A need for speed
Sunday, September 11, 2005 7:00 AM
Get in your car, drive down the interstate at 90 miles per hour and stick your head out the window.
Maybe then you’ll get a hint of the thrill that Steve Lawyer and Pat Rounds experience when they jump out of an airplane at 10,000 feet with nothing but 150 square feet of fabric keeping them from becoming pancakes on the ground below.
Crazy? Perhaps, they acknowledge. But it’s the closest thing to flying that any human being can experience.
“We fly our bodies,” says Lawyer, a Des Moines attorney and a member of the Des Moines Skydivers. “You’re superman on every sky dive. And there is such a sense of freedom to float and move in a three-dimensional form that is so foreign to everyone else. Sky diving grants that third dimension.”
Pat Rounds, president of the Des Moines Skydivers, president of Rounds & Associates and president and CEO of Petroleum Marketers Mutual Insurance Co., says he had an irrational fear of heights, and in 1993 decided “to jump out of an airplane and get over it.” His first sky dive was in tandem with an instructor, and though his goggles came off of his head and his contact lenses were sucked out, sky-diving became a near-immediate addiction which he is now able to share with others as an instructor.
“It’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on,” he says.
Rounds has now made about 1,500 skydives, including jumps into Jack Trice Stadium at Iowa State University football games, high school football games, grand openings, parties and other events. Of course, many of those who know him professionally find out about his hobby and “right away they think there’s something wrong with me.” But he has found analogies between sky diving and business.
“I don’t get into a plane without knowing where I’m going to land,” he says. “I think that’s true in a lot of things in the business world. If we do it wrong, it has some very severe ramifications.”
Lawyer first felt the urge to go sky diving at age 16, but those hopes were dashed when his father responded with “over my dead body.” Once safe in the confines of Iowa State as a 19-year-old student, he made his first jump and has been a sky-diving fanatic for 20 years. Both men are now licensed instructors.
As members of the Des Moines Skydivers, or “Couch Freaks” as they prefer to be called, they team up with their fellow enthusiasts to experiment with the art of sky diving. They often spice up their jumps by linking up into unusual formations during free fall or by free-flying head down or in a sitting position in order to descend at a faster speed. They’ve taken a raft up with them and fallen with two people sitting inside and others holding on.
For Lawyer, part of the sport’s appeal comes from the different subcategories of sky diving and the ability to always try new things, which keeps it new for even the most experienced jumpers. He even tries new things at various altitudes. He’s jumped from as high as 19,000 feet. But sky divers don’t open their parachutes until they reach 2,000 feet. That’s 17,000 feet of free-falling, or flying as they prefer to call it. He says they’re able to “maneuver” their bodies through the air, and has been able to glide at a rate that allows him to outrun cars on highways below him.
“I have almost 1,800 sky dives and I’m like a baby trying to learn how to do that stuff,” he says. Next month, he’ll take a shot at base (an acronym for “building, antenna, span, earth”) jumping, which is just that – jumpers leap from the top of a building, an antenna, a span (ie., a bridge), or from the earth itself, most likely a cliff.
But these sky divers – the people who get in a plane, fly thousands of feet into the air and then jump – say they are not adrenaline junkies or thrill-seekers. Lawyer says base jumpers fit into that category. “But I guess I am jumping off of a bridge next month,” he adds.
“I probably have a need for speed somewhere,” Rounds says. He believes chronic sky divers such as the Couch Freaks may crave the adrenaline rush that comes from jumping out of an airplane and falling toward the ground at 120 mph.
“Sky diving triggers an adrenaline rush in your first 40, 50, even 100 jumps because it is scary and not a natural thing to be doing,” says Lawyer.
The Couch Freaks recently hosted their annual Labor Day “Dollar Daze Boogie” in Fort Dodge, an event that draws about 600 sky divers from around the world for camping, food, entertainment and, of course, sky diving. Five aircraft carry up to 250 sky divers per hour for a total of more than 7,000 jumps during the five-day event.
“Everyone has one thing in common: sky diving,” Rounds says. “But other than that, we’re from totally different walks of life. It’s a no-rules weekend where we can go have fun for us.”
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