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Your lifestyle, your quirk
Skydiving is scary. Skydiving from the stratosphere is really f’in scary. For “Fearless Felix” Baumgartner, however, it was just an awesome way to end his skydiving career.
In all honesty, I had no idea what was going down – or up, actually – on Sunday until a friend who was over logged on to the computer and asked, “Did you hear about the jumper?”
We ended up watching the live video streaming on YouTube, along with more than 7 million other people, of Baumgartner ascending in a tiny pod being carried by a 55-story-high helium balloon to 128,097 feet – approximately 24 miles above Earth.
The camera showed Baumgartner’s back as he sat nearly motionless, seemingly just staring out the window at the land far below him. What I wouldn’t give to know what was going through his head.
Occasionally, the camera cut back to Baumgartner’s team, which included individuals ranging from his terrified-looking mother and girlfriend to Joe Kittinger, one of the very few people on this planet brave/crazy enough to attempt anything like what Baumgartner was doing. Kittinger attempted to break the sound barrier in 1960 by jumping 19.5 miles above ground; he reached speeds of 614 miles per hour.
Kittinger assured Baumgartner throughout the ascent, telling him, “Everything is in the green. Doing great,” and “Our guardian angel will take care of you.”
Understandably, Baumgartner didn’t say much throughout the ascent. I kept moving my face closer and closer to the screen, trying to tell if he was shaking. How could he not be? But if he was, his spaceman-looking jumpsuit did not show it.
I stood there, sipping my coffee and holding my 10-month-old daughter on my hip, while I watched in complete disbelief as the door to the pod slid open and Baumgartner scooted to the edge. He moved his feet forward and out of the pod and grabbed the railings to pull himself up. He stood like that for a moment before offering a thumbs-up to the camera and, without any gusto, simply let go and fell forward.
I had to put my coffee down. I couldn’t help gasping and moving my daughter to my chest so I could fully hug her. I remember saying, “I feel like I’m watching someone’s suicide.” My stomach was in knots.
I couldn’t look away.
I watched Baumgartner’s body falling motionless. It almost looked like he was floating, but the speedometer and time ticker on the top of the screen assured that he was not only falling – he was falling perhaps faster than any other human ever had. His speed reached more than 720 MPH, and he free fell for more than 4 minutes. Four minutes! Of falling!
When his parachute finally opened, I finally breathed out and picked my coffee back up. My eyes were still glued to the screen, but I felt like he was safe if he got to this point, as he has clearly done a few skydives in his life.
Within minutes, Baumgartner glided to the ground in a very smooth landing in the white sands of New Mexico…it seemed impossibly easy after what he had just done. I couldn’t believe his legs worked! Baumgartner raised his arms in victory and was almost immediately surrounded by crewmembers to make sure he was okay.
What’s next for this extremist? Perhaps the biggest challenge he’s ever faced – settling down. Baumgartner promised this would be his last jump, and he will be settling down with his girlfriend and get a steady job. Of course, settling down and getting a regular job for Baumgartner is a bit different than it may be for you and I. He plans to fly helicopters on mountain rescue and firefighting missions in the U.S. and Austria.
As a mom, I must saym “Shame on you!” to Baumgartner for, no doubt, scaring the living daylights out of his poor mom, but as an extremely impressed onlooker, I must join the rest of the world and also offer a well deserved “Congratulations!”