Editor’s note: This article was originally published here by contributing writer Samantha Margulies.
“Did I tell everybody I love them?” Daniel Gaballa worried as he drove over two hours away from his medical school.
He turned into a long driveway leading to a few white buildings. With farmland on both sides, Gaballa and his friends could see the horizon. The Mayan predictions did not concern him at the moment. His world — not the whole world — could end today.
Days before, Gaballa’s classmates had given him persuasive speeches to join the adventurous group. If he missed this experience, he would regret it. He could not act scared in front of girls, he thought.
The 14,000-foot drop made him question whether his last day had arrived.
On November 10, 2012, sixteen first-year medical students at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences (GWU SMHS) drove to Laurel, Delaware to cross an item off their bucket lists: skydiving.
The United States Parachute Association (USPA) defines skydiving as a person jumping from an aircraft using a parachute at some point during the descent. A person can jump alone–a solo jump–or in tandem with a more experienced jumper.
All of the medical students jumped in tandem with staff members of Skydive Delmarva.
According to skydivingmagazine.com, a typical tandem jump could cost between $100 and $200. Videos and photos may add to that sticker price.
Before the second round of medical school exams as a first year student, Joshua Jabaut spent his study breaks watching adventure videos filmed by GoPro cameras. He had skydived before, but the videos made him want to go again.
“I think it puts life in perspective when you’re falling from over 10,000 feet,” said Jabaut. “It cleans the slate after we’ve been studying.”
Jabaut said he researched skydiving venues around Washington, D.C., spoke with skydiving instructors, compared prices and determined where the medical students would jump out of a plane.
While concerns about the price entered the minds of the jumpers, medical student Justin Shafa said he trusted Jabaut in finding a safe place at a reasonable price.
In addition to the jumping cost, many of the medical school jumpers bought a video and photo package to document the experience. “I was glad that I [bought the video and photo package] because I might not do this again,” said Shafa.
First-year medical student Annie Allen said, “I always thought money is worth spending on once-in-a-lifetime experiences.”
A nerve-wracking, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“I was so scared I thought I would pass out and miss the whole experience,” Allen admits. After the Bronx native jumped and started free-falling, “I sat back and enjoyed the ride.”
The feeling of free-falling differs from how a stomach jumps on a roller coaster. Skydivingmagazine.com describes it as “a comfortable sensation of floating and support, with a slight pressure of air against your body.”
Gaballa thinks back to advice from a dean during medical school orientation: “Life goes on when you’re in med school. It doesn’t wait for you, so never let your studies make you miss special events and occasions.”
Some students brought books and notes to read during the day. “Some studied, but I don’t think I did anything productive,” Allen said.
“I felt bad about not studying, but it was my decision all along to relax,” said Shafa.
“I realized if I’m going to take a break from studying, I should really enjoy the day in its entirety,” said Gaballa.
With the feeling of butterflies in his stomach, Gaballa zipped his purple skydiving suit, listened to his skydiving instructor and practiced jumping techniques on the ground.
The next time he would use these maneuvers, he would be jumping out the back of a plane.