Chris Atkinson is a force to be reckoned with. This mother/grandmother/photographer/adventurer/storyteller, with her waterfall of Disney-princess hair, million-watt smile and mile-wide heart brings everyone around her into her thrall -- including us! It's no wonder that she felt so at home in the sky. Here's Chris's skydiving story, in her own words.
My husband and I live in the mountains of North Carolina, in Boone. Our kids have all grown up here in the mountains. We have two grandkids. One is three, and he is a full-tilt boy. He has a five-month-old little sister who we are so excited about; she’s a doll baby.
My son Garrett, who lives in Winston, had gone skydiving at Piedmont last year. His fiancée, Jackie, surprised him with it. They had really good things to tell us about their adventure. We saw their videos and photos and everything, and it looked incredible. My son said, “We’re doing it again, mom. Do you and dad want to come?”
We were, like, of course we’ll do it. Why not? No way am I going to watch everybody else doing it. I think my biggest regret would be not doing it.
The night before, we had a good time at my son’s house. I felt at ease. I was maybe a little apprehensive, but I don’t remember having a problem sleeping. We had made up our mind we were going to do it, so we weren’t not going to do it. A couple of people from Garrett’s office were going to come along, as well as Jackie, Jackie’s brother, my husband and I. We were about to do something that we had never done before, but we were ready to do it: To chop this off the bucket list.
Honestly, I wasn’t as nervous as I thought. Talking to my son, I felt like [Piedmont Skydiving] was a really good place and he and his fiancée certainly had very good memories of their last jump. Plus, I have an older sister who has actually gone twice. She had really good things to say, too, so I was like okay. I don’t mean there weren’t times I didn’t feel a little nervous, but I felt like I needed to do it.
When we got there, the people were so much fun. I’m not kidding. We had to wait, but I kept listening to the instructors, and they were so funny. They were really good at making everybody feel at ease. I felt like they were having fun, and they wanted everyone else to have fun, too. Also: listening to people come down, I didn’t hear one person say ‘I wish I hadn’t done it.’
It is okay to be scared, but if you are in the hands of somebody that you feel comfortable with, it just helps you feel confident. I just kept telling myself, ‘Chris, you get into a car every day. You do things all the time that are situations where you don’t always know the outcome.’ I felt like the Piedmont guys had proven themselves and I could relax.
Then it was our turn, and my husband and I got in the plane. He was going to go first. Once I saw him go out, I was like…okay! I guess I’m going. Let’s do this.
Josh [Koons], my tandem instructor, was the same instructor who had taken Garrett a year ago. Garrett had spoken so highly of him. Well, Josh just slipped me right over there to the door of the plane and told me what to do. I’m not sure if I remembered everything, but after the initial shock of falling out of the airplane, I have to say it was a great relief. I’m still here. Everything is fine.
We were looking at the landscape; at the river. Josh twirled us around, and I was waving to my husband over there under another parachute. Honestly, I thought it was way too short. You start out by falling, and then you are observing. Everything is quiet, and I was just savoring it, actually. And the landing: Smooth as could be.
As I was looking at the pictures of the skydive afterward, one thing really struck me. Josh was smiling the whole time! I couldn’t see him until we were looking at the pictures. We took our photos out and showed them to my daughter. I was just saying, look! The instructors look as happy as we do. I think that’s what made it so enjoyable.
You can feel that sense of brotherhood [on the dropzone]. They were all loving what they were doing, and having fun. Honestly, I felt that the connections between everybody seemed to be really positive. I can see where it would be something that you could certainly do for a long time.
There is no age limit on doing this. I’m 65 now, and my husband is 68, and it was wonderful.
I like to savor an adventure. I guess that’s my attitude about a lot of things. I like to look and observe. I take a lot of pictures. That’s always been my thing. I’m an observer. I thought it is all going to be over with soon. Let’s just sit back and enjoy it. And I’m definitely willing to do it again.