June 24, 1994, Perris, California
I glanced at the bright red needle of the altimeter strapped to my chest: 10,500 feet!
I gazed out the window. The roads, trees, and houses blended into one bluish ethereal tint.
Kent, my jumpmaster, told me to put on my helmet and goggles as he began to lock our harnesses together.
We were now 12,500 feet above the drop zone. Two other jumpers slid the door open. The wind chilled my sweaty skin.
I zipped up my jumpsuit and staggered with Kent to the door. Then, I was at the scene I had long imagined — and dreaded.
While the sky seemed inviting, the ground, two-and-a-half miles below, was forbidding. As I got into the jump position, I tried not to think about how scared I was.
Just do it, I thought.
Beneath the roar of the fierce winds that clobbered my face, I heard Kent counting....
“One... two... THREE!”
Suddenly, buckets of adrenalin flooded my bloodstream. For the first three seconds, I felt my stomach surge skyward out the...