Three of us crammed into the Cessna 182 with pilot Mark Blacksher.
Travis Bader and Joe Reinhard left … in a hurry.
I was sitting by the open door, looking at the ground, far, far away, when Blacksher smiled at me and said over the roar of the plane’s engine, “If you see me leaving, you better jump, too.”
That was after advice from Cornhusker State Games sport parachuting director Dan Myers.
“If you do have to leave the plane, don’t forget to pull the ring by your left shoulder and then use the straps to steer,” Myers said with a smile that only served to terrify me.
Blacksher landed the plane softly on the grass runway, over the cornfields around Brown’s Airport in Weeping Water.
Over and over, 25 parachutists jammed their bodies into two small planes and left. As the planes returned, Barb Farrell, the master scheduler and ring master, would call out four names to get ready to load the next available plane.
Some skydivers circled, some seemed to reach terminal velocity, and some, like Reinhard, fell very fast, and under control — looking much the same way you control yourself on a roller coaster.
Reinhard, an expert skydiver who has been through hundreds of jumps, flew through the two wind gates, across a 25-foot-wide, 50-yard-long "football field" with all the markings, and touched the goal line at 61 mph before skidding through the grass on his feet to a stop.
He became the leader in the "swooping," or officially, the canopy piloting competition.
A few jumps later, Reinhard was “Coming in hot,” as jumping judge Mark Kolesik said.
Reinhard hit one of the wind gates and slid across the gravel pit that served as the target for “accuracy,” as skydivers tried to land on a plastic Frisbee after falling 4,000 feet.
Minutes later, Tiffany Polifka, an “accuracy” competitor, landed softly but missed the target and yelled, “Hey, I landed in the corn,” as she gathered her chute from the tall stalks.
Others landed near the gravel pit target, some landed at the entry to the football field-like swooping zone.
"You know, I started jumping because I had a fear of heights and I figured this was the best way to overcome that," Kolesik said."We emphasize safety. The fun is automatic. Just jump and you're hooked."
Farrell would point to her scheduling board, holler out four names to get ready to jump.
“Get repacked, you’re going to be going up in five minutes,” she reminded her husband.
Myers explained the goal of competing in the State Games.
“When I worked to get this sport in the State Games, I heard a lot of, ‘How is that a sport? You jump out of a plane and don’t die,’” Myers said. “You see these jumpers working to hit their marks and practicing all the time. There is timing, athleticism, training and a lot of skill in the competition.
“The competition is keen, but nobody is going to take too big a chance."
As Ken “Sonny” Bader, a lifer with almost 4,000 jumps, and father of Travis, said: “Heck, don’t break your butt for a medal. You can buy one for three bucks.”
Travis Bader explained why he wore a skydiving suit, while others jumped wearing tee shirts and shorts.
"I like to keep my skin on me," he said.
Sonny is a master rigger, too. Every jumper repacks his/her chute, but Bader is licensed by the FAA and the U.S. Parachute Association.
“”We’re a family here, jumping every weekend and ribbing each other all the time,” he said.
Blacksher, the senior athlete of the year in the State Games in 2012, said everything from landing in cornfields to landing near the hangars is fair game for poking fun.
“We’ve been jumping together, me and Mark Farrell and his wife, Barb, since the 1970s, so we’ve heard it all from each other and any other jumpers,” Blacksher said. “You climb to 4,000 feet or so, leave the plane, get in the saddle at 3,000 feet, and land and go up again.
“There’s nothing like it.”