I knew that it would go one of two ways.
Either it would be the greatest, most daring and courageous sporting success of my life… or the NFL would be cutting to commercial because things had gone horribly wrong. That was the mental challenge circling around in my head over and over again — much like the plane we were flying in 5000 feet above the Denver Broncos Stadium as kickoff approached.
Ever since I had learned about the Broncos Skydive team, it had been at the very top of my bucket list. With 15 years in the sport and over 4000 skydives at the time, I had an eager desire to be on the most prestigious skydive demonstration team in the world.
It had all started many months prior when I went to the owner of the Drop Zone in Denver and said, “Hey, what do I have to do to be on the team?”
“You’re going to have to train.”
I replied, “OK!”
“You’re going to have to be here for every game.”
I boldly proclaimed, “Done deal!” And followed it up with, “What else do I have to do?
Then he got really serious and told me,
“You have to be able to land perfectly every single time no questions asked — no matter what the conditions are. You need to have the ability to handle lots of turbulence, along with navigating the crowd noise, the pressure of executing this demo… time and time again with absolute precision.”
Unable to contain my excitement, I exclaimed, “I’m up for the challenge!”
I trained all summer long. Jump after jump. Practice after practice. Perfect landing after perfect landing into the open area at the Drop Zone.
About a third of the way through the NFL season I was given the opportunity to practice diving into the empty football stadium. That in itself was simply amazing. But the real goal had not yet been achieved.
Each Sunday that the Broncos played at home, I sat patiently waiting to get the call and chance to jump into the game. Just like when Tom Brady sat the bench behind Drew Bledsoe, patiently waiting for a chance to show the world that he would be the greatest of all time. (Sorry for the reference Broncos fans.) I knew that one of those weeks I was going to get the go ahead, the opportunity I had trained my whole life for, the chance to have coach ‘put me in the game!’
Getting My Shot
Then the text came, “Hey…be ready and at the DZ on Sunday by 11am…bring your full uniform!”
I feverishly texted back, “I get to jump into the next game?”
He responded simply, “Yep, you’re ready now.”
Sunday came, and I loaded into the aircraft with the other team members. It took off and we had a quick flight to the stadium. The Twin Otter Aircraft circled the stadium for about fifteen minutes prior to kickoff, my nervousness compounding with every minute that passed. There are 70,000 people down in the stands and I know the gravity of the situation.
At this point I’m calming myself down by listening for the countdown call times. The pilot shouts, “Ten minutes!” and then — what seemed like 30 seconds later — he shouted, “Five minutes!”
When he makes the “Two minutes!” call, the plane circles around and starts on its final path directly over the stadium. The green light turns on and the door is opened up. We are good to go, knowing we only have three minutes to land on the field. The NFL runs a tight ship and we certainly can’t be the cause a delay of the kickoff.
The first jumper exits the plane. The second jumper follows right behind. Then the third and the fourth. I’m the fifth jumper. As soon as I’m out the plane, I deploy my parachute and it opens up perfectly on heading.
I scream, “Yeah!”
That’s what I say every single time my parachute opens — “Yeah!”
The five of us quickly find each other and move into our formation slots above the stadium. It’s at this point when we’re up there we can hear the 70,000 fans screaming and cheering! We can hear all the energy billowing up into the sky from the packed stadium below.
Now, what I don’t know is happening down on the field is that at the very same moment the PA Announcer notices there’s five jumpers in the air.
He quickly radios and he says, “There are five jumpers but I only have names for four. What’s the fifth guy’s name?”
The ground crew confusingly responds back with “Uh, that’s Kenyon.”
The PA radios the crew again and says, “Great that we have a first name, but I need a last name to announce him correctly.”
The ground crew chimes back, “We just know him as Kenyon at the Drop Zone…sorry that’s all we have.”
The PA announcer frustratingly says, “All right, I’ll figure something out.”
As we continued circling the stadium we must be very aware of the cables that crisscross the stadium 8 times. We have to be very careful of not just the field goal cables, but also the cable cam cables and we have to dive through them, mission impossible style. If one of us makes a mistake, they’re going to have to hold the NFL game… the thing we had to avoid at all costs.
At this point the first jumper makes his turn into the stadium at a high rate of speed. His setup turn sends him flying across the upper deck and down onto the field at speeds nearing 60mph. Next, the second jumper makes his 270 degree turn and fires down into the stadium as the crowd erupts in loud cheers. The third and forth jumpers do the same, with raving thunder from the crowd. Now it’s my turn and I’m setting up and getting ready. Finally, I initiate my turn to pick up speed and dive towards the crowd.
As I’m now diving down towards the stands at 60 MPH I see a guy with a hot dog and a beer and he’s like, “Yeah!”, I look at him and I’m shoot back, “Yeah!” in turn. I continue flying and air surfing down the upper deck and then the lower deck. Through all the cables and then a quick right turn to go down the field. Like a kick returner breaking through the coverage and finding daylight, I am crossing the hashmarks at full speed.
I’m at the 50, the 40, the 20, the 10, and I just put my feet down…I hear the PA announcer say, “And our fifth and final jumper is… Kennnnnnnn-Yawnnnnnnn!”
Living Your Own Bucket List Life
I know that a lot of people might look at this story and have some unsettling feelings about it — fear, reckless endangerment, or just extreme craziness to name a few.
For others it could be the opposite — admiration. They could see the act of jumping out of an airplane onto the field of an NFL Game as one of courage and boldness.
In reality, the most difficult and bold part of the journey of 4000+ skydives that ultimately led to me joining the most elite skydive demo team in the world came down to a single, very important decision.
This decision is one that I recognize many people struggling with at every single event that I speak at.
That is the decision to create a new experience and simply take the first step towards it. Without the first skydive there can’t be a 4000th skydive. It takes that first step of courage that leads you to the next, and then the next, and then the next.
Our society has never been softer. It’s never been easier to stay safe in your comfort zone. But it’s a trap that you must be courageous enough to escape!
To become the best version of ourselves we must be bold. We must understand that we start out at our worst, but that we can become our best if we have the discipline and dedication. Every master was once a disaster. Think about that again. Every master was once a disaster.
What you eventually recognize with age, experience, and boldness, is that the biggest thing separating people who are living fulfilling lives from those who feel desperate and trapped is a willingness to do things that you are bad at or afraid of. In the process of doing those things, you come to understand that fear is just an obstacle to fulfillment and growth. What’s more, you witness that building a new skill or hobby from scratch is the best method we humans have of attaining genuine confidence.
Now go be bold and take the first step of many in a new experience. You may be surprised where it actually leads you in this great life.
© Kenyon Salo All Rights Reserved.