On Tuesday, August 9, 2011 I had the honor of crossing something off my “Bucket List” a lot earlier than expected. It was my decision to deliberately jump out of a “mechanically-sound” plane at the rate of 100 miles an hour at a height of 13,000 feet. Thanks to the expertise of the staff at Skydive the Ranch in Gardiner, NY…I gently glided into the arms of the community waiting for me down below.
It is easy to brag about one’s intentions to go skydiving. All it takes is a phone call to a skydiving facility and constant Facebook postings reminding people of the looming day. But the trick is to not flake out or make it almost impossible to cancel one’s jump without facing consequences. I chose to publicize my jump to the community as well as the media and accept a $2,500 grant from Anderson Center for Autism to sponsor my event. But there was something else driving me to keep the date aside from fear of being digitally “tarred and feathered” as a coward on Facebook.
Like so many schoolchildren of various abilities, I experienced too many nights of staring at the bedroom ceiling wondering if the day coming up would be worse than the day that just past. Most of the eccentricities “provoking” the abuse revolved around a case of Asperger’s syndrome, which is the mildest and most misunderstood form of Asperger’s syndrome. During my many speeches to middle school students, I remind my audience that I have not changed too much. I am still as “weird” as the day is long. Also, most of my life has revolved around failures. My life has dramatically changed and people are much more likely to request an autograph these days than accuse me of being a psychopath. But it took nearly three decades as well as a published book with Penguin Group (USA) to see things dramatically change. I will work tirelessly to ensure that someone will not have to go through these extremes in order to experience better days.
My jump was widely publicized as an anti-bullying event revolving around my campaign, “Someday Has to Be Today.” I wanted to do something that rages against the well-meaning, public service announcement encouraging young people to just hang in there and that things will get better. Our intentions should be to create mercy in the present because only two more years of abuse seems like a lifetime for the average child.
You are probably asking yourself the question that everybody wants to know. What does skydiving have to do with bullying? The answer is simple: Absolutely nothing. And this, my friends, is the whole point! The chances of getting killed in a skydiving accident are 1 out of 150,000 and only 24 people have been killed this year worldwide. The statistics revolving around bullying are grimmer with many more than 24 individuals giving up hope in the worst way possible. With these realities in mind…it was relatively easy to jump off the face of the earth as opposed to going back to those precarious middle school years.
As human beings, our natural instincts of self-preservation prevent us from stepping out of a plane with nothing between us and the ground over thirteen thousand feet below – except a parachute that will hopefully deploy as soon as you pull the ripcord. Various scenarios enter one’s mind that probably won’t happen, but could. The tandem instructor could accidentally hit the back of his head on the edge of the plane and fall to the ground unconscious with me chained to his back. I frantically fumble to find the ripcord, as the ground that once seemed so far away is growing more visible by the second. There is also the fear of hitting a bird with such deadly force that its beak burrows into my brain. But I just repeat the rare statistics and know there is absolutely no turning back. The large door to the plane opens and the panic begins. A flying plane is not supposed to have any open orifices!! The man in front of you yells out a sickly-dry, “See ya!” and jumps out of the plane. Skydiving takes what is natural and turns it upside down, which is the ultimate catalyst for fear.
It is difficult to describe the sensation of skydiving mainly because it is indescribable. But it is the closest one will ever come to shaking hands with the heavens. It feels like you are flying as opposed to plummeting at over 100 miles per hour with enough composure to make amusing (but appropriate) hand gestures in front of the camera. I also mouthed, “I love this!” to the camera man who was also falling with me and the tandem instructor. The chute opened as I shot upwards like a torpedo from the shock of deployment. Seconds later, I was floating toward the ground for a soft landing while helping the instructor steer the parachute. Or maybe he was steering it. I don’t remember all the details except a feeling of comfort and knowing everything would be all right.
I appreciated all the families and bullying victims who came out to give a voice to their anguish. It took an exorbitant amount of courage to tell your personal stories for the sake Keep checking YouTube for my skydiving video in October by typing “Jesse Saperstein” on the search engine. Always remember there is an enormous difference between having to fight a little harder for a chance compared to not having much of a fighting chance. My jump and prior accomplishments occurred not from heroism, but when others took the time to understand there is more to me than meets the eye. Always remember that when you take another look at misunderstood individuals…you may give them the power to fly. Furthermore, I am not suggesting you also jump out of a plane unless you have your mother’s permission, which you probably won’t. But try to find your own unique way to become heroic and give others the chance to do the same.