On July 2, Global News reporter Aya Al-Hakim joined the Canadian Armed Forces’ parachute team at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport to try skydiving for the first time.
As I was on my knees, puking and feeling unbelievably dizzy in a soccer field in Shearwater, N.S., my tandem instructor asked if I would ever skydive again.
My answer was a firm “no,” but now, as I look back, I realize the worst part of the whole experience was not the exit jump or the freefall, as I had imagined, but the landing.
And I have my genes to blame for that. Motion sickness runs in the family, and I foolishly thought it wouldn’t hit me because “I’m not on a boat” — boy, was I wrong.
@globalhalifax JOURNALIST DOWN! A minute after landing I threw up like a champ 🤮 I’m the 4th out of the 100 who have jumped so far and ended up being a complete wreck lol I still don’t feel so good. pic.twitter.com/iN59umJX0l— Aya Al-Hakim آية الحكيم (@aalhakim_) July 2, 2019
On Tuesday, Global News Halifax was invited to tandem skydive with the Canadian Armed Forces’ parachute team, the SkyHawks, at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport.
The SkyHawks are Canada’s only military parachute demonstration team. The 17 demonstrators on the 2019 team come from all elements of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) — the Canadian Army, the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Royal Canadian Navy — and exemplify the wide variety of adventurous careers available to those serving in Canada’s military.
Each year, the demonstration team invites members of the media to skydive for Canada Day, and I was one of the lucky journalists who landed this opportunity, thanks to the support of my colleagues, who were excited that I would be jumping off a plane from an altitude of 12,500 feet.
“I’m with the military, for God’s sake, what can go wrong?” I said to my terrified mom as I left for the airport feeling more excited than ever.
But that excitement soon turned into nervousness as I put on the red suit and listened to the instructions.
“First, you put on the goggles, then you hold onto the handles,” said Mike Dwyer, a member of the Canadian Forces and my tandem instructor for the day. “Then, as we reach the edge, I want you to raise your feet and put them between my legs so that we can jump.”
Dwyer has 20 years of experience in skydiving so I felt I was in good hands.
He had a digital watch on that gave us an altitude reading as the C-130J Super Hercules aircraft went higher. At around 8,000 feet, I was starting to get a splitting headache and I became a little nauseous.
“Are you sure you don’t want a barf bag?” Dwyer asked, but I insisted I didn’t need one.
I don’t know what I would have done without my tandem instructor, who kept giving me encouraging pep talks. But despite all his effort during our 30-minute flight, the only words Dwyer heard from me were “OK” and “yes.”
After two others with GoPros attached to their arms and helmets — to capture my terrified face — jumped out first, Dwyer and I were the last to jump.
He said we’d be going down at a speed of around 200 kilometres. The heavier you are, the faster you go.
Our freefalling lasted for about 30 seconds, and all I could think was: “It’s cold out here.”
My tandem instructor said beforehand that I wouldn’t feel cold because of the adrenaline rush, but unfortunately, I didn’t get any kind of rush. I’m not sure why, but nonetheless the experience was amazing, especially after Dwyer opened the parachute, which was emblazoned with a giant Canadian flag.
“Look up — the maple is taking us home,” he said.
That was the first time in my life that I had looked at a flag and felt so insanely happy and relieved.
“This is how everyone should be seeing Halifax,” Dwyer said.
From between the clouds, I saw so much green, the MacKay Bridge, a couple of boats and Halifax’s waterfront.
It was beautiful, but my eyes were getting watery at this point because I was trying so hard not to throw up in mid-air.
“Please don’t throw up. Please don’t throw up,” I begged myself, trying my best to wait until I got to the ground.
Dwyer said I did great, and I like to think I did. I felt proud that I had done something so outside of my comfort zone.
As a first-generation immigrant who escaped from war-torn Iraq with my family, I always shied away from anything to do with the military. In my head, the military is associated with suffering, fear and loss.
But for the first time ever, I felt safe with a group of soldiers — and very grateful.
Derek Reid, a captain in the Air Force who skydived with us, acknowledged that “skydiving can be dangerous.”
There’s always a risk of injury or death that comes with skydiving, and these men and women have been willing to take that risk for the sake of their country.
I’ve come to appreciate what they do, and my respect for them is now at an all-time high.
I don’t think I’ll ever skydive again, but at least now I have bragging rights — and everyone I know will get to hear about my experience with the SkyHawks.