Sue Macdonald from Shrewsbury achieved a dream when she took part in a skydive in Lancaster in aid of the MS Trust.
Being a wheelchair user with no movement in her legs, Sue had extra challenges to face when she signed up for the jump. Here she tells us all about her experience.
My MS was diagnosed over 30 years ago. I have led a completely normal life. I consider that I have been very lucky. Although so many doors have closed for me, others have opened.
When a copy of the spring edition of the MS Trust's magazine Open Door arrived through the post, out fell a flyer advertising “Jump in June”. I looked at it and thought I could do that! I didn’t tell anyone, I just phoned the number on the flyer. I explained that I had MS, I couldn’t walk or stand and was also diagnosed with osteoporosis.
The only parachute school that was prepared to take me was up in Lancaster. I needed a letter from my doctor to say that I was fit enough, but I had set my heart on doing the tandem jump. My physio Rachael thought it was brilliant! Rachael is always so positive and enthusiastic and didn’t see any reason not to do it. I would be attached to the instructor, so I couldn’t come to any harm!
Visiting the airfield
Armed with the medical form signed by my doctor James, I went to visit the airfield. There were so many people there, waiting for their turn to jump or supporting those taking the "leap of faith”! There was a buzz of excitement everywhere with little children playing and picnics in the sunshine. We watched people climbing into the aircraft and waited with bated breath to see parachutes in the sky! They seemed to land effortlessly minutes later right in front of us. The atmosphere was amazing.
Eventually, a nice-looking young man in a uniform strolled over to us. His name was Chris and he asked me a few questions like “What exactly, can you do with your legs?” “Absolutely nothing” was my reply! At that point, I began to panic. This was where he was going to say “Sorry, we can’t take you”. He glanced at my pile of paperwork before he said “If the worst comes to the worst, I’ll just kick your legs out of the way! We shall have some fun!” I wanted to kiss him!! If I could have stood up, I would have!
I couldn’t stop smiling. I felt so excited. I couldn’t quite believe that I was actually going to do this tandem jump. I could hardly wait!
Asking people to sponsor me was the hardest thing I had to do. It was the Queen’s birthday and we were invited to a tea party at the house of one of our neighbours. After asking our hosts if it was OK, I produced the first of my sponsor forms. I felt very embarrassed about it, but no one seemed to mind and needless to say, everyone was kind enough to sign it. I went home feeling elated.
I emailed friends and relations and the word spread. The WI, Bowling Club, Bridge Club and the Church Conservation Group all contributed. One dear friend of mine, a lady who is in her eighties said that she would take sponsor forms around our village. Sheila not only got people to sponsor me but also collected in all the money! I watched the total going up on the internet, I felt so excited when there was another email telling me that someone else had given money.
The weekend of the jump
We made the final trip up to Lancaster and the family said they were definitely coming to watch. I would have much preferred to have just taken ourselves off quietly on our own, do the jump and come back home, no fuss, but it didn’t quite work out like I planned. Various friends had said that they wouldn’t miss it for the world. So the fan club came too!
Once at the airfield I was kitted out into a jump suit which was made for a much taller person than me. I had a thing on my head that looked like a pilot’s skull cap with a bobble on the top. Chris attached us together with a harness and various belts and buckles, then wheeled me back to the holding pen to wait for our turn. I felt and looked like a complete prat! But I didn’t care, I was too excited!
The next thing I knew, Chris was wheeling me across the airfield towards the plane. I was heaved on board and sat right next to the door of the aircraft on a bench seat with Chris behind me. When everyone was loaded, about 16 of us, we took off over the airfield and flew through the clouds to 11,000 feet where the plane levelled off.
Suddenly someone lifted up the see-through roller door and a rush of wind came into the cabin. I remember distinctly sitting on the door opening, looking up at a bright blue sky and down onto fluffy pillows of white clouds. Chris told me to hang on to my shoulder straps and the next thing I knew, we were out with my legs dangling somewhere!
Flying like a bird
Looking back now, I find it hard to believe that I literally threw myself out of that aircraft. There wasn’t a moment’s hesitation, I was flying! We went into “free fall” for 45 seconds before Chris pulled on the parachute. There was a sudden jerk upwards, but I had been warned about that. I was still hanging on to my straps! There was a beautiful blue sky above me and white fluffy clouds below.
I put my arms out and flying like a bird I had this most tremendous feeling of weightlessness and total freedom. All I could say was “Wow! Wow!” I don’t quite know what the old legs were doing but I didn’t really care! I was having so much fun! Chris could see that I was enjoying myself and made the most of the wind, doing all sorts of turns and swoops and of course where he went, I was there with him, only it felt as if I was in control because I was in front of him.
After what seemed like a long time, we began to descend and I could hear everyone shouting and waving their flags and banners. I saw a red cross marked out on the ground which I took to be our target. The next thing I knew, we had landed and I was being scooped up by all these men, disrobed of the parachute gear and being loaded onto the back of a quad bike along with Chris and speeding back to where we started from. It was all over. The instructors were repacking their own parachutes ready for their next trip. How I wished I could do it all over again!!
A dream achieved
I felt elated that I had actually achieved something I have always wanted to do. I wouldn’t have missed this experience for the world.
I have got the thank the MS Trust for giving me the opportunity to do it and guiding me through the minefield of paperwork and the Black Knight’s Parachute School for being brave enough to take me on. My dear family and friends who supported me all the way and lastly, but most importantly, all the people who gave so generously. I will never be able to thank them enough. The final amount raised was £5,006.
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