Head in the Clouds

| April 07, 2005

Even the “there’s-nothing-quite-like-skydiving” Cox understands that skydiving is not for every driver. “Not everyone has the personality, and not everyone even has an interest; it just doesn’t do for them what it does for me. Some of the drivers I talk to just brush it off as something that doesn’t even need a reply. Others look at me as though I’m crazy. They’ll tell me, ‘You have to be nuts. Why would you jump out of a perfectly good plane?’ But every so often someone will think about it, and you can see they’re figuring out what a rush it will be.”

When it comes to stress, and even fear, Cox rates his road miles as riskier than his sky miles.

“There’s a lot of stress when you are driving. We all know how it builds up as you drive along and people around you are doing stupid things. There are a lot of ways to get rid of that stress, but for me I feel most relaxed when I’m jumping, even more relaxed than when I’m lounging in the sun beside a swimming pool. To me jumping is both the ultimate thrill and the ultimate relaxation. I can take 11 hours of driving tension out of my shoulders just by climbing into the plane.”

“I have no fear of it. I have no fear of being injured or killed. I know it can happen, and so does Carrie. But driving is riskier. And when I jump, I know just how much has been done, with equipment and procedures, to make sure I’m safe. Gear is checked regularly, and reserve chutes have to have been packed within 120 days and meet FAA inspector standards. I have full confidence in my gear, my training and my ability. And I love it from the time I arrive at the airfield until the time I leave the drop zone.”

Carrie Cox wasn’t always as at ease with her husband’s love of jumping out of airplanes from a great height. “She realizes it’s part of me, a passion, one of the loves of my life. When I first met her, it was like ‘Oh, my God, he skydives.’ But as things got serious between us it changed. I told her, ‘I would quit, because I love you. But it could tear us apart, because I wouldn’t be the same.’ She’s fine with it now.”

These days Cox is trying to improve his free-flying skills, working on ways to fall from the sky head first or in a sitting position. “It takes a lot of work to do it – it’s harder and you fall faster – but I love the idea of constantly learning more about this sport and doing new things well.”

Cox also finds enjoyment in the camaraderie among most jumpers and sky divers. “Mostly you can find a group that loves to sit around a campfire and talk about jumping. I’ve had a lot of sky divers who never met me say, ‘Don’t sleep in the truck – come sleep at my house after you jump.’ Most everybody in the sport will try to help newcomers. There are some snobs among experienced sky divers – we call them ‘the sky gods’ – but who’d want anything to do with them anyway?”

Asked to recall his most memorable jumps, Cox struggles to pick favorites. Then he comes up with two. “One was a night jump. That was really something,” he says. “I jumped a few seconds before midnight on a New Year’s Eve, so I was falling when the New Year started. I was falling for 65 seconds before I opened the chute, and I can still remember the feeling – it felt like five minutes. Everything was in slow motion. People were setting off fireworks at midnight, and I could see all these little pops of light. That was a wonderful experience.”
His other favorite was a sunset jump in Moss Point, Miss. “The sun was setting, there were rays filtering out from the clouds, shafts of light, absolutely awesome,” he says. “The thought ‘Thank you God, thank you for letting me be part of this beauty,’ suddenly entered my head.”

Cox says his skydiving passion helps him with his driving, too. “My reaction times are very good, and if you learn to handle problems when you are skydiving, it helps you handle emergencies more easily, I think. You have to use the time you have to avoid trouble or handle a problem rather than get excited about it. Excited isn’t going to help – just make your recovery take longer.”

Cox jumps about 100 times a year now after some slow years. After the early years of jumping maybe half that many times a year, the need to build family finances cut his jumping to just enough to keep his license alive. Truck driving gave him enough in earnings to make his family life secure and begin jumping regularly again, he says.

“It never ceases to be as big a thrill as it was the first time,” he says. “Every day behind the wheel I feel something that scares me, someone in a four-wheeler who does something that could kill me. I can’t wait to jump out of the truck and jump into a plane I can jump out of.

To check out the sport further, use the ‘Net and go to www.uspa.org.

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