Diving into the next phase of life

Brandeis skydiving club attracts novices ready to soar

Photo/Mike Lovett

From left: Alex Tynan, Katherine Kolios, Kayley Wolf, Zachary Malis and Sean O'Hare

They had waited patiently through days of rain and wind for this culmination of their college experience; it was a metaphor, they said, for starting the next phase of their life. It was accomplished by jumping out of a DHC-6 Twin Otter more than 10,500 feet in the sky in Pepperell, Mass. Some shared their plan with family and friends in advance. Others felt it best to jump first, talk later.

“I was absolutely petrified the night before, but knew as long as I didn't die or become paralyzed it would be worth it,” says Kayley Wolf, a senior majoring in Health: Science, Society and Policy and minoring in business and music.

Wolf says it is impossible to describe the free-falling sensation. Fortunately, she says, her instructor sort of pushed her out of the airplane or she’s not quite sure what she would have done.

“I cannot recall what happened during the first few milliseconds after I exited,” says Wolf. “My mouth froze and I realized I was falling at a surprisingly even, insane, yet relaxing pace. It was as relaxing as you would expect free-falling at over 120 mph to be.”

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Wolf is no stranger to the sky. She has been flying airplanes since she was quite young. Her father is a pilot.

“My entire family has been in the military except me, because I’m diabetic, which makes me ineligible,” says Wolf.  “They’ve all jumped, so I figured that I should too.”

One of Wolf’s most memorable flight experiences was a two-week father-daughter cross-country trip in their small airplane. They flew from coast to coast, stopping at small airports along the way.

“Some days we flew for eight hours, other days we made stops, like at Yellowstone National Park. We also circled over Mount Rushmore a few times,” says Wolf. “I feel way more comfortable flying a plane than driving a car. They make me nervous.”

Alex Tynan, a senior double majoring in International & Global Studies and business will be working in the field of asset management for Dreyfus Investments in New York after graduation. He does not consider himself a risk taker, and says he carefully weighs options when making most of his decisions.

“Before this, I had not done anything too crazy or out of the ordinary which is one the reasons why I was so excited for this opportunity,” says Tynan.

The riskiest stunt in which he admits taking part is short distance bridge diving, about 20 to 30 feet from the water’s surface.

“It was pretty fun, but it was nowhere as intense as skydiving,” says Tynan. “I thought this would be a great way to start off senior week and I was excited about the opportunity to do it with some of my best friends and roommates.”

Tynan says the jump far exceeded his expectations.

“The actual experience was thrilling and surreal, which I expected it would be, but the overall experience was just perfect. I would recommend it to anyone,” says Tynan.

The Skydiving Club has been popular among Brandeis students since the autumn of 2001. Every year members go before finance board, which funds activities by student clubs, to offset the high price. This season the cost for a tandem jump, which is required for novices, runs between $135 and $235 per jump, depending upon group size. This fee covers the cost of the pilot, fuel and tandem jumper — a professional from the company who is harnessed to the novice. With club subsidies, members of the Brandeis skydiving club paid $110 for today's jump at Skydive Pepperell.

Sean O'Hare is a computer science major with a minor in business. He will be working for a software company starting in June and anticipates staying in a tech-related field throughout his career.

“I am so glad that I was able to take advantage of the skydiving opportunity that Brandeis presented us,” says O’Hare. He signed up to be included on the list-serve two years ago as seniors are given priority when making jump reservations.

“Although I don't get to do extreme action sports like this often, I thought I was going to be more nervous than I was,” says O’Hare. “The excitement outweighed any nerves that I did have.”

Zach Malis is double majoring in business and International and Global Studies. He is graduating this year and will be pursuing a master’s degree in international economics and finance from the International Business School. He hopes to have a career in the sports industry or international business and entrepreneurship.

“I've always wanted to go skydiving and talked to my friends, Sean and Alex, about going before we graduated,” says Malis. “It was on our college bucket list.”

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O’Hare, Tynan and Malis are also members of the Judges baseball team.

Malis says he feels the riskiest choice that he has made so far in his life was committing to study abroad in The Hague for a year, which he found much more intimidating than jumping out of a plane.

“The experience was an absolute adrenaline rush and surreal feeling,” says Malis. “The free-fall was my favorite part.”

Malis says the jump was substantially less scary than he had anticipated and the landing, which had been described to him as the “ground rush” phenomenon, in which the jumper feels the ground is accelerating toward him, was really smooth.

“It lasted longer than I thought it would, which is a good thing,” says Malis. “Prior to this experience I would say the most risky thing I've done is cliff diving, but in my opinion, that doesn't even compare to this experience. This was an incredible feat.”

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