Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Bucket List Just Got Shorter.

I have wanted to do it for years. I was going to do it for my 50th birthday and couldn’t because I weighed too much, so I waited. I lost weight (30 pounds) and for my 52nd birthday, I did it. I jumped out of an airplane and went SKYDIVING.

Like most first-time jumpers, I did a tandem jump. This means that I was tied to, strapped to and hooked to an experienced jumper. It also meant that I did not have to worry about opening my parachute. It was done for me.

There was nothing for me to worry about. When I was at the door of the plane readying to jump, there was no time to say “Wait, wait, wait!”, or even think about it. Before I knew it, my ‘travel partner’ and I were out of the plane and free-falling.

Free-falling. Now there is a term. Let me explain what freefalling is like.

Imagine a roller-coaster ride. The ride climbs to the top and then WHOOSH! You are dropping at about 75 to 85 miles per hour and the drop, rarely more than 100 feet, lasts for two to three seconds. Although you are safely strapped in and seated in a metal car, your hands are in the air as you scream with delight; perhaps the longest two or three seconds of your life.

Free-falling is different. Your airplane climbs to 12,500 feet and then you jump. A small chute opens quickly so that you are face down and slowed to 120 miles per hour. You ‘fall’ at that speed for just over a mile, about six thousand feet, and for about 30 seconds. (Want to know how long thirty seconds is? Count it out saying “One thousand and one, one thousand and two”, etc) Also, there is no metal car. Just your own personal cheerleader, riding on your back and encouraging you the whole way down.

Sensory Overload. My arms instinctively spread wide like a bird. The goggles protect your eyes, but my cheeks were flapping in the wind, while my heart raced and my mind went numb! Too much to absorb. Too much to take in all at once.

I looked down and was amazed at how high up in the air I was. As far as I was concerned, I could see for hundreds of miles. The thrill, the excitement and the adrenaline were like nothing I had ever experienced before. I quickly understood why so many make this there sport of choice.

Finally and suddenly the parachute opens. The next seven or eight minutes are spent coasting to earth…..albeit at a much faster speed than I had expected. Most of that time was spent regaining my composure, high-fiving my travel companion and trying to absorb everything I had just gone through.

Jumping with me were my son, Adam and my good friend Randy. It was Adam’s first time too. But it was Randy’s 359th jump and he goes solo. While the rest of us were outfitted with helmets and jumpsuits, Randy wore only a t-shirt and shorts. He jumped first and did about eleven summersaults before opening his parachute. What a guy. What kahunas!

There were other experienced jumpers on the plane, jumping in groups of three to five and doing aerial formations on the way down. What a sight. Poetry in motion…..very fast motion.

Of course, I had something that no one else on the plane had: a disability. I was prepared and the crew was ready for me. It turns out that this particular skydiving location accommodates people with disabilities regularly and they knew just what to do.

They wheeled me out to the plane and instantly lifted me onboard. Their skill, knowledge and confidence made me comfortable and secure. My only question was how would I land? They had an answer for that too.

My legs were strapped together around my knees and ankles. As we descended towards our landing, the ground crew was waiting for me. They were there to make sure that my legs stayed up, in front of me and did not fold underneath me. Smooth and gentle, just as I like it….and expected.

The whole experience was very different than I expected. Years ago I took a flight lesson in a small Cessna four passenger plane. The sense of flying I felt was like nothing I had ever felt before. It was as though I knew just how a bird felt as they soared across the sky.

Since then, I have wanted to try other flying activities like gliding and hang gliding. While I never did either of those, I have gone para-sailing and loved it. It too gave that sense of soaring through the air.

I did not have that feeling at all while skydiving. Even after the parachute opened, we were still moving too quickly to feel as though we were soaring through the air. I did not feel like a bird, but I sure did feel a whole lot else.

You may know or have already guessed that skydiving is not cheap. In fact it is expensive, about $200 per person for a tandem jump. But you can do it for FREE!

There is a new no-profit group called Skydive4free.com and they have affiliated with skydive locations all over the country. All you have to do is raise $500 for your favorite charity and you are good to go. Visit their web site at
www.Skydive4free.com and get all the details.

Do good in the world. Raise some money and do the jump. Then cross another item off of your bucket list.

Participate. Make a difference. Live a life that matters.

Friday, December 11, 2009


Topsy-Turvey. Sometimes called higgledy-piggledy. But whatever you call it, that is how we roll.
On-line dictionaries define it as:

1. with the top where the bottom should be; upside down.
2. in or into a reversed condition or order.
3. in or into a state of confusion or disorder.

