Who's that up in the sky? It's Pastor Tim!

Dr. Tim Griffin gave a double thumbs-up to skydiving with the Army's Golden Knights.

Mostly, Dr. Tim Griffin remembers the ear-splitting sound of the rushing air as he hurtled toward the ground at about 120 miles per hour.

He’ll never forget the snap as the parachute jerked him and his jump partner down to a much quieter 30 mph.

Griffin and the other visitors got to inspect a tank.

But there’s much more to his July skydiving adventure at the Army ROTC Cadet Summer Training, including one salient point about sailing through the air:

He’s deathly afraid of heights. He won’t even set foot on an upper-floor balcony.

“I am petrified,” the Vice President of Student Affairs, Dean of Students and University Pastor said. “I have this sense that I’m going to fall if I get too close.”

The four-day leadership symposium is designed to help college representatives recruit for their ROTC programs by demonstrating what it can do for cadets, both on their campuses and at the headquarters in Fort Knox, Kentucky.

In May, Grand Canyon University commissioned nine more cadets as second lieutenants in the Army. It’s a big deal at GCU. Griffin, knowing that, had never been to the summer training and didn’t hesitate to say yes when asked.

But …

“I didn’t know exactly what I was saying yes to,” he said.

A few weeks later, he got his answer. There would be a rappelling wall … and an opportunity to skydive with the Golden Knights.

It was time to overcome that fear of heights.

“I figured it’s the only time in my life I’ll ever do this,” he said.

Griffin estimates that only 15 of the 50-60 people at the symposium volunteered to jump out of an airplane. Only those younger than 65 and under 220 pounds were eligible. There was extensive training, of course, and that’s when his anxiety started to kick in.

“You sit in this room most of the morning watching others get their stuff on and go to the plane,” he said. “It’s surreal. Then you see people gathering their chutes up and walking back in.”

Climbing the rappelling wall provided plenty of heightened thrills for most of the symposium participants.

Finally, it was his turn. But as soon as the airplane took off, his fear of heights started bouncing around in his stomach again. It didn’t help that he was sitting right in front of the open door – and wasn’t seat-belted to the metal bench he was clutching with a death grip.

At that point, his jump partner and the cameraman decided that would be a good time to break out the dad jokes, which kept him from noticing that they had slipped a seat belt around him.

What do you call a cow with no legs?

Ground beef.

What do you call a cow with two legs?

Lean beef.

The humor didn’t stop at the cattle prods. His jump partner kept him laughing with this:

“You need to know, Tim, that you’re going to jump today with the No. 1 jumper and cameraman team within the Army. Unfortunately, I’m the better cameraman and he’s the better jumper.”

The cameraman had one more good-natured jab. He opened the door, put his face in front of the blowing wind and said, “This is what your face will look like if you don’t smile.”

As they approached the jumping height of 12,000 feet, the five-point harness on his back was tethered to his jump partner. “It’s like being in race car. It holds you,” Griffin said. “Once you’re clicked in, the feeling of ‘I’m going to fall’ didn’t bother me as much because I had something I was tethered to.”

It was time. They reminded him what his job is, and then … here’s the video, and we’ll let him tell the rest of the story below.

“They said, ‘We’re getting ready to jump here pretty quick. You remember what your job is? We’re going to rock – one, two and three, we’re out of the door.’ It’s all like this (snaps fingers). The door goes up. The cameraman is moving around. The jumper is shuffling me off the seat. The two of us crab walk over to the door. I’m looking at the cameraman – poof, he’s gone. I feel the rock – voof, we’re gone. I mean, you don’t have any time to think, which I think is a lot better.

That's a looooong way down.

“The thing I was not prepared for is the sound of the air that’s rushing by your face and your ears as you’re flying through the clouds. It is SO LOUD. I didn’t have any earplugs, and so at that point I’m just like, ‘Oh my goodness.’ They tell you to arch your back when you’re falling and spread your feet and your hands – it helps you to create a ballast so you don’t flip.

“I’m trying to get my senses about me, and at that point I see the cameraman. Here he comes, and the next thing I know he’s 5 feet in front of my face. He has a cord in his mouth, and that’s how he’s taking pictures. Amazing piece of machinery. They had shown it to me in the lobby. It’s the coolest thing.

“They pull a little chute that kind of stabilizes you, and you have a chance to look around and see what’s happening. But it’s all just … (snaps fingers) seconds. And then the cameraman disappears, and the next thing I hear is CLICK, and we snap. You go from 120 miles an hour to 30. That jerk, I was not ready for that. That snap.

“Then, you’re finally getting your faculties about you. All right, now we’re just sailing along. He gave me the controls to the parachute. You pull it to the right, it takes you to the right. You pull it to the left, it takes you to the left.

“When you land, you’ve got to pull your knees all the way to your chest and stick your legs out, so it’s this incredible crunch. You’ve got to hold that because when he starts to land, your feet have to be up or you guys are going to go face down.

The snap of the parachute was jarring.

“It was an incredible experience.”

But …

“I was really glad to have my feet on the ground.”

And yet …

“I never felt scared. These guys have jumped thousands of times. They know what they’re doing. I think it was being in a situation to experience something that I had never experienced before. To those of us who are control freaks, it’s a little unnerving when you’re putting, literally, your life in somebody else’s hands. I don’t know that fear was ever it. It was just the unsettling feeling of, ‘I’m doing something I’ve never done before, so I really don’t know what to expect.’”

His wife and sons – fully knowledgeable of his acrophobia – were even more excited about the jump than he was. “My boys know how deathly afraid of heights I am. It’s like, ‘Dad is facing his fears.’”

Griffin and the other skydivers join their Army escorts for a group photo.

So that’s it, right? Once is enough?

“It’s one of those experiences where you’re like, ‘Man, I wasn’t ready for this, that or that.’ And then your system calms down – the adrenaline is surging. It’s like, ‘I wasn’t ready for this, that or the other. Man, I’d like to do it again and experience it again to appreciate it a little bit more.’ It’s just a blink of the eye, and you’re back in the room.

“The further I get away from the actual experience, ‘Yeah, I’d do it again.’”

But only with the Golden Knights.

“Those two guys probably did it 10 times that day. Some will do it because they love it, and others will do it because they had to. If you’re an adrenaline junkie, I could see why people would do that as a hobby. Clearly, these two guys, they love it.

“I don’t think that’s me.”

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].

****

Related content:

GCU News: Let Holy Spirit light the way, Griffin tells Chapel

GCU News: Griffin centers Chapel talk on shifting margins

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