Catching up with Larry Henderson
Larry has been organising world records and amazing skydiving adventures for over 40 years...
It is said that we are all born with two buckets; one bucket full of luck and the other empty of experience. Hopefully, our experience bucket becomes full before our luck bucket runs out.
Well, that wasn’t quite how the story worked for me… With 35 years in the sport, 12,000 jumps and all the Instructional Ratings, my experience bucket was overflowing when I got hurt for the first time. Seriously hurt. The sad part is, the entire accident was completely self-inflicted… I think I scraped the bottom of my luck bucket on that one.
Following my accident, I spent 2 months in a spine shell with a cast on my leg. It gave me plenty of time to level with myself, get painfully honest and meditate upon the question, “How could this possibly happen to me?”
I’d like to share the lessons I learned from that slice of humble pie with you in hopes that it will keep you from ever having to ponder that same question from a hospital bed.
We all have a need for significance and seeking it is natural; it can be positive, productive, creative, it can get you far…. But when it consumes you and becomes “altered Ego”, you are in trouble. You become invincible and bounce proof. You get away with a few stupid things and that becomes the undeniable proof that you are nothing but cool. Allowing my ego to take the driver’s seat took me far—all the way to the UW Madison Hospital Orthopedic and Spine Clinic.
Allowing my ego to take the driver’s seat took me far—all the way to the UW Madison Hospital Orthopedic and Spine Clinic
How do you know the difference between one’s ego and one’s real self? The ego is a hero. The real you is a warrior. The ego is self absorbed, has a need to show off. A warrior is purposeful, productive, gets the job done and moves on. Listen to your friends when they tell you to “cool it”. As Dan BC would say, “Unsafe is uncool.”
People who support your ego will tell you what you want to hear. Real friends will tell you what you don’t want to hear. It’s hard to believe, but real friends sometimes come in the form of a Safety and Training Advisor.
Just before my injury, I was the embodiment of complacency; a lot of jumps, accomplished, tons of experience, and completely fearless. It was a perfect set up. It took a serious accident to get me back to my senses, to make me humble again and to regain respect for the sport. Now I know, having no fear is ok, as long as there is respect. The problem is complacency creeps up on you. Again, listen to your friends, have a mentor.
I like to quote Tony Robbins on this one: “Habits = Future.” It is that simple. It is just as easy to adopt good habits, as it is to adopt bad ones. My bad habit of hooking in tandems almost killed my student and me (Sky God loves me, my student walked away). Examples? Always do ground prep. Have a plan and risk assessment for every skydive. Always check your equipment 3 times. Practice your emergency procedures often. Always have a bail-out plan for your landing pattern, etc.
Work relentlessly on your emotional management and awareness. Never stop, regardless of how many jumps you might have. The more headspace you have, the better you will respond to complex situations. Push your emotional management and awareness especially during emotional peaks: exit, opening, and landing. See my article Emotional Management and Awareness.
Skydiving is a technical sport. Understanding each component of your equipment and how they work together will make you safer. Go deep and learn everything there is to know about your rig, backups, altimeters, cameras, etc.
Every day, all day long, people solve problems; small (should I order a medium or large pizza?) and big (should I buy stock in Apple?). We are problem-solving machines. But seldom, if ever, do we focus on and try to solve more than one problem at a time. In skydiving, however, we are often asked to do just that.
On deployment, you have a stuck steering toggle and start dealing with it. It is an obvious, immediate problem. The real problem, which is not so obvious and immediate, is that you are rapidly losing altitude.
A common line twist, something you have successfully dealt with many times before. It is easy to expect that you will again be able to solve that minor problem. So you push through your hard decks, smoking your hope dope.
Adopt altitude as your most important environmental cue. Think and train yourself until it becomes second nature to always first look at your altimeter whenever something goes wrong.
Find somebody who has been around, of good character, who has their ego under control. It is very hard to figure it all out on your own. I am talking life here, not just skydiving and safety. You need somebody to bounce your thoughts off of, somebody to call you on your BS, somebody to keep your ego in check and to remind you of all of the above.
Always remember there is no fighting gravity and the ground has the final authority. After all, there might not be a white light waiting for you! ;-)
Live long and prosper.