her as though she did not have a disability. “Plus, Peg is just as fierce and motivated as can be :)”

Speaking of motivated, let’s talk about all that she has accomplished!! She received her undergraduate degree in English from Florida State (GO NOLES!) and Master of Elementary Guidance Counseling, Master of Rehabilitation Counseling from Georgia State University. She is currently expected to complete her Master of Creative Writing in 2013 from Kennesaw State University. She works as a Rehabilitation Counselor for the Georgia Department of Rehab. She is a long-standing member of the Junior League and has been a Sustainer in the JL of Atlanta for over 20 years. She has been married to her husband Bill for 36 years and raised two incredible children. I mean. WOW! Talk about impressive!

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I also asked Meredith to tell me what it was like growing up with a visually-impaired mom.

“Growing up, I certainly had to do things such as read the mail, double-check the stove and burners, help coordinate outfits and act as a chauffeur. However, I don’t know any different so while I understand this is not what most people experience, it’s all I know. You learn to keep floors and hallways clear, though my beloved mother is forever misplacing her shoes and sunglasses! She’s never had a guide dog and has always done it on her own. She is truly my hero and I feel as though I’m a better person for having her as my mom.”
Well, she raised you so I’m darn glad she was your mom, too!
So I have been thinking about this challenge on and off since February. It was one of the first cards to come back in and I’m so glad it happened when it did. July has been an exceptionally gorgeous month. From the sunsets over Walloon Lake, to the fireworks on the 4th of July and the splendor that is the Missouri country side, I’ve been in awe for the past 31 days.
Jenna and I just came back from an incredible weekend visiting our best friend Courtney in St. Louis. While we were there, we took a party bus around to a bunch of different wineries in the area of Augusta. I am not exagerating when I say this. It literally could not have been a more perfect day. Blue bird sky, scattered with a few clouds, 75 degrees. Perfect. Jenna and I drove home on Sunday through the hills of the midwest on another equally gorgeous day. The thought that I was returning to Cincinnati to complete this challenge never left my mind. The beauty of everything I saw was a constant reminder of how lucky I am to be able to see it.
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Meredith and I decided to complete this challenge at Washington Park, a newly renovated green space in the heart of OTR. I headed down early to snap some photos and reacquaint myself with the lay of the land. They host a farmers market on Mondays and I thought this would be the perfect spot. It would have plenty of people, I could buy something, I was familiar enough with the area that it made me feel comfortable, it is full of commotion and, finally, the sounds. There are so many sounds. Every time I’m there I notice all of the different things going on.
Meredith did what is called “Sighted Guide” with me around the park. I held onto her arm, based on which side was more comfortable, and she walked around the park for about an hour and a half. Christy was with us for most of it, as well. We ran into people I knew, but I could not distinguish who they were. One gave me a surprise poke on the rear end and scared the living daylights out of me.
I brought my GoPro camera to record the whole experience, but the footage didn’t turn out so great. I had it positioned on my head, but it was facing the sky most of the time. Also, just to prove how bad I am at being blind, I thought I turned it on, but I didn’t. Hahah…big surprise there… In another example of my undisputed brilliance, I forgot to bring a blindfold. Thankfully, Christy just happened to have one in her office that was a block away. We went to 3CDC, got situated and headed back out to the park.
I decided to test my strengths and see if I could manage enjoying a frozen treat from Gerry at Chill, an organic shaved ice vendor at the farmers market. Meredith read the flavors to me and naturally, she ordered the Georgia Peach. Sadly, they were out of it so we both settled on Strawberry Limeaide. Eating without being able to see is difficult and relatively messy. I couldn’t find the straw with my mouth and kept missing the cup when I tried to jab at it to break up the chunks. I guess I need vision for depth perception. The most interesting part about this experience was paying. I realized that I had no way of distinguishing which bill was for which dollar value. Thankfully, Gerry was very nice and told me, but I can see how people could get ripped off all the time. After that, we tried to wash my hands off in the fountain. Thankfully, Meredith was great at directing me and I didn’t get soaked.
