photo by Mary Lauletta
sherry butcher 02
Butterflies in your stomach. Cool, crisp wind rushing by you at 80 miles per hour. One step, then freedom. Total freedom.
That’s how Sherry Butcher, manager and instructor at AerOhio Skydiving, describes the experience of freefall before her parachute opens. “Let me out of that old plane!” she says.
Butcher made her first jump with a group of friends on a Saturday morning 23 years ago this May. She was so taken by the experience that she went back the very next day for another jump. Within a month, she had earned her A-License through the U.S. Parachute Association, a feat that requires at least 25 solo jumps and the demonstration of myriad skills and equipment knowledge. A few years later, the Worthington, Ohio native moved to Marshallville to be closer to the drop zone in Rittman. The man managing the zone at that time eventually became her husband, and Butcher’s been running AerOhio ever since.
A tomboy growing up, Butcher was never afraid of much of anything, let alone jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. These days, when she’s not jumping, teaching new jumpers, or managing the jumpers at AerOhio, you can find her running her small real estate brokerage in Marshallville or doing almost anything outdoors with her two teenaged kids.
How did you go from solo jumping to instructing?
SB: When I started skydiving, it was such a natural fit that I immediately started figuring out how I could become an instructor. It was really great for building confidence, having fun, and meeting a whole bunch of different people. New people are constantly coming to the center to do their first jump or to start in the training program.
What kind of people come to AerOhio for their first jump?
SB: It is like the land of misfit toys; it’s so eclectic. The bucket-list sort of people, that range is huge: [ages] 18-85 are the people I’ve jumped with. You don’t have to be an amazing athlete to skydive; you don’t have to be pretty or strong or tall. You just have to want to skydive and have fun.
How are the people who pursue a license different?
SB: The people who want to keep jumping do it for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they’re looking for a new social group. It’s such a family feel, and you make friends so easily because there’s such a strong common interest. People often keep coming back because they like the atmosphere, the total acceptance. It’s just not a judgmental place.
Have any of your students just not been able to do it?
SB: I can probably count five or six people over 23 years who decided to come back down in the plane and not make a jump. Part of the training is about that mental readiness and teaching people how to breathe and control the sensory overload. A lot of sports psychology goes into it to get people over the hump and understand that they have a lot more control over what happens than they think they do. Skydiving is not hard at all actually. It’s really a mental game.
What is one of the most beautiful sights you’ve seen on a jump?
SB: We used to go in a Twin Otter to Key Marathon, Fla. in the winter. That was beautiful. Leaving the plane, you’re over the ocean and flying back to the island. Gorgeous. It’s like looking at a map. You’re leaving a plane at 13,000 feet, and the ocean is so bright and clear. And it’s a very strange sensation to know that you have to get back to the island to land, so you’re not landing in the water. It’s just beautiful.
What is your opinion of B.A.S.E. jumping?
SB: It is certainly a more extreme sport than skydiving. I would never tell anyone to hold back if they have the proper training and equipment to do it. It’s a different sensation because you’re leaving from zero miles an hour and you can really feel that acceleration in your stomach! Most people who do B.A.S.E. jumps have hundreds of skydives under their belt before they start. The landing areas are smaller, and you need to have accuracy. The margin for error is very small.
Does it ever become routine to jump out of a perfectly good airplane?
SB: In some ways, yes. But working with students, every experience with them challenges me, so I have to be flexible and modify, and that keeps it exciting.
What’s the most common thing people say right before they jump?
SB: There’s a lot of “OH MY GOD”s more than anything.
Learn more about taking that leap at www.aerohio.com, or call 1-800-skydive.