Yeah. That’s us. That is my wife and I. I don’t think that we would have or want to do it any other way. Our lifestyle would drive other people nuts, but it absolutely how we live our lives.

We are constantly going, doing, hosting, inviting, including, having, making or participating in something. When we are home, our home is always open and the parade of characters constantly coming through is endless. We are almost always spontaneous and are known as the “Late Night Gerbers.” Yup. That’s how we roll.

A good example was this year’s Thanksgiving dinner. OY!

We decided to do a little work on our home before the holidays and instead opened Pandora’s Box. A little work turned into a lot of work. The day before the holiday we still had painters, electricians, plumbers and artisans all working in the kitchen! We actually had to set up a make shift kitchen on our back patio to prepare the holiday feast. Except for the oven, the kitchen was off limits to us. In fact, the day of the dinner we still had some workers their up until 30 minutes before guests arrived. Madness, mayhem and chaos right down to the wire.

In the end, we had 23 guests for dinner, the house looked beautiful, the food was great and a good time was had by all.

The only question is why? Why would anyone want to live their lives that way?

The best answer I can give is that we both choose to be involved in as much and as many activities as we can. We also love the people we love and want to give them as much as we can. What we can give them is our home, a safe place, a refuge and a respite…..and sometimes a warm meal. We can also lend an ear, share a joke or tell stories about our latest adventures.

Our lives are full, adventurous and exciting. We are rich beyond our wildest dreams in every way that really matters….except for money that is. Most of all, we get to be exactly who we want to be in this world and that is a great privilege for which we are extremely grateful.

Does it come at a price? Of course it does. It means that our lives are chaotic, upside-down, disorganized……Topsy-Turvy. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Participate. Make a difference. Live a life that matters.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


People with a disability are excluded for one of two reasons. The first reason being that they are actually excluded because of their disability. The other being that they exclude themselves because of their disability. Both may be valid. Both may be wrong.

Two years ago we travelled to Paris, France, truly one of the world’s greatest cities. “C’est magnifique!” I loved it and yet, found it to be a very challenging place to travel to. In a very short time we noticed an absence of people in wheelchairs and soon discovered why. Nothing is accessible. One evening we spent over two hours looking for a bathroom. While we found the people very accommodating, most facilities were not.....which explains why we saw few people in wheelchairs. They are excluded because of physical and structural limitations. (In all fairness to France, the government is quite aware of this problem and is working hard to remedy it.)

People, with or without disabilities, are often excluded because of their own physical limitations. You can’t sit in an exit row of an airplane if you can’t walk. You must be a certain height to ride a rollercoaster. You must weigh under a certain weight to go skydiving. All limitations driven by safety and liability concerns. Very valid. Very reasonable.

Less reasonable or valid are those instances where a person is excluded from participation because it may inconvenience someone else. How much inconvenience should one be expected to endure? Having doorways and aisles that are wide enough for wheelchairs. Putting bars on the wall in bathrooms. Modify a workspace for an employee. That is a personal choice or a subject for our lawmakers to debate. Generally speaking, here in the states there are many laws in place to insure the inclusion and protection of those of us with disabilities.

My bigger concern has to do with the countless instances where a person with a disability has excluded themselves from participating simply because of their disability. We know this happens when we see an absence of, or less than representative participation in activities by those with disabilities. This is true in politics, medicine and business. It is also seen in sporting activities, talent shows and at job fairs. The list goes on and on. Certainly there are exceptions, but it is definitely not the norm…..and it needs to be that.

Much of our world has been made greatly accessible to those of us who have disabilities and yet, we often do not participate. Why? Inconvenience? Embarrassment? Whatever the reason, it may not be good enough.

Not participating means not living life to the fullest. “To the fullest” is different for each one of us. But at the end of our days there is only one question. Did we? Did we visit family and friends? Participate in events and activities for our loved ones and community? Did we do all that we could have done?

Did we go to school or work and make a difference in the world? Did we go skiing, fishing or climb Mount Everest? Did we play sports, travel or go skydiving? Did we go to every concert, presentation or event that we could have and if not, why? The world is filled with people with great physical limitations who do amazing things. The world is also filled with great opportunities for those of us with disabilities.

Those of us with disabilities need to take advantage of what has been made available to us. How can we ask for more or better treatment when we don’t take advantage of what is already there? My personal goal is to increase the visibility of disability. When we do that, or when we have done enough of that, then we can expect our inclusion to be the norm…..even in the most exclusive of settings.

Participate. Make a difference. Live a life that matters.