Sunday, May 3, 2009

Taylorville, Illinois

About an hour northeast of St. Louis is a small drop zone called the Mid America Sport Parachute Club in Taylorville, Il. They’ve been there for years and I’ve had a lot of adventures there.

In the early 90s it’s where I went through my jump master training course. In those days that was the first step toward becoming an instructor.

I had already been working for Dave Verner in Sparta, Il as a jump master. The jump master’s job is making sure the airplane is where the student jumper needs to exit and then making sure they exit safely.

The weekend we went up to Taylorville for the course, I rented a hotel room and had planned a study group with 5 or 6 friends. They were due to arrive around 7:00pm.

At 5:30 my buddy Jim showed up at my door. His CRW 4-way team were already national champions. I think this was before they became world champs. He convinced me that I would have no problem with the course and the study group was a waste of time. I assumed he was one of the course instructors. He had no trouble convincing me to go out drinking instead.

Needless to say at 6:00am the next morning as I tried to focus my blood shot eyes I saw Jim sitting at a table across from me. He was a student too and had no idea how hard the course was going to be. I’ll never forget his evil grin.

Like most DZs there was usually a bonfire when it got dark.  One night I noticed a pretty girl dancing around the fire. She was pouring shots into open mouths. Her name was Bridget. Later that night I ran into her at a bar where the jumpers all went. I introduced myself and everything was going great until I found out she was only 17. I was in my 30s then.

I would run into Bridget a few years later. She was running around with Dave Flanell. I remember she was wearing large dark sunglasses. I asked if that was her under there. She said it was. That’s all we had to say.

Dave was president of the club back then. He had a bright red rosacea face with a constant smile. He had a real lust for life. He died repelling into Carlsbad Caverns (I think) when his cable snapped. I think he was scoping out the opening to do a base jump.

I landed way off course at Taylorville once and landed on an old family plot nobody knew about. Some of the grave markers were 150 years old. It was totally hidden by weeds.

It’s also the only place I ever had to deploy my reserve parachute and I have over 2400 jumps. My canopy opened into a violent spin. I was totally out of control and getting dizzy. I never figured out what the cause was.

My 4-way team used to go up there to practice. Our coach was a guy named Marshall. One night, after a hard day of practice, we went out drinking. We found ourselves in a biker bar in the small town. Marshall was dressed in tights and looked like a ballerina. It was a very long, uncomfortable night.

In 1994 the power company Central Illinois Public Service Company was sued for contaminating the ground water. Taylorville became known for an unusually high rate of neuroblastoma, a cancer that affects the brain. It hit kids mostly.

I also found out Yvonne Craig, the woman who played Bat Girl on the Batman TV show is from Taylorville.

The picture is the Missouri CRW diamond record. Jim’s team Quantum Leap is part of this.

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