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Want to check skydiving off your bucket list?

By Autumn D. F. Hopkins

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Since the movie "The Bucket List" came out in 2007, many people have begun compiling and checking off their own to-do-before-I-die lists.

Ryan Ashworth, of West Virginia Skydivers, says jumping out of a plane ranks high on many of those lists. He and the rest of the staff of West Virginia Skydivers want to help make it happen.

If you want to skydive in West Virginia, Ashworth says, West Virginia Skydivers is the only United States Parachute Association-affiliated drop zone in the state. Located at Robert Newlon Field Airport, about 6 miles northeast of Huntington, West Virginia Skydivers offers an accessible location with a variety of options.

"For people who are just looking to knock something off their bucket list, we offer a tandem jump, which only requires they show up with a smile," Ashworth says. "For someone looking to do something more than that, we offer first-jump course, which includes a tandem jump. A three- to four-hour ground course, that teaches someone how to control a canopy [steer the parachute], then they do their first solo jump.

"The first solo jump is an instructor-assisted deployment from 3,500 feet. That means you're wearing your own parachute and it is all you, except when you leave the plane, the instructor will pull your parachute and then you pilot your way to the ground."

Co-owned by Bobby Dolan and Carl Bailey, West Virginia Skydivers consists of 16 contract employees: four tandem masters, six IAD instructors, two ground coaches, two riggers and two jump pilots.

There is rigorous testing at each level of certification, including a minimum number of jumps, classroom work, written testing and physical exams. Ashworth says the high standards allow them to provide a safe and fun experience for everyone from the first-time novice jumper to those wanting to gain their own certification.

There is no cutoff of the season; as long as the skies are clear, they can put people out of the plane. However, Ashworth says, jumping after mid-October is not for the faint of heart or the easily chilled.

"Last year we jumped on Thanksgiving Day, but you lose about 2 degrees in temperature for every 1,000 feet in altitude when you ascend. So it gets really cold really quickly."

But, Ashworth says, the jumpers and instructors at West Virginia Skydivers are a dedicated and diverse bunch, "I'm a lawyer; we've got guys who are pharmacists, nurses etc. Skydiving attracts a diverse group of people, but we're all dedicated to the sport. We get together every weekend to do this because we love it and want to promote it."

The sport appeals to men and women both. Ashworth says they get an equal number of both genders jumping, and skydiving cuts a wide swath across socioeconomic boundaries. Anyone over the age of 19 with no disqualifying medical conditions is eligible. Everyone must sign a waiver and watch a safety video before their first tandem jump.

According to the USPA website, skydiving is not without risks. Last year, there were 19 fatalities out of 3.1 million jumps. That is 0.006 deaths per 1,000 jumps. Tandem jumping, which is everyone's first jump, is safer, with a reported 0.003 deaths per 1,000 jumps.

Ashworth says they have never had a fatality at their drop zone. He says even though there is risk of injury, they do everything in their power to minimize those risks. There are the risks of small injuries, such as sprained ankles from improper landing, or discomfort from nausea or dizziness.

He did say, though, that West Virginia Skydivers has had only one person vomit all year. They also had one person faint in the harness during a tandem jump, but the instructor landed them safely and that jumper revived with no incident.

An initial tandem jump with West Virginia Skydivers costs $200; the student course to prepare for a solo jump costs $350. After that the prices drop significantly: student jumps cost $80 and experienced jumpers pay $25 per jump.

Those who want to check off skydiving from their bucket list, can contact West Virginia Skydivers at 304-521-8156, skydivewv@gmail.com or http://skydivewv.com/. The outfit also can be found on Facebook and Twitter by searching West Virginia Skydivers.

Reach Autumn Hopkins at autumn.hopkins@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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