Waylon O'Donnell at AerOhio - 56 (2).jpg

Ashland Source correspondent Waylon O'Donnell took the leap of faith at AerOhio last week.

ASHLAND — I've been told that you do not need a parachute to skydive; however, you do need a parachute to skydive twice. 

Fortunately for me, the remarkable staff at AerOhio Skydiving, Ashland's newest skydiving organization, had a plethora of parachutes to go around for my first-ever experience of jumping out of an airplane. 

I chose parachute number nine for no special reason, other than it was the first chute I had seen. Perhaps nine would prove to be my lucky number. 

Jay, my skydiving instructor, secured a safety harness around my torso. My fate would soon lie in his hands. 

Tandem skydiving allows AerOhio instructors like Jay to steer the parachute’s proverbial wheel; that way, ambitious first-time jumpers like me get to relish in the thrills of skydiving without the concern of having to operate a device designed to save a person’s literal life whilst in mid-air. 

The directions given to me were simple: As soon as we exited the plane I needed to arch my head back, push my waist forward and keep my legs centered and still – I didn’t want to get caught playing footsie while plummeting towards the earth. 

As we approached our vessel, a Cessna Grand Caravan, I mentally prepared myself for the forthcoming journey. To my surprise, I did not feel skittish – though as we neared the plane, I noticed condensation developing on my forehead. 

Instructor Jay seamlessly slithered up a stepladder and into the aircraft; I awkwardly hobbled behind. Straddling an elongated bench, we slid our way through the belly of the airship. Four other daredevils trailed subsequently like train cars.

Sitting on the pew, I reflected on my grandfather; he served in the United States Air Force in his adolescence and often witnessed paratroopers vault into the open air. At a youthful 82 years old, he recently professed that when he reaches the age of 100, he too would take a crack at skydiving. I intend to hold him to that promise.

We ascended to an astounding 13,000 feet, more than two miles above Ashland County. A gentleman near the stern of the plane peeled the metal door agate and scanned the revealed landscape. A rush of frigid air surged through the vehicle’s abdomen, leaving the fur on my arm standing straighter than an earthworm drenched in hairspray. 

Jay strapped himself to the harness that enveloped my body, while I observed the individuals in the craft ahead of me leap towards the ground below. We scooted forward and plopped onto the edge of the opening. I peered downwards and took a deep breath.

In an instant, we spilled forward. An exhilarating flock of butterflies danced inside of my stomach as we rapidly barreled towards our home planet. 

I lifted my arms up and gazed at the scenery surrounding me. For a moment, I was parallel with billowing clouds that resembled the aftermath of a painter who splashed the sky with white, pattern-less blotches.

As I accelerated towards the level terrain beneath me, I sensed as though I was lying face-down on a cushion of air that supported my entire body. The G-forces pushing skyward made my skin personify flapjacks on a heated griddle.

Jay wore an altimeter on his wrist and once we arrived at our designated altitude, he pulled the cord that kept the trip from ending in the forbidden five-letter word that starts with “S” and ends in “PLAT.” Our navy-and-gold parachute unfurled, and we promptly diminished in speed. Jay snatched the reigns and began to guide us towards our allocated landing field.

We floated in the air for a brief period, then Jay invited me to take control of the parachute. I clutched a woven handle in each of my hands as I took jurisdiction over the direction we descended. 

Instructor Jay conducted my movements as we took sharp, breathtaking turns, electrifying climbs and rollercoaster-like dives. The farming properties sectored below looked like scattered puzzles pieces in assorted shades of green and brown.

Jay pointed to a smeared body of water in the distance between the clouds. 

“There’s Lake Erie,” he said, beaming. “On a clear day, you can see Canada.”

My eyes continued to scour the panoramic horizon as Jay reclaimed control of the parachute. As we advanced toward the grassy plot underneath us, I quickly hoisted my knees upward so that Jay and I could slide on our rumps across the flat pasture of land. My left cheek almost certainly left a plump crater in the soil as we skidded to a halt. 

A van awaited our arrival and provided us with transport back to AerOhio’s hangar, where I was then honored with an official tandem skydiving certificate for my first completed jump. I now need only 24 more skydiving sessions until I can become a licensed parachutist.

I am super grateful for everyone who made this incredible adventure possible, but I would especially like to thank Sherry Butcher, business manager at AerOhio, who turned this dream of mine into a reality. The commendable AerOhio crew at the Ashland County Airport offer once-in-a-lifetime, unforgettable experiences that eager jumpers are sure to enjoy. 

I would also like to express special recognition to instructor Jay for the exhilarating descent and conducive guidance, my grandfather for inspiring me to live life to the fullest, and Samantha Lechner for enhancing my inaugural jump with encouragement, confidence and a myriad of sly, sarcastic comments. 

Support Our Journalism

If you've ever experienced the joy of creativity and culture, then you know the value of the arts. Your support of our reporting enhances that. Become a Source member today.