The following article is from the January 1999 Kiwanis magazine.
When the Kiwanis Club of Northmount, Calgary, was exploring ways to raise money for youth projects, member Sandy Matthews told them to “Go jump!” When the Alberta Kiwanians asked how high, she replied, “About 3,500 feet.”
And so was born, albeit with a little more prodding, “Project Shut Up and Jump,” in which some “certifiably flighty” club members would plummet from an airplane and skydive to raise funds for Calgary’s Youth Alternative Program and the Kiwanis family’s Worldwide Service Project (Kiwanis’ first Global Campaign for Children).
“We were brainstorming at one of our regular meetings when Sandy, our inspiration and spirit, suggested skydiving as a fundraiser,” recalls Murray Smith, club president. “The men looked at her and in unison said, ‘You want us to jump out of a perfectly good airplane to raise money?’”
Participating in the project required each jumper to raise a minimum of CAD$200 in pledges and pay a $25 registration fee. Proceeds would be earmarked for the Youth Alternative Program, an intervention program for young people who appear to be heading into trouble. Other funds raised would be funneled to eliminate iodine deficiency disorders (IDD) through the Worldwide Service Project.
So on a somewhat overcast morning this past June, six Northmount Kiwanians—Murray, Sandy, Ron Leigh, Mike Shareski, Rob Watson and Phillip Mehrdad—and two friends—Jamie Schmuland and Tyla Bannister—met at an airport north of Calgary for several hours of intensive training.
“One trained,” Murray says, “we would board an airplane, climb to about 3,500 feet above the ground, move out onto a strut, hang suspended for a heartbeat and then plummet downward. If all went well, the canopy would open, big and bright above you.”
Each jumper was assigned a number for the order in which they would go. Murray would be the final jumper.
“We watched in anticipation as the people in the first plane fell from their strut and their canopies opened. The first jumper landed with a victory yell and a smile as big as Alberta itself.”
Unfortunately, the weather turned sour before it was Murray’s turn to jump, so he and an instructor had to wait out a cloudburst. After about an hour, they finally were given the OK.
“Although I listened intently to the training and instructions as they were given to the other jumpers, my instructor was busily working out a slightly different plan for my leap of faith,” Murray says. Because Murray has multiple sclerosis, which denies him the use of his legs for landing, an instructor had arranged to jump in tandem with him.
“We would climb to 13,500 feet—about two miles—and, hooked together, would drop from the plane into a 45-second-free-fall before opening our chute. After soaring above the Earth for several seconds, we would land on the front lawn of the airport, according to the instructor.”
Murray happily reports that the jump went as planned, though the landing was a bit awkward.
“The first thing to hit the ground were by toes,” he remembers. “The arms, nose, chin and stomach followed in rapid succession. This was not the most graceful landing seen that day, but after a quick check, we were completely intact.”
In fact, all the jumpers landed “intact” and, as a result, raised more than $2,500 for the Calgary youth program and another $1,400 for IDD.
“Equally important,” Murray says, “was the camaraderie and friendship our club members realized as a result of this exciting project, which did not go unnoticed by observers. We acquired three new members.” One of them is Sandra Williamson, who oversees the youth program in Calgary.
“She was so impressed at the heights we would go to help youth, she wanted to be a part of Kiwanis,” Murray quips. (Kiwanis International’s general liability policy excludes coverage for accidents arising from the operation, maintenance or use of any aircraft. To avoid liability exposure, a participating club and Kiwanis International must be added as additional insureds to the owner or operator’s insurance policy, and a copy of the certificate must be sent to the Kiwanis International Office.)