Issue: December, 2005
Author: Mary Angell
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Defying the Law of Gravity
One balmy afternoon last September, two Laramie attorneys braved the law of gravity by jumping out of a plane and parachuting 12,500 feet to the ground.
“It was the coolest 56 seconds of my life,” mediator Amy Jenkins said of her free fall. “It was really a celebration and affirmation of life and birthdays and may there by many more.”
Jenkins and her friend Becky Lewis, a sole practitioner and Bar Counsel for the Wyoming State Bar, went skydiving to mark Lewis’ 50th birthday. Together, they talked about their experience and what it meant to them with the Wyoming Lawyer.
“It was way cooler than I thought it would be,” Lewis said. “And when I say this is the coolest thing I’ve ever done, I have a lot to compare it with.” Lewis has ridden an elephant through the jungles of Thailand, sailed up the coast of Malaysia, dived off the Great Barrier Reef. Even so, she wanted to free fall.
“I’ve been on a glider and in a balloon. I wanted not to fly or float. I did it to feel what it feels like to fall,” she said. “My fear was when we were done, we were going to say, ‘Shoot, that wasn’t enough,’ but we free fell for 56 seconds.”
“It was an amazingly long time. It seemed to go on and on,” a wide-eyed Jenkins broke in, admitting that she panicked to the point of using uncharacteristically colorful language before she urged the instructor to pull the chord.
The women reached a maximum speed of 144 miles per hour during their jump, twisting and flailing horizontally to the sound of the rushing air until the opening of the chute brought a “wonderful change of orientation and sound,” Jenkins said. Accompanied by skydiving instructors—or tandem masters—their exhilarating jump ended with a safe landing. They immediately found a patch of grass by the side of the road and uncorked a bottle of Dom Perignon to toast 50 years of living and living large. Lewis donned a birthday crown and fairy wings, which she unabashedly wore into the restaurant afterward.
Friends for about ten years, Jenkins met Lewis while mediating one of her cases. They got to know each other better through a mutual friend, Kathy Hunt—also a Wyoming attorney. Together, the three women vowed to celebrate milestone birthdays with extraordinary experiences. They marked Hunt’s 50th with hot air ballooning over Steamboat.
Although Hunt was unable to skydive with her friends due to a back injury, she accompanied them on the trip and enjoyed being part of the experience, said Jenkins. She added if Hunt obtains medical clearance to skydive, she’ll accompany her in a heartbeat.
“I fully expected I would say, ‘been there, done that, don’t need to do that again,’ but I want to do it again,” she said.
“I would do it again; I just don’t have the need to do it again,” said Lewis. “I just wanted to do it once.”
Lewis had already survived another, more frightening experience that she definitely wouldn’t want to repeat. About eight years ago, she was diagnosed with a life-threatening condition that necessitated a complete bone marrow transplant. She received four chemotherapy treatments a day prior to the surgery.
“When I got sick in 1997, those two (Hunt and Jenkins) were wonderful. They flew out (to Seattle) and I was bald as a top. I wore a wig. Everyone said, ‘'You look really bad. Take it off.’ And then they got jealous because everyone was looking at me,” Lewis said lightly. “So Amy streaked her hair blue. And Kathy punked hers straight up. So when we were walking around, everyone would stare at all of us.”
“Now those are friends,” Lewis said.
One might assume the illness sparked her desire to live large, but that wasn’t the case.
“We didn’t say when Becky was sick, ‘We’re going to skydive.’ She had always wanted to do it,” Jenkins said. “To her this was a minor blip on the radar, an inconvenience she had to get through because we had other things to do.”
”I would have done the skydiving at some point whether I had been sick or not,” Lewis said. “I’ve always embraced life. We did all that kind of stuff before. I enjoy it way more because I came close to never enjoying it again. I’ve always been, ‘Don’t wait until you’re retired, don’t wait for someday.’” Now I think I have an ability to enjoy things like that more intensely than people who have never gone through a serious illness. I truly don’t think they can.”
“Me, I was more of the attitude ‘Do it when you retire, when the kids are older ….’” said Jenkins. “Now I appreciate things more, embrace life more. It caused me to say, ‘We need to celebrate every chance we can, to be silly and sit by the side of the road with a halo and wings and drink Dom Perignon. It really did focus the importance of embracing life and not waiting for celebrations of birthdays and friendship. When you get that close to losing someone, you don’t want to miss a chance to celebrate.”
“You can find yourself caught up in the business of life,” she said. “The logistics of life can be consuming. The idea is not just to live but make the most of your life, surrounding yourself with friends and people who support you.”
As she and Lewis reminisced about their skydiving experience, Jenkins came up with just one downside to it.
“My 50th is coming up in a couple of years,” she said. “How do you top that? I don’t know anything on my life list that would come anywhere near it.”
Mary Angell is a freelance writer from Cheyenne, Wyoming, and a frequent contributor to the Wyoming Lawyer.
Copyright © 2005 – Wyoming State Bar