Jumping For Rubberneckers

by Greta Olsson

In the January 1999 magazine Extremz, Broc Bradley described his two bungy jumps, feet first, from a 3 by 3 foot platform 171 feet in the air - 17 stories. Had I read his article before flying to Las Vegas, I would have thought that Broc Bradley was stupid, suicidal, or insane.

By chance, as I walked by Circus Circus, I saw a man hanging from a bungy cord, bouncing softly as though from a rubberband. A mature, well-dressed couple had also stopped on the sidewalk to stare at him.

"How stupid!" I exclaimed.

The couple were in total agreement with my evaluation of the activity. As we shook our heads NO, we went our separate ways, mine taking me past the office/shop of A.J. Hackett Bungy - Las Vegas. Since I was shopping, I wandered into their place, and to my amazement picked up very good vibes.

What I could see, sense, and feel was that the equipment was solid, and that the company was reputable. In the back yard I discovered an 12 foot deep swimming pool - a psychological comfort to me. In college, 50 years ago, I did springboard and platform diving. Today I swim a half mile daily. Gee, I was almost tempted to try this nonsense - a way to celebrate my 70th birthday. But for a short while good sense prevailed.

Then I met Dan Wilson, an Englishman, probably in his 30's, and the father of a 13 year old boy. Dan wanted very much to jump and very much not to. We started discussing the pros and cons.

I finally realized that Don had it set up in his head that, if a 70-year old lady could do it, he couldn't walk away. We both agreed that neither one of us would have done it without the other. I begged Woody (Glen Woodard, the jump master) to let me go first.

Four of us stepped into our own waist and leg harnesses, and climbed some stairs to reach the elevator. We were weighed before and after donning our equipment. It was evening, and the lights of the city made for a magnificent view. Woody told me to sit in a cage-like area behind the platform so he could lash my ankles. I had to take mincing steps to get to the edge.

I felt as though I had heavy weights on my feet. Woody instructed me to wave to the cameraman, to hold my arms straight out, and to look straight ahead not down. I was to jump on the count of ONE. Woody counted down fast: five, four, three, two, one. I didn't hesitate to "dive" on ONE. Doing a swan dive from a platform was old hat to me, but I felt a disappointment that the weight of the equipment spoiled my form. Yet it was thrilling to be doing a high dive again. I've experienced more fear on a ski lift!

An amusing note is that I know a jumper would need forty feet of water below him, not eight. A diver is trained to lock his hands for 20 feet of air space. To have the hands apart, or only the thumbs hooked together, is to risk breaking an arm if you hit the water wrong. I automatically locked my hands. Other jumpers had a tendency to wave and flap their arms like birds' wings.

As Broc Bradley wrote: "My fall rapidly decelerated, transferring all the energy of gravity into the hundreds of latex strands that make up a bungy cord. But in the world of bungy, what goes down, must come up! All that potential energy stored in the stretched cord at the bottom, transfers back into kinetic energy, and rockets me skyward - that's called rebound."

Because a bungy cord is made up of latex strands, it's like a rubberband. One bounces smoothly at the bottom of the jump. There is no jerking of the body, nor any cutting into the flesh by the harness.

The difficulty was in taking a heavy clamp, lowered to me on a rope, and attaching it to the hook at my waist. I felt the heavy metal was really designed for a man's strength. I couldn't play helpless. I was alone, fifteen feet above water, and had to do it myself. Don said that he too found the clamp "not easy".

The clamp's rope was marvelous because it pulled the jumper into an upright position. The group on the ground, and the jumpers on the platform, all applauded, supported, and experienced each jumper's success. To my delight, Don Wilson also did a good jump, although he confessed that he didn't want to let go of the white metal rail at the top of the platform. He did stand moments, looking ahead with one arm out in front of him, and one behind him clutching the rail. His smile for the camera was a bit strained. He was so glad that he was able to leap that he bought me a bungy shirt. He is such a sweetie pie that I want him for a lifelong friend. The shirt says, "Why live on the edge, when you can jump off?"

I liked our video cassette tapes so much that I returned the next day to jump during daylight. The second jump was both easier and harder than the first. I could see better during the day and got more of a sense of height than during the night dive.