We went up and down the steps of the bandstand, crossed intersections, and wandered all around the park and surrounding areas. We met people, played with dogs, purchased some local honey (the best medicine in the world for allergies or a cough), and even spoke with some local press. A guy from Local 12 was interviewing park visitors on their thoughts on NSA. I promptly said, “No I don’t want to answer your questions. I’ll end up on Jimmy Kimmel Live in the segment about people that don’t know what they’re talking about.” He asked about my blog too (maybe because I was standing there with a bright red blind fold and a GoPro Camera on my head). Maybe they’ll call and want to do a segment! Who knows…
I noticed a few things in particular and some others that Meredith pointed out to me. The rest of my senses became significantly stronger. I was hearing things I’d never noticed before. I enjoyed trying to identify them, as well. I also noticed that people really do treat you differently. For example, whenever anyone would approach us to see what was going on, they would always ask Meredith what was happening instead of talking to me. I just wanted to shout “I’m BLIND not DEAF!” Also, my sense of direction was totally thrown off. As we wandered through the park I listened for familiar sounds, felt around and checked out the grounds to try and evaluate where I was or what direction I was facing. I was wrong 99% of the time I checked for clarification. When talking with people, I had to ask Meredith for confirmation that I was, in fact, looking at them or at least in their general direction. People generally moved out of my way and a lot of interest was generated in what I was doing. One little boy was, however, incredibly disappointed that I was not actually blind. Sorry to let you down, dear…
To accompany the physical portion of my adventure, Peggy sent me a little package! Enclosed were my name typed in Braille, the Braille alphabet and a little message for me to translate. It took me a little bit and I made it through the first half without peeking, but admittedly cheated on the second half. It was unintentional, but I had to know if I was right!! I believe it says “Have a marvelous summer and stay cool…try swimming.”
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I’ve been anticipating this adventure for awhile now and in the last few weeks I started thinking of all the things I would have missed out on if I weren’t able to see. I would have no idea what my niece looks like. I wouldn’t be able to get myself ready to go places. I happen to love doing my makeup and I attempted to do it without opening my eyes. Let’s just say that was a disaster and leave it at that. And while this may sound fairly narcissistic (because it is), I LOVE looking at myself in the mirror. Not every one, specifically every woman, can say they look in the mirror and like what they see. I happen to enjoy it. I like to know that things are in place and that I look presentable. Sue me.
Beyond that, I am a very visual person. Specifically, I am a visual learner. I like to see things to understand them. I imagine things in my mind that I never would have been able to imagine had I never seen them before. I never would have gotten through high school. I pictured the loose leaf pages of paper that I’d scribble notes all over every time I took a test. I could tell you exactly what they looked like and where everything was written. I remember what people were wearing or what their faces look like. I don’t know how I’d ever remember who anyone was if I couldn’t see them. Meredith said something to me that struck me the other day. She said that her mom doesn’t know what she looks like. It broke my heart. I cannot imagine what that must be like.
Most importantly to me on a personal level, my love of photography would be non-existent. I absolutely cannot imagine living life without the ability to capture it on film. I get a lot of grief for how many times I snap photos of things on my phone, but that is because the moment meant something to me and I wanted to share it with the world. I wish everyone got as excited as I do about clouds and sunsets and flowers and trees. In fact, I can’t understand why they don’t. It’s magnificent. Nature is really freaking awesome. And I want to take pictures of all of it. All of these breathtaking adventures I’ve been on would have been a whole lot less enjoyable without my sense of sight…
Here are some of the photographs I’ve taken along the way…
A bee pollenating some Alaskan Fireweed

A bee pollenating some Alaskan Fireweed

A Bald Eagle perched on some old pylons

A Bald Eagle perched on some old pylons

Alaskan fireweed with Saginaw in the background

Alaskan fireweed with Skagway in the background

A Bald Eagle in flight

A Bald Eagle in flight

Humpback Whale breaks the surface

Humpback Whale breaks the surface

Sunrise over the boundary waters in Canada

Sunrise over the boundary waters in Canada

A glacial melt waterfall in the Tracy Arm Fjord

A glacial melt waterfall in the Tracy Arm Fjord

Sunset in Boca Grande, FL. Easily my most favorite thing to watch in the world...

