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The Story about the Cover
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A few years ago I was hired by the Australian Parachute Federation to teach two courses, one on Advanced Parachute Aerodynamics and the other on the Psychology of Fear. After the conference, I was invited to make a jump onto a tiny sandbar in the Great Barrier Reef. I accepted the opportunity immediately, but unfortunately had to borrow a parachute from a friend, as I did not have one with me at the time. 18 of us put our gear together, including food, water, and a minuscule inflatable water buoy in case we missed the island. Right.

The island, we were told, was not always there. It was swallowed up by the ocean during high tide, but no worries, they said, a boat was coming to pick us up. It was a dive boat that would bring us snorkeling gear so that we could see the reef after we landed on the island. If we landed on the island, that is. If we missed, we were most obviously screwed.

The small jump plane from the local dropzone could only hold 9 of us at a time. We took off from a small airport in Cairns, and headed east. The Australian coast line retreated into the distance, as we headed further out to sea. The land was a faint line on the horizon when our host and organizer, Crazy Charlie or something, pointed down to a tiny spec of white sand surrounded by miles and miles of emerald water. We were in fact, 11 miles from shore. This was what skydivers call “hero or zero”.

The jump run was at 13,000 feet. It took everything I had as a human being to continue breathing normally. My body wanted to curl up into a little ball. My palms were sweaty. Over and over I took a deep breath, held it for a second, and then let it out slowly, relaxing all of my muscles and leaning back against the jumper behind me.

Then the call came out: “two minutes!” I touched all my handles one last time, verifying that they were in the proper position and secure. I made sure the digital Elph camera that I had tied to my chest strap was not going to interfere with the operation of my parachute system, and that I would be able to easily take it out once I had deployed. Then we exited into the blue-green heaven.

It took me almost a full minute to pull the camera out and tighten the strap around my wrist. I realized that if I simply took a picture of the reef from this altitude, it wouldn’t be all that impressive. If, on the other hand, I just took the shot of me, none of the radiant colors below would be in the frame. Recognizing immediately what I needed to do, I grabbed hold of the rear riser strap on the left side of the parachute. Extending my right arm away from my body, I initiated and aggressive left turn that inverted me almost entirely and I clicked the shutter.

I took several shots like this. Ironically, and not beyond explanation, I actually was pushing the on-off button on the camera rather than the shutter. Somehow, magically, I managed to take one shot, and one shot only. This picture is on the cover of the book.

I set myself up carefully, 90 degrees from the island, gradually awaiting the initiation altitude for my hook turn to final approach. At just under 600 feet I started a hard diving turn away from the island, 270 degrees around back to face the sand. I was traveling at over 60 miles per hour when I leveled off over the waves, so I was able to drag my feet in the water on the way up the sandy beach. I ran out the landing, and cheered as the others followed, one by one, all landing safely on this miniature beach continent.

The boat didn’t show up right away, giving us an hour bask in the light of our achievement. We felt ship-wrecked, but with the promise of a rescue. I guess that is the best part of being marooned on a desert island anyway. When the boat finally did arrive, they brought the snorkeling gear, as promised. I put on my mask and fins and set out for the reef.

Whatever you have heard about this awesome spectacle pales in comparison to the actual experience of floating in the birthplace of life on our planet. The tremendous diversity of life is staggering, and if I did not need to keep my snorkel in my mouth, my jaw would have dropped. It was incredible.

In addition to the 17 other skydivers, some fifty scuba-tourists were also in the water. Not one to take the road most traveled, I swam away from the others, out into the open water. I had hoped to see a sea turtle, since we had already spotted one from the island prior to our pick-up.


Then, in the distance, I saw a shape. It was an adult turtle, slowly swimming about five feet below the surface. I swam with an undulating motion, emulating the movements of other aquatic mammals, matching speed and heading with the turtle. I didn’t want to alarm him, I just wanted to get a closer look at one of nature’s most ancient creatures.

At first he changed his heading slightly away from me. I understood his concern; I must have looked very strange to him, with my pink skin and a horn sticking out of my head. He didn’t know if I was friend or foe. So I swam beside him, gradually closing the distance between us. Eventually I was able to move into formation with him, and we made eye contact for several seconds. He must have realized that I was harmless, like billions of other inhabitants of the reef. He even let me reach out with my left hand and dock on his shell, swimming together in perfect unison.

None of this would have been possible if I had not dealt with my body’s impulse to contract, nor my mind’s repellant thinking. This is exactly why I wrote Transcending Fear. When we plan out our steps carefully and remain calm, our bravery is greatly rewarded. The steps to freedom are steep, but invariably worth the effort.  

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