SMYRNA, Tenn. — Why would someone want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane? Diamond Rio guitarist Jimmy Olander understands the skeptics’ question all too well
“When you see it on TV, you go, ’That’s cool … these guys are crazy,'” Olander told CMT News just before taking his latest plunge at an airport near Nashville. Regardless of the initial perceptions, he had no reservations about taking that first leap of faith.
“I did my first skydive for the macho reasons and for life affirming reasons,” Olander said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
The sport’s appeal hasn’t diminished since his inaugural jump eight years ago in Tullahoma, Tenn. He still recalls the exhilaration of leaping from the Cessna 182.
“I’m now with my face into the windshield on my knees [and] the pilot’s right here [next to me],” Olander remembered. “All the other seats are out, and they holler, ’Door!’ Wham! The door on the Cessna is gone, and there is 12 grand [12,000 feet] right on the other side of my knee, and I’ve got to force this leg out into the wind, climb out over the wheel, hang onto the wing struts with my instructor and let go.”
Since that first parachute jump, Olander has logged close to 700 skydives and has been certified with a D license from the United States Parachute Association. It’s the highest license a civilian skydiver can earn. Even in the beginning, the musician had little anxiety about skydiving — except for the reality-gripping paperwork he had to sign.
“You’ve filled out this extensive liability waiver where the end of the paragraph is all serious injury and death, and you’ve signed your name several times,” Olander said. “It hits home: This is a high-risk activity.”
Now, skydiving is a hobby that occupies part of his time off from Diamond Rio.
“I haven’t skydived in a week, so I’m dying to get up there,” Olander said prior to a recent promotional jump with the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team. Earlier this month, the Golden Knights took former President George H.W. Bush on a skydiving adventure for his 80th birthday celebration.
“We’ll be falling somewhere in the neighborhood of 124 mph or 176 feet per second,” Olander says, describing his expectations of the dive. “If we fall through a cloud, way off in the distance, you will see your shadow coming at you slowly. If you’re just taking an air bath, and you’re not falling past anything, it just feels like, wow, this is a lot of wind. This is great. It’s cool.”
The final obstacle is landing safely on the ground, ideally in a stand-up position, but there was at least one occasion when Olander unintentionally experienced the “crash and burn” method.
“I was in Quebec and trying to make it back to the landing zone, and we were on a very long spot with high wind,” Olander said. “It was a drop zone that I didn’t know … and I’m trying to make it back.”
The guitarist decided to make a downwind landing with the wind.
“It seemed like a good idea at 100 feet,” he said. “At 5 feet — when I’m going about 40 or 45 [miles per hour] — it wasn’t such a good idea.” He adds, “Turns out I can’t run 45 mph.”
Fortunately, that wasn’t a problem during his most recent jump. Following the landing, Olander was already thinking about his next jump.
“It’s an unbelievable experience — the freedom of flight with the human body, not with an aircraft,” Olander said. “You are in the biggest environment you could ever be in.”