‘Just falling out of a plane intrigued me’
Pat Hedge always wanted to jump out of an airplane. So for her 60th birthday, the veteran third grade teacher at St. Anastasia School in Westchester gave herself a special present --- a tandem skydiving experience last Sept. 17 at an airfield in Lompoc. And because her niece, Signe Bauman, would be making her second jump along with her, the timing couldn’t have been better.
On the way up to 13,000 feet in the small plane with five brave students and five vigilant instructors they would be hooked to during their fall, the educator admits she had some butterflies in her stomach. But her trainer Randy, with the SoCal blond outdoor looks and easygoing demeanor, talked to her the whole 15 minutes.
Then, after Signe and another student jumped with their instructors, Pat found herself sitting on the edge of the plane with her feet dangling in the air. “But it went so fast, I didn’t even realize it,” she recalls. “He said, ‘One, two, three,’ and I arched my back against Randy and then out we went.
“That’s when I closed my eyes, because I wasn’t sure if we were going to flip over or what was going to happen. So as soon as I felt we were steady and I opened them right away, it just was an amazing feeling looking down below. It was a clear day; it was gorgeous. And just the wind blowing in your face. You’re going 120 miles per hour. I could feel all my little wrinkles on my face.”
For a minute they free-fell, but it seemed a lot longer to Pat. She started seriously thinking to herself: Randy, I think that chute should be opening up now. All of sudden, it did. They were jerked back up in the air a floor or two, but it didn’t hurt. And then they were gliding like happy hawks for another three minutes.
The landing was a cinch. All she had to do was hold her legs out until Randy’s feet touched the ground.
“It’s hard to describe,” she says back in the safety of her captivating classroom, which is an explosion of colored apples, strawberries and crayon drawings strung across the room and affixed to bulletin boards. On her desk is a herd of little hedgehogs; on the windowsill, a row of the stuffed spiny mammals, a nod to her name from appreciative students she’s taught in third grade at St. Anastasia School for more than three decades.
Nonetheless, she tries: “It’s just a very exhilarating experience. But when the chute went up, it was much more peaceful at that point because you’re kind of gliding. You know, it’s not that rush as when you’re falling so fast. But you are still falling.”
The Monday after her Saturday leap, Hedge showed her third-graders a video of her 13,000-feet jump, which was shot with a mini-camera on Randy’s wrist. She hadn’t told them anything about her audacious birthday present, because she wasn’t really sure she would actually go through with it. But first she had the students close their eyes and visualize themselves falling at 120 miles per hour, twice as fast as you can go on the freeway, she pointed out.
They were blown away by the weekend adventure of their soft-spoken, kindly teacher. One blurted out: “Mrs. Hedge! I can’t believe you did it.”
During the coming days, she also showed the dramatic video to fourth graders she just had in class, plus older members of the student council. And before you could say “One, two, three --- jump!” Mrs. Hedge had become the coolest teacher on campus.
“That was really cool, and funny. Most people just don’t get to do skydiving,” says third-grader Daniel Purtell. He figures she must be pretty brave to jump out of an airplane. He might give it a try someday, but not now he says, shaking his head.
Daniel’s classmate Sophie Oldham, 8, totally agrees. “She’s cool because she jumped out of the plane, and she was, like, going really fast. So I think she was brave,” before adding with a smile, “and a little crazy, too.”
For her part, Pat Hedge sitting at her corner desk after school has let out, simply offers, “I don’t know what got into me,” before breaking up. “I don’t really like roller coasters that much. And bungee jumping doesn’t thrill me at all. But for some reason, just falling out of a plane intrigued me.”
So would she do it again?
“Probably not,” maintains the seasoned educator, who has never really thought about working anything else after she started teaching third grade at St. Anastasia back in the late ’70s. “But if my niece ever did it again, I might. But I’ve got it out of my system now. I know what it’s like, so I don’t think so. I just wanted to do it and get that feeling, because I’ve always wanted to do it.”