First Person Singular: Grayson Hoffman

First Person Singular
(Craig O'Brien)
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Sunday, July 12, 2009

I was and still am terrified of heights. We used to go to Kings Dominion every summer, and everyone would ride the roller coasters except my mother and me. But people with height anxiety do well sky-diving: That's what I tell my students and myself. When you're up there, you have no reference point. It's all air.

On commercial flights, if I'm by the window, I frequently get the urge to jump, especially if there's an incredible cloud formation out there. On the other hand, I am a very nervous flier because I'm not wearing a parachute. In a sky-diving airplane, if something happens, I'm gone. In a commercial plane, I'm trapped.

As far back as my memories go, I've wanted to jump out of airplanes. My father was in the military. When I was 3, we were stationed near Fort Bragg, where the 82nd Airborne is. Every Saturday morning, my father would take my brother and me to watch these G.I. Joe guys jump out of airplanes. And then, afterwards, we'd meet the guys and run around inside the planes and jump out of them, pretending.

I knew I wanted to be an instructor the instant my feet touched the ground after my first jump. I saw my instructor walking up to me with this big grin on his face. And I distinctly remember being so jealous because he gets to see people experience this for the first time, all the time, and gets paid for it.

I've taken 1,500 people on their first jump. The key to succeeding in sky diving is being able to relax, which is the opposite of what your brain wants to do when you're falling through the sky at 120 mph. I tell my students: As soon as you get out, take a big, deep breath. You have all the time in the world, over a minute until you even pull the cord. So take it all in; don't rush through your big moment up there.

Most people have a perma-grin on their face by the time they land, and I'm the first one to see it. During the week, I'm a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice. It is adversarial and confrontational. This is my release valve.

Interview by Amanda Long

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