In the rarified atmosphere of extreme sports, Jay Stokes breathes deeply.
He's very young for his age. He's fit. He's focused. He's a fascinating, soft-spoken guy, with a gentle face and a boyish frock of blond hair. You won't meet a lot of people like Jay Stokes in your life. It's true that there are others who can match his drive and his commitment to their sport, and may even match his tireless pursuit of doing things right. But there really are very few, if any, who can keep up with him when it comes to jumping out of airplanes. And, right now, he's so far ahead of everyone else that there really isn't anyone who even wants to try to compete with him. He is Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Tom Brady all rolled into one and he's ready to jump into the record books one more time.
He was born on an Air Force base on September 7, 1956. His parents were living at Elgin Air Force Base in Florida and named their new son Willard Lee Stokes. His nickname, "Jay," just came along. He doesn't really know why people call him that.
After high school, he joined the Army in 1974 and began a 24-year career, including 21 years in Special Forces, the Green Berets. He retired as a Chief Warrant Officer in 1998. While in the special forces he earned ratings as a military freefall instructor and jumpmaster, videographer, tandem master, and HALO/Scuba mission-qualified, among others. In civilian life, he has earned the ratings and licenses for demonstration skydiving, instructor and course director for all skydiving disciplines including rigging, tandem, and accelerated freefall. Jay is considered one of the top instructors in skydiving worldwide. He is also a private pilot.
When it comes to exiting aircrafts with a parachute, Jay Stokes knows exactly what he's doing. Now, with the grueling marathon challenge of making a survivable skydive every two-and-a-half minutes for 24 hours hanging over him, he seems not to have a care in the world.
"It was brutal," said Bob Dougherty, dropzone owner and volunteer for Jay's 2003 world record achievement in Elsinore, California. "People will never know what he went through. It was freezing. It was sheeting rain. We were all dressed in rain-gear, shivering out there. Jay was drenched and determined, despite his exhaustion, to keep going. He never let up. If only people could have seen that achievement. What he actually did in those 24 hours makes most other athletic events look easy."
Not only did Jay maintain a marathon pace for 24 hours, he made 534 exits from an aircraft at 2,100 feet, successfully deployed and controlled 534 canopy openings in all kinds of weather, day and night, flew his canopies in a precise flight pattern 534 times, and completed 534 safe landings exactly on target. The only time he rested, if you can call it that, was the ride to altitude, about a minute and a half, 534 times. But even on the aircraft there were seat belts to be taken on and off, gear checks, double checks, checking the spot, getting into position to jump, and then, of course, jumping. Which easily took up 45 seconds of the "rest" period. There were over a hundred people working as ground crews, packers, timers and judges, handlers and pilots, and there were even some spectators. And most of the jumps were made in the rain and mud.
To put it in, perhaps, a clearer perspective, here are two scenarios: a normal skydive and Jay's skydive:
A normal skydive: this typically involves packing, practice on the ground, preflight checks on all gear, weather and wind observations, loading into the aircraft, flight to altitude (20 minutes), preparations for exit, exit, freefall, canopy, landing, and debrief. This "average" skydive could easily take 90 minutes, from start to finish.
Jay's Skydive: Jay comes swooping in as near to the aircraft as safety will allow; he has already undone his chest strap on the way down. Two or more people come running up to and alongside him as continues running toward the waiting plane, wriggling out of the used gear. The assistants remove his rig as he runs and put on another one, which he must attach, chest and legs, without missing a step. A stumble would waste precious seconds. From the time his feet touch the ground to when he's back on the plane takes about eight seconds, if all goes well. He jumps onto the plane as it is gathering speed for takeoff. Onboard, a jumpmaster checks his parachute's attachment points, deployment and cutaway handles, as he puts on the seat belt required by aviation law. There is an oxygen console on board to help overcome the constant fumes of the revving engines, plus food and water. He drinks purified water and energy drinks and eats only the carefully planned food, all on a schedule of hydration and nourishment worked out well in advance. In a few seconds the plane ascends to the "release point." Jay checks the location of the landing target and jumps out at exactly 2,100 feet. He activates his deployment device immediately as he goes. Once open under a good canopy he immediately pulls down on one of the steering toggle handles to begin a radical "spiral" to the ground. This greatly accelerates his descent and requires strength and stamina to hold the "toggles" in the proper position all the way down. The centrifugal force generated by the spirals and the effort to hold the toggles in the correct position are the most arduous and physically demanding elements of this athletic marathon. The pilot has put the aircraft, as soon as Jay left, into a nose dive to the runway, generally beating Jay to the ground. Jay lands his canopy and runs to the waiting plane. 600 times in 24 hours.
Jay's attempt will require one skydive every 2.5 minutes for 1,400 minutes, or 24 hours, starting at 8 a.m. on Friday, September 8, and ending on Saturday 8 a.m., September 9, 2006. He will be the only person in history to ever do such a thing. "During the event, I
It's just that simple.
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