Just four months after extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner jumped from the edge of space in the world’s highest skydive, many UT students have tried their own hand at the art of skydiving.
Matt Park, a former UT student, has taken part in more than 1,100.
Park, who left school before graduating with a degree in computer science to accept a job with Celeris Networks Consulting Group, made his first jump on July 11, 2009. He was hooked and said he has since completed a few hundred per year. Last year alone he made 500 ascensions and jumps.
The secret to his success, Park said, comes from the job he accepted at Celeris Networks. It was a job, he said, that he simply could not deny.
“This actually involves my computer job, believe it or not,” he said. “The reason I got an offer I couldn’t refuse was because the guy that owns the company I work for now is actually a skydiver. I met him through skydiving, and that’s how I kind of obtained my current job. In my contract I’ve earned with the company, I work Monday through Thursday and then I sky dive Friday through Sunday.”
Park, now a skydiving instructor, said he wasn’t always as keen on skydiving as he is now, claiming that his love for it has evolved through the few years he has been doing it.
"When I first started skydiving it was the pure fact that I could stand at the open door of the airplane and will myself to jump out, was something kind of interesting," Park said. "But I like skydiving for a number of reasons, it's more than just the jumping-out-of-planes thing."
Although Park may be the most experienced UT skydiver, he's certainly not the only Vol taking to the skies. Nick Howard, a sophomore in business management, said his first skydiving experience was a long-awaited thrill.
"I went skydiving in April on my 18th birthday, almost two years ago," Howard said. "I've always been a thrill-seeker and I thought this was the next step up ... you can only do it once you're 18, so I was like, 'When I'm 18, me and my best friend are going to go skydiving.'"
As an amateur, Howard shared that he didn't really have to do much to prepare for the big jump.
"The only training we did was the two minute tutorial where they showed us what to do. I was thinking, 'Is this it? You've got me on a plane where I could possibly die right now and that's all you give me?'" he laughed.
The sport is not just for the brave young men on campus, as girls are also attracted to the nearly 100-year-old concept. Samantha Huskey, a senior in theatre, made her first jump on Sunday, Feb. 24. She agreed with Howard that it was the scariest thing she had ever done. She said she has been scared of heights her whole life but felt like she needed to face her fears.
"Once I got up there I told myself I would do it no matter what," Huskey said. "When the instructor told me, 'You're going to have to walk off first,' it was the scariest moment, but it was also the most exhilarating. Imagine every emotion you could feel, all combined in one."
While doing it for the thrill seems like a good enough reason to sky dive, Park thinks the thrill is only one of many skydiving benefits. He believes that skydiving is a life-changing experience and encourages people of all ages and socioeconomic statuses to try it.
"Skydiving can completely change who somebody is," Park said. "Once you jump out of an airplane and you've been in free-fall and you've accelerated at 120 mph just by your own body weight ... that's a different experience. You're going to have a different outlook on life after that."
Howard and Huskey also encouraged all students to try skydiving. While it may seem like too scary of an obstacle to overcome, each one of them said they would tell anyone who asks that the experience of skydiving is worth the leap.
For more information on how to skydive, visit www.uspa.org/, where one can find all the necessary resources to get trained and make that first jump.