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How following my passion changed my life

Early on in my life I heard the saying that when you love doing something you don't work a single day in your life. I told myself that day, Charles Russell Leone IV - you are going to follow your passion and make your dream the ultimate reality.

Hello there! I’m Charles Russell Leone IV and I would like to share with you another story about my life.

It’s no secret I used to do all kinds of sports when I was a kid. Some of them include small-sided soccer and swimming. However, it wasn’t until I discovered skydiving that I realized where my true passion was.

New Experiences

It was my first day of University. I sat in a classroom full of faces I’ve never seen before. Almost all of us had the same exact look in our eyes. Excited, yet kind of scared. A guy came and sat next to me. “Caleb Smith”, he said going in for a handshake. “Charles Russell Leone IV. Nice to meet you, Caleb.” We shook hands smiling politely at each other. Needless to say, he let out a soft chuckle and commented on how my name sounded like I was a royal. I get that a lot actually. We got to chatting but were quickly interrupted by the professor walking in.

After class, Caleb and I agreed to go and grab a drink at a bar near campus. It was a rather chilly day so we sat inside and ordered two cups of hot, black coffee. We talked about our hometowns since Caleb wasn’t from Texas and it was a huge change for him to move here. We also talked about high school, college, and how excited we were for our first day here at the University of Texas. We actually had a lot in common. We are both good with numbers, and both of us majored in economics but now wanted to major in finance. That’s why we were in the same class.

It turns out, our educational goals weren’t the only mutual things between the two of us.

Caleb loved sports as much as I do. If not more, even. He wanted to be a professional tennis player when he was younger. In his teenage years, he quit tennis and tried to pursue volleyball, but it wasn’t quite as interesting for him. He wanted excitement, he craved an adrenaline rush. And not the kind of rush you get when you are so close to scoring a point against your opponent. He yearned the kind of rush that would make your blood pump through your veins so fast it gives you chills.

That’s when he told me he’d been skydiving for almost two years.

But skydiving wasn’t just a hobby to him either. He was a licensed skydiver.

The way he spoke about it, with such passion and enthusiasm really peaked an interested in me. I wanted to know more.

Skydiving 101

As soon as I got back to my dorm room, I opened up my laptop. I was baffled with how much information there was on it. My research on skydiving took me on a real ride. I even remembered that the first parachute was made by a Frenchman in 1797. The parachute was made from a silk canvas attached to a wooden frame. Even back then, people were intrigued by soaring through the air like birds.

However, the first jump was made right after the First World War. It was then that people started to enjoy it as a hobby or a sport.

Now, people use modern parachutes, of course. And watching videos on YouTube, it looks almost exactly like you would see it in Hollywood movie.

“But Russell Leone, isn’t skydiving dangerous?” one might ask. I asked the same question. It turns out that it isn’t. Although an extreme sport, skydiving is the safest among many. Divers are expected to wear two parachutes on them when they jump. The main parachute, and a backup parachute in case the main one malfunctions (which according to statistics doesn’t happen very often).

As someone who has tried almost every sport imaginable, this appealed to me. I don’t know if it was because it was new or exciting…but I wanted to try it.

What a Feeling!

It wasn’t long after that I approached Caleb after class and asked him if he could take me skydiving. He was already a licensed skydiver and there wasn’t a better person to do it with. We agreed on a Saturday a week from then. I was very nervous and excited at the same time. I could barely wait for my first jump!

After days of apprehension – “Am I going to jump?”. “How am I going to breathe?”, What if I hit a bird?” -, the big day has arrived. As if only to motivate me further, the weather was beautiful that day. After about 50km of road, we reach our hangar. Before I knew it, we were on a small plane, going up to jump.

Caleb explains for a few minutes how the jump will unfold and tells me that we will have 15 minutes on the plane to perfect the theory, and all seems fine now. Although I was on a plane many times before, this was different. Firstly, because it wasn’t your average passenger plane. Second, I knew I was about to make my first jump. 5000ft in the air, I would lie if I told you I wasn’t nervous. Caleb gave me all the instructions. I would jump first, then he would follow. I figure he thought I might chicken out.

He gives me a suit and lends me another skate because it will be cold for me three miles above the ground (and to give you a subjective feeling, I will tell you that the outside temperature drops by six degrees every 1,000 meters). After some time, the doors finally open, and the cold wind engulfs the plane. My heart was in my throat. I thought all of my organs have shifted. My face was numb from the cold wind hitting my face. And then I looked at Caleb on my left and let out a triumphant scream. He cheered me on yelling: “Charles Russell Leone IV, you’re a skydiver now, baby!”

The few minutes we were in free fall felt like forever to me. But I loved every moment of it, it was exhilarating. After a fraction of a second when you really wonder what you’re doing there, every second of freefall is pure happiness. The view is splendid, the earth is under our feet, so far and so beautiful, and I feel a connection to nature and to everything around me. I let out a thousand shouts, ranging from the highest to the lowest, reflecting the range of emotions that I explore second after second! Caleb was right, the sky is now our playground. Everything is fast and yet calm, everything is humble and bright, and the feeling of exhilaration overwhelms me.

I was almost too quick to open my parachute, and then suddenly, everything stops. I looked at Caleb and waited for him to give me a sign and then I realized with sudden onset of nostalgia that this adventure will be ending shortly. He asks me to lift my knees and feet to form a sort of a bridge, and then we land.

The landing was rough but not as rough as I expected it to be. I hit the ground and took 2-3 steps before I stopped. I started rambling from excitement like never before. I didn’t even realize Caleb was just far enough from me so that he couldn’t hear me.

I took him out for celebratory drinks that night. He was so happy that I had a good time with him. Most importantly, he was overjoyed with how much I liked skydiving after my first try. We agreed to do it again the following weekend.

Better Every Time

The day after my first jump, I was so sore. Muscles I didn’t even know I had hurt. No matter the fact I was in good physical shape. But I went skydiving the next weekend, then two weeks after that. Soon, it became I hobby I liked like no other before. It was a rush, it was fun, it was dangerous but safe at the same time. With each jump I felt more powerful than before. In just a couple of months, I could safely twirl in the air. I even tried a couple of dance moves up there.

It got better every time I did it. I was in love with skydiving.

Talking with Caleb one night, I decided I would go contact the US Parachute Association to become a licensed skydiver just like him.

With USPA, I realized there was a lot I still had to learn. Things like proper packing and prepping. Things that Caleb used to help me with, but that I now needed to on my own.

Now, my proficiency card says “Charles Russell Leone IV – Class A licensed skydiver”.

I can’t even begin to describe how proud and accomplished I feel.

To seal the deal, I took my sister Christiana on her first jump right after her 18th birthday. But that’s a story I will tell you another time.

Yours truly,

Class A licensed skydiver, Charles Russell Leone IV

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