Editor’s note: In Who’s That Aggie?, The California Aggie finds a student on campus and investigates their background and experiences at UC Davis.
When junior computer science major Joey Fusco walks into a room, the energy shifts in his favor. He moves quickly and speaks even swifter. Fusco sports a slight smudge on the right shoulder of his shirt and a greenish bruise on the inside of his right arm as he extends his hand to shake.
“People never guess that I do what I do,” Fusco said. He leans back in his chair with both hands now resting behind his head. “It’s usually not until they see my Facebook that they find out that I skydive.”
In fact, Fusco is an avid skydiver. In his three years practicing what he calls a sport, Fusco has taken over 500 jumps.
The allure began in a civics class during Fusco’s senior year of high school. His teacher, Mr. Gissell, informed those interested to meet at the school parking lot the Monday after graduation and he’d provide them the directions to the nearest drop zone.
“Mr. Gissell had gone skydiving once and at the end of the year he’d always give a plug for it in his last class,” Fusco said. “This occurred literally the last minute and a half of my high school career.”
Fusco considered skydiving once before. He had wanted to go for his 18th birthday, but his parents weren’t having it, Fusco said. But when that Monday morning after graduation came, little did he know he’d be receiving a belated gift.
“As my friends were headed to the school, they decided to pick me up. They were much more gung-ho about skydiving than I was,” Fusco said. “We just told my parents we were going to the Apple store in Santa Rosa.”
The drop zone was located at the Parachute Center in Lodi, CA, about an hour and a half away from Fusco’s hometown in Sonoma County.
“One of the first things I remember is the harness,” Fusco said. “It’s a big, bulky, rough harness, much different than the ones you get when rock climbing.”
Not knowing what to expect, the plane itself also served as a surprise.
“It was big,” Fusco said. “Not like commercial big, but as big as a little plane could get. It could fit about 30 people.”
He holds boarding the plane as one of his most vivid sensations ever.
“You walk right behind the prop, and it’s really windy, and it’s already hot from standing on the tarmac,” Fusco said. “You can smell the Jet A fuel because it burns so rich and it’s really hot. At this point, I couldn’t help but think to myself, ‘I might have gotten in too deep.”
As the jump approached, so did the anxiety. “It’s weird because you feel nervous in spurts,” Fusco said. “The tandem instructors, while going over the procedures and giving advice, are always joking with the group and teasing. It doesn’t allow you to be scared or nervous the entire time.”
Fusco described the plane flying a pattern and looping right above the drop point.
“They threw the doors up, and all of a sudden there was this large gaping hole on the side of the plane,” he said. “You feel the turbulence and intense winds in a way that can’t be described in words.”
As each person jumped, there was a certain sensation that brushed through the plane, Fusco said.
“It was similar to putting your hand out the window of a fast moving car,” he said. “Within two seconds, the person before you goes from someone smashed against your face in a line to this dot that’s falling below. It’s the one second you have to be like, ‘Oh my God!’”
Joey’s eyes grew wide as he discussed his first jump. “That rock back – ready, set, go – moment is a moment I’ll never forget,” Fusco said. He rocked in his chair with a big grin. “You expect the anxiety to continue when you finally jump out there, but it’s all left in the plane. When I finally jumped, there was both a sense of calmness and sensation that came over my body. It was pure euphoria!”
Six months later, he went on another jump before deciding he wanted to take official courses.
“I thought it could just be a cool hobby. Never did I think it would become a full-fledged addiction,” Fusco said.
When describing what keeps him coming back for more, Fusco couldn’t help but to mention the many friends he’s met during his three years skydiving.
“It fast-tracks your friendship,” he said. “No matter how much you skydive, there’s a rush every time that only a skydiver would understand. My closest friends understand that. You feel the tension together, so you inherently have something to talk about.”
Sandra Bond is one of those friends. “Joey is very influential,” Bond said. “He’s definitely the most influential person I’ve ever jumped with. He has a certain air about him that makes everything okay.”
Another friend, Chase Wilhelm, said he and Fusco have had some of their best skydives together. “I couldn’t imagine sharing those moments with anyone else,” Wilhelm said.
Fusco has skydived in various places throughout California, but the Parachute Center remains his favorite.
“I’ve even been to Skydance here in Yolo County, but I find that the pricing is much better at the Parachute Center,” he said. “Tandems run for only $100, plus the guy who owns the place has the most accumulated freefall time in history! That’s pretty cool.”
Unlike many sports, there are no characteristics for a prototypical skydiver according to Fusco.
“Having an open mind is pretty much the only requirement,” he said. “There’s such a diverse group, from accountants and professionals to people in the military.”
Fusco said he has no definite post-graduation plans, but he is looking forward to working as a tandem jump instructor over the summer.
He concluded the skydiving talk in a Mr. Gissell sort of way.
“If I could suggest one activity in life, it would be skydiving,” he said. “People should understand that it’s not inherently dangerous. It’s a sport for me. Some people go horseback riding; I happen to jump out of planes.”
ISAIAH SHELTON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.