The week of December 13 to 18, 1999 brought very high winds to Los Angeles. I feared for my plans the following week: to fly to Las Vegas for three shows and to do my third bungy jump - this time backwards.

The weather might prevent my jump, but the timing of my visit was run by the Hilton Hotel Flamingo, which offered rooms for $15 a night, a fantastic bargain.

It took until 3:00 P.M. to get settled into a 19th floor room at the Hilton. Tired, I decided to secure my show tickets first. I'd jump, if possible, on December 22.

To my delight, the next day A.J.'s was open, and five of us would go off in the wind: two teenage boys, a high school senior, and her collegian sister. The senior said she was there for a class project: she had a fear of heights and would confront that fear. Her sister and I supported her totally. I was so proud of her when she jumped without hesitation. All of us have fear, with too many letting that fact run them, rather than having the fear *and* doing IT anyway.

I wanted to jump with Woody, my former jump master, but he was going to do some desk work and then leave. I was able to question him about A.J.'s spelling of bungy. "He patented 'A.J. Bungy'. I've seen it bunji in South Africa. A.J. really started the sport as it is now. It's his title."

Sections of bungy cables were on sale. They were 1.5" to 2" wide and 8.5" to 9.5" long. The latex strands had no outer casings. A hardware bungy cord with a casing will stretch 100%, limited by the casing. The A.J. Hackett equipment will stretch 400%, a fact that makes for a smooth soft slowing down and bouncing upwards again. A hardware cord, which some bungy companies use, is a much harder, sharper ride. The bounce back is rocket-like.

Mike, who ran the VCR and cash register, became my jump master. He says he's done about 300 jumps - all in Las Vegas. He really stopped counting after 50. Not so Woody, who knows exactly what he has. He's jumping every other day so that on midnight, Dec. 31, he will perform his 1000th jump. He won't leave the 3 x 3 foot platform, but from the top of the roof covering the platform. I sure wish I could see it. Woody's outstanding jumps were from that roof, from a helicopter, and from a cable car in Switzerland.

Back to my jump. After we put on our belt harnesses, Mike handed us a chest one. I was surprised. "You aren't going to bind our ankles?" I queried.

"No. The wind might make it difficult for me to get the rope to you (the one that lifts us to the top again), so I don't want you to be left hanging too long upside down."

Facing with my back to the drop, I placed my left hand on my right shoulder, but found it difficult to release my hand from Mike's shoulder in order to place my right hand on my own left shoulder. I could feel the platform rock in the wind. "I have you," said Mike, but I couldn't feel any pull on my belt.

It felt as though no one had me. Mike had instructed me to continue to look at him and at the platform, not to arch back, but at the same time to push up and off, like a back dive - instructions that were counter to my diving training. I went on the count, and did everything that Mike asked of me.

When I finally looked for the water, I did a somersault in a lay-out position. To my delight, the chest harness pulled me into a sitting position. This technique was much easier than having the ankles lashed together, much more comfortable.

When I grasped the rope after not too long a delay, I found to my horror that my ring had "disappeared". "My God," I thought, "Where is it? How can they pull me up if I don't have a ring to hook onto?" Obviously I finally found the ring - not at my waist, but under my breasts.

"Yes, it does sneak up," admitted Mike.

Since I jumped first, the others got the benefit of my frantic search for the ring. No one aimed for his belt as I had done, an action very appropriate for ankle-lashing equipment.

To my amazement, the third jump felt quite different from my first two efforts. I immediately opted for a 4th try, because the chest harness and the wind were so great. I will return for a Saturday morning jump, when we go into the water.

I congratulated Woody on the new clamp, which was much easier to use than what I had had on Jumps 1 and 2.

"It's the same clamp," he said.

"It couldn't be. It was so easy to use!"

"The same! The first times a person is nervous, frightened, and confused. The clamp seems difficult. Like learning to drive a car. It gets easier each time."

My increased self-confidence showed in photographs I had taken with animals at circus-circus. People usually pose on the ground and show fear before a charging bull. I stood and pointed at him to stop, as angry as I would be with a teenage delinquent. I was the boss. He looked scared. Boy, was I proud of myself. I could actually see my own strength and courage. Bungy jumping had changed my view of myself. I very much liked what I saw.

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