Sunset in Boca Grande, FL. Easily my most favorite thing to watch in the world…

I'd never know what this beautiful face looked like.

I’d never know what this beautiful face looked like.

My sister, Abbey, paddle boarding into the sunset

My sister, Abbey, paddle boarding into the sunset

Walloon Sunset

Walloon Sunset

Walloon Sunset

Walloon Sunset

Walloon Sunset

Walloon Sunset

I learned some pretty valuable lessons on this little excursion! I will never again take advantage of my ability to see. I am clumsy enough as it is. I’ll leave you with a quote…
“I hope I never become so used to the world that it no longer seems wonderful.”
Open your eyes. Take a look around. Really enjoy what you’re seeing because not everyone can.
See you next week!

“I once heard a saying that when you’re ready, the teacher you need appears before you.” ― Emily Byrd Starr

I’d like to thank Ellie and Jim Berghausen (Aunt Ellie and Uncle Jim) for this week’s challenge. They are close family friends from when I was little. They are also my sister, Abbey’s, Godparents. I’m sure I took it in a different direction than they intended, but I feel my responses are accurate and my recipients deserving of such praise.

Challenge #4:

letters

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“Write a letter to 2 of the best, most influential “teachers” you have encountered in your 28 1/2 years. Tell them why you chose them for this honor. If they respond, let the world know what they said!” – Jim and Ellie Berghausen

I was told that I could use the term “teachers” in the liberal sense or move beyond the classroom. Only one caveat- no family members.

I was going to write a letter to each of my siblings until I read that last bit (don’t worry, John and Abbey. I have another one coming for you down the road) and I realized I needed to go back to the drawing board.

I selected Melanie Chavez for my first letter. I joined the Junior League of Cincinnati 4 years ago and have met so many insanely awesome women that I cannot even begin to count. I remember accompanying my mom to meetings when I was a small child and watching them do their thing. She developed so many close friends with whom she is still close today. Many of which, I have come to call friends, as well.

One of the incredible women I have met is Melanie Chavez. She served as President of the JLC last year and I had the opportunity to work quite frequently with her while I was planning our spring fundraiser, Cinsation. I have gotten to know her on a personal and professional level and truly appreciate all of the guidance she has bestowed upon me.

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I will not reveal the whole letter, but here are some of the lessons I have taken from our interactions.

– ALWAYS send a thank you note. Always. Handwritten on cute stationary. The handwritten word goes a long way and is so very rarely used these days.

– Act like a lady. Melanie handles herself with an admirable elegance and poise that I could only dream of having. My lack of coordination and severe case of clumsiness, not to mention the volume of my voice, are hindering this process but I’m working on it.

– Give everything 110%. I do not know how she does it, and might never know, but Melanie is all-in on every single thing she does. I’m certainly trying, but SOMETIMES I just doooon’t wanna go to that meeeeting.

– Be flexible. Sometimes things happen and you cannot control them or they are not as you expected. Roll with the punches and figure out how to solve the problem.

I look up to her more than she probably recognizes, but I can’t think of anyone more deserving. Thank you so very much for all that you have taught me, Melanie! It is genuinely appreciated.

And juuuuust as I was about to seal the envelope I discovered that I had written the letter upside down on my cute card. What can I say? Rome wasn’t built in a day…

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After having spent the past weekend in Las Vegas for my friend Stacey’s bachelorette party, I realized just how much I rely on my phone. I was constantly looking things up on google. And thus, my second letter…

And with that, they’re on their way to their recipients! I’ll let you know if I hear anything back! If any of you happen to know anyone that works at Google, let me know!! I want to make sure the right person knows how much they mean to me!

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That’s it for this week! Fingers crossed for good weather next week! I am really looking forward to the task I’ve selected!