During free time, many students at Auburn engage in typical college pastimes. From bowling at AMF Lanes to hiking up a trail at Chewacla State Park, there are many activities accessible to students in the Auburn-Opelika area.
For Ashley George, junior in rehabilitation and disability studies, these recreational activities were not enough. Her story began in January 2019 when George was gifted a tandem skydive for her birthday.
“Growing up, I wouldn’t even get on a roller coaster,” George said. “I was always kind of a wuss, so my dad thought it would be funny to get me a tandem skydive for my birthday. He didn’t think for a second that I would go, but I did. I fell in love as soon as my feet left the door of the plane.”
Since her first fateful jump, George continued her skydiving experiences at a facility known as Skydive the Farm in Cedartown, Georgia, and has completed 113 jumps to date. Her first jump was tandem — a type of skydiving where a student skydiver is harnessed to an instructor skydiver — but now only jumps solo.
“My favorite part of every skydive is leaving the plane,” George said. “The second you leave the plane, you are completely in the moment. Everything stops, and the only thing to focus on or think about is the fact that you're falling through the sky. It’s honestly a surreal feeling.”
George typically jumps at an altitude of 14,000 feet but has also completed jumps at night from 7,000 feet and a hot air balloon jump from around 5,000 feet.
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When comparing skydiving to roller coasters, George insisted that the two were completely different sensations.
“You don’t actually feel like you’re falling at all, which was a huge fear of mine going into skydiving,” George said. “There really isn’t a ‘stomach drop’ feeling at all. It just feels really free.”
After completing over 100 jumps, George recalled her first-ever jump.
"I think the most memorable jump for me was my first ever skydive just because I had no idea how much it would change my life,” she said. “I just felt so alive and so free and I knew from then that skydiving was going to become a big part of my life.”
George recounted another memorable jump on Halloween weekend in 2020 during which she skydived at night and jumped from a hot air balloon.
“It was my first time ever riding in a hot air balloon and it was so beyond cool sitting up on the side of the basket and just looking down while getting ready to go,” George said. “It was a lot different than jumping out of a plane. When you get in the door of the plane and exit, it’s really windy and loud, but the hot air balloon was almost completely silent.”
George joked that she has never landed in a hot air balloon on account of her hobby.
Another jump George completed that weekend called a ‘wingsuit rodeo’ required one person in a wingsuit — a one-piece suit with ‘wings’ that aids an individual in gliding while falling — and another person to ride on his or her back.
“That jump was so awesome,” she said. “I felt like I was on a real-life magic carpet ride.”
George also participated in a 'Mr. Bill jump' where two skydivers jump from a plane, one holding on to the other’s chest strap and wrapping their legs around the other person. Following this, a canopy deploys and the person holds on for a few seconds before letting go into freefall.
“A Mr. Bill was something I had wanted to do since starting skydiving, and it was surreal to actually do one,” George said. “That whole weekend was such a blast and I couldn’t ask for a better community of people to jump with and learn from.”
George said she plans on eventually becoming a skydiving instructor herself to help spread the joys of skydiving to others.
“Skydiving has changed my mindset and outlook on life completely,” George said. “More than anything, [skydiving] has shown me the value in facing your fears. Fears are a given in life, but I think we can use them to either push us forward or hold us back. They hold us back from reaching our full potential and stepping out of our comfort zones, but when we embrace fear and push through it, the rewards are priceless.
George urged others to skydive, expressing how life-changing the experience can be.
“I think skydiving is something everyone should definitely try at least once,” she said. “It’s an unbelievable experience. Skydiving has taught me to feel the fear but take the leap anyway. It makes you feel like you can do anything.”
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