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Stress Levels: Skydiving Malfunction vs. Midterms

Here are two truths and a lie:

  1. My parachute malfunctioned when I went skydiving.
  2. I’ve been on the fastest rollercoaster in the world.
  3. I lost my sunglasses in the Great Pyramid.

The second one’s the lie. Yeah, my parachute malfunctioned when I went skydiving! Needless to say, I survived. Here’s a description of my skydiving experience paralleled with the average person’s experience through a college class.

While the rest of UCLA drove home for Thanksgiving last year, I went skydiving with my cousins. I will not disclose the exact location because people might incorrectly judge and discredit it because of the parachute malfunction, a term very easy to fret about. I’m honestly considering going back to the same place to get a skydiving license once I collect enough money. That place is awesome!

I chose to do the accelerated free-fall jump instead of the tandem, which essentially meant that there wouldn’t be a guy attached to me through this experience. Instead two people would float around near me making sure a parachute is pulled. A choice equivalent of picking a class with an interesting description and a professor whose Bruin Walk review said almost nothing. So you know it’ll be amusing, but the risks were higher.

The day started off with a waiver form.  You know how you think, “They’ll keep me safe because otherwise they get sued”? Erm … it turns out they make you sign something that prevents your family from suing and also says that if they go ahead and do it anyway, they get fined.  It’s like when the professor hands you the syllabus and it has homework, a million papers, multiple midterms, a final and attendance requirements despite a podcast! Drop out?

So I signed my life rights away and made important decisions about what was to be done with my organs if I died. What followed was … well, lecture. Now usually my morning classes (the few I make it to) go like this:

But in light of what I had just signed, I was more like this:

We eventually got to the part where the instructor taught us about malfunctions. But just like the warnings professors give about failing their classes, my brain casually skimmed this information because what are the odds, right?

Well, my instructor later mentioned that the odds of a malfunction were one in five. Fret not, malfunctions aren’t fatal and have EASY fixes. These are NOT defects in the parachute but rather a problem in the way it opens.

Next we suited up, ready to take on the world! Standing on the edge of the plane looking down, I repeated the procedure in my head. Jump. Altitude check. Instructor nod. Practice pull. Pull! This is that moment when you’re waiting for the exam and you put away your notes because time won’t have it any other way. So convincing yourself that you are prepared, you just go for it. Finally, I jumped off. It was like the midterm for an impacted class – no way out! I had to play it out, and I really had to pass.

Right after that jump, though, I lost my mind. Adrenaline took over. I forgot I could die. Adrenaline rush + insanity + imaginary immortality. This is the part of the exam with those short answers that you seem to know all the answers to.

I had the instructor along my side like an open book in the exam. But I disregarded his signs. All I had to do was fall. Gravity was the only thing that was working right now. So I euphorically enjoyed the free fall without a care in the world. This is like when you revel in the effortless parts of the exam and forget about the time constraints and the essay question that await you.

At 5,000 feet above the ground, I was still just chilling, so the instructor pulled my parachute. As I rose, I realised my direction had changed. I was on my own now! Suddenly everything started going wrong. Oh yeah, you just reached the essay and there are 20 minutes on the clock!

I looked up and saw the parachute. I was whirring in the air a little unstably. Cutting the parachute to open the emergency one  was an option but I’d rather have turbulence than crash to the ground so I stared at the twisted lines of my parachute trying to figure out the easiest fix. This is when you stare at your blank page, no thesis in mind. Clock ticking …

I recognized it was a line-twist error and I just had to air kick! The parachute strings were twisting up like a swing’s, and I uneasily kicked the air trying to free myself from the twisted strings. I seemed to make no progress. This is the part where you ramble on in the in-class essay, no direction, no argument, no GPA in sight.

I really should have panicked now. But all I could think was, I know this is wrong so I know how to fix it and I went into crazy-fix mode. This is those last 5 minutes of the exam.

Then, all at once, I was free of the twisted parachute strings. They straightened up and I stopped whirring. The view was great. The controls were easy. I flew gracefully with the wind. This is when you turn in the paper and run out, the grades aren’t out yet but the turmoil is over.

Now sounds from the radio device in my ear started playing. Everyone on the radio call seemed very worried about someone with a green parachute. Someone named “Arusha”. I had a green parachute, and my name is Arushi! Maybe it was because of the whirring or maybe it was just an insane coincidence, I thought. So I ignored them and enjoyed the beautiful views as I flew around in perfect control of my now-fixed parachute. At last, I made my not-so-perfect but still quite safe landing. You passed the exam, just above the curve!

As I lay there on the ground in relief and yet the regret of the experience being over, the radio guy was still giving “Arusha” directions. I later found out that he messed up our names and meant to instruct my cousin who was in a state of shock through his dive and still quite unresponsive while parachuting. But anyways I made it and he did too.

Stress is for times that involve life-and-death situations. GPA and life don’t qualify for the same stress league, so go pet some puppies, get a drink and chill out!

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