Managing Director and resident sound designer Cheryl Cluff interviews her husband Todd Riesen about his failed parachute on his first sky dive, which has nothing and everything to do with JUMP

As Managing Director Cheryl Cluff and Artistic Director Jerry Rapier were sweeping and mopping the theatre on Wednesday afternoon, Cheryl casually asked, “Have I ever told you about Todd’s failed parachute?”

[Long pause.] 

Todd is Cheryl’s husband, the answer was no, Jerry asked her to talk to Todd about sharing it on our blog and the story is below. It has nothing and everything to do with the world premiere of Austin Archer’s JUMP, premiering April 5-15 in a co-pro with Flying Bobcat Theatrical Laboratory.

Cheryl: How old were you when you had this experience?
Todd: I was in my 20s.
Cheryl: Was this after or before I met you?
Todd: I think it was right before we met.
Cheryl: So it was 1987-ish.
Todd: Probably.
Cheryl: Was this your first sky diving experience?
Todd: Yes.
Cheryl: Was this your ONLY sky diving experience?
Todd: No.
Cheryl: Oh, you went again after that?
Todd: Yeah a couple times. I think three times, or four. This was my first time. I went by myself. it was a spur of the moment decision.
Cheryl: You suddenly decided to do it. Did you tell anyone you were going to do it?
Todd: No.
Cheryl: So you did the training and everything, and it was not a tandem jump, it was a solo jump, right?
Todd: Yes.
Cheryl: How did you feel when you were sitting the airplane getting ready to jump?
Todd: Very nervous. I was sitting right on the floor right next to the door of the airplane. The door swung up –
Cheryl: It rolled up?
Todd: It didn’t roll up, it flipped up. And I wasn’t the first one to jump out, there were two people before me – two people jumped out of the airplane over the top of me. And I watched them fall when they jumped.
Cheryl: And where was your instructor at this time?
Todd: In the airplane, sitting right in front of me.
Cheryl: So he was going to jump at the same time as you?
Todd: No, I was on a static line.
Cheryl: What does that mean?
Todd: When you jump out of the airplane, it automatically pulls the chute open for you, you don’t have to do it. You don’t pull your chute open.
Cheryl: So how long were you supposed to free fall before you –
Todd: You don’t free fall with a static line jump. The chute opens immediately. And it’s pretty bizarre because they tip the plane sideways and you step out onto the wheel of the airplane. And so you’re stand on the wheel, holding onto the strut that goes across to the wing, and they tip the plane so that the strut is almost level and you hang onto the strut. And then you step off the wheel and your feet are flapping behind you. And you’re just holding on with your feet flapping behind you (laughs). And you’re supposed to look over to the instructor and smile, and they give you the signal to let go, and you just let go and your chute opens automatically.
Cheryl: Okay, so you did all that, and you smiled..
Todd: Yep. And you’re supposed to kind of arch your back and have your arms and legs spread out when you let go and I remember and I didn’t. I curled up into a ball. My instinct was to curl up into a ball.
Cheryl: And then what happened?
Todd: Well my chute opened and you’re supposed to release these hand brakes, then you have to quickly assess your situation to make sure everything is good, and … it wasn’t good.
Cheryl: Why?
Todd: The lines had what they call a pressure knot in it. It wasn’t wrapped around the parachute, there was a knot in the lines and it was making one side of the lines shorter than the other side. And so it was basically steering me hard into a turn. And so I was just spiraling down. In fact, I remember at one point, my parachute wasn’t above me, it was in front of me and I was spinning around the parachute almost.
Cheryl: Oh my gosh. Wow.
Todd: And so, I was taught in the class if that happens, that you should pull your reserve chute. And I didn’t do that. I didn’t want to release the other chute. I was afraid the other one wouldn’t open or something. So you have these break lines and you pull one of them down, and you turn that direction. And that’s basically what was happening. One of the brake lines was pulled down to my knee, essentially, because of the knot, and I was really turning hard. And then I figured out I could pull down on the opposite brake and it would stop me from spinning, but then it would stall me out and I would fall backwards. Then I figured out that just before I stalled out, I could let go of that brake, which would keep me from falling backwards, and then I’d start spinning again. So I kind of got the hang of how I could control it … and the whole time I had a teacher talking in my ear on the headphone. And at first I could tell he was really freaking out, I could hear the nervousness in his voice.
Cheryl: Was he telling you to pull your reserve chute?
Todd: No because that’s a decision you have to make on your own. But after a while he said, “Whatever you’re doing, just keep doing it.” And so I decided, I don’t know how hard I’m going to hit the ground but I don’t think I’m going to die, so I just decided I’m going to stay with this chute and so I stuck it out and I landed kind of far away from where I was supposed to land. But I was glad to be on the ground after that.
Cheryl: Didn’t you hurt your ankle?
Todd: No.
Cheryl: Did you hurt your ankle another time? I thought you did.
Todd: Nope.
Cheryl: Did you tell your mom afterward?
Todd: Yes.
Cheryl: Did she have some sort of reaction? I thought she did.
Todd: No. I don’t really remember her reaction. Somewhere I have a log of it. I should find that. I remember when I got down to the ground and the pressure was off the parachute, there was no knot. It happened to get tangled up in such a way, that when the parachute pulled, it created a knot. But when it relaxed, the knot went away, because there wasn’t any pressure on it anymore. I wondered if they didn’t pack the chute right … but I was just glad I didn’t get hurt or die.
At first I didn’t feel that bad, but I remember when I was driving home I felt really nauseated.
Cheryl: Ohhhh, okay. I thought you called your mom and she threw up, but it was you who was sick.
Todd: Yeah. It was at that airport on the other side of Provo, the other side of Utah Lake.
Cheryl: When did you skydive again?
Todd: Pretty soon after that. They might have given me a discount. (laughs) And I felt like I should try … I just wanted to experience it without a problem. It was a lot of fun the second and third time. It was fun to be able to steer and not have problem with the chute. Apparently, the real sport is in the free falling – the parachute is just to get you to the ground but I never did free fall.

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