Doug Garr has seen a slice of life most of us will never know.
Doug Garr is an author, speechwriter (Mario Cuomo), editor, husband, father and skydiver. I know him from the early days of home video where he edited a prominent buff magazine. I have always been fascinated that I knew someone who jumps out of airplanes.
I thought he would make a great subject for DigiDame because he is in his ’60s and has no intention of stopping his dare-devil hobby. Not being the most enthusiastic flyer, I find his skydiving a bit strange. I interviewed Doug for over an hour a few months ago and then read his book, “Between Heaven and Earth, An Adventure in Free Fall” (Greenpoint Press, 2009). It was exhilarating. I was a bit nervous when I read that his parachute didn’t open, or other mishaps that took place, but he is still here.
Here is an excerpt from his book:
“There is something quasi-religious or spiritual about skydiving. I suppose, perhaps because you practice this sport in that great void where eagles dare. I think only those who’ve jumped can appreciate the tranquility of skydiving, which I admit is an odd word to use to describe some of the feeling you get. (Freefall, when the wind is whizzing by your ears, is pretty noisy). I recall an old greeting card I received one Christmas, though from whom I cannot remember. It featured a photo of seven or eight skydivers in free fall, linked together. It was made late in the day, and the formation was passing alongside a group of cumulus clouds, with the sun blinking though them spraying I-beam-shadows. The picture was so captivating, so magnetic. If you are a skydiver, you’re thinking, that’s a nice place to be. The caption read, “Peace Is Where You Find It.”
Even though I took a lot of notes during my interview with Doug, I also find his words in the “Afterword” for the new edition of his book (that he is working on right now) extremely profound.
“I know that I will continue to skydive until I’m either physically incapable, or dead, whichever comes first. Today, it is not uncommon for skydivers to remain active in their seventies and eighties. I received two traditional awards from the United States Parachute Association, the gold wings for a thousand free falls, and another for achieving half a day in free fall (the 12-hour badge). I managed to view the earth under a parachute at drop zones in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Jersey, California, Connecticut, Florida, and Texas.
“What has been more satisfying has been my group jumps with my peer group – the Skydivers Over Sixty (or, “SOSers,” as we call ourselves) – where we get together every so often to share the air as well as jump stories. Each April we assemble in California to try for a world record age group formation. It is currently 60, and I have been in one that was larger (but not a record because it was not completed), and these have been among my most memorable skydives. The 60-way has stood since 2012. On the East Coast, a group of elders are always getting together on weekends when the weather cooperates, and some of us even still air it out during the winter when it is not too chilly. In the warmer months we schedule state record free fall formation jumps – usually in Pennsylvania and New Jersey – where we’ve had as many as 34 linked in a web-like design. These are modest achievements among us gray hairs, and we do it as much for the bonding as for the bragging.
“One of the great mysteries of life is that – for most of us, anyway — we have no real clue how it is going to end. For some it is early and sudden; for others it is after many years and quite peaceful. Skydiving reminds me of this. Each of us in some way must live on the brink, to live life in full. If I’ve done an inadequate job of trying to explain why we do it, then it is because I am still tussling with the language, still batting thoughts around as my time on earth diminishes.
“I know that soon I will have to plan my own ash dive. I want my remains to flutter through the cool skies on a clear day, the sun drifting toward the horizon on perhaps the last lift that we call the sunset load. It would be nice if there were many people on the manifest that I’ve known or jumped with. But everyone will be welcome because those who have had the unique experience of free fall will in some way always be part of my family.
“My life’s philosophy: Live every day like you may die tomorrow. Because one day you’ll be right.”
Doug’s skydiving places: “Free Fall Adventures” — Williamstown, N.J. “Sky’s The Limit” — East Stroudsburg, Pa. and “Skydive The Ranch” — Gardiner, N.Y. These are the three places I normally jump at. There are others, “Connecticut Parachutists, Inc.” — Ellington, CT. and “Jumptown” — Orange, MA.