Three skydivers with disabilities took to the skies in Michigan on May 30 this year.
The three skydivers were Briana Kooiman, Jeni Rummelt, and Andrea Hampton. The three met through a wheelchair basketball team that they play for. Kooiman has spina bifida, which is a birth defect where a baby’s spinal cord fails to develop properly—as a result, she walks with prosthetic legs. Rummelt has been paralyzed from the waist down since a car accident in 2001. Kooiman grew up in Fennville, Michigan and currently lives in Hamilton, Michigan.
She talked with Skydiving.com while she was on her way to Chicago to watch top fuel drag racing, or as she put it “cars going a quarter mile in 2 seconds.” Kooiman describes herself as an “adrenaline junkie.” She is currently going to Davenport University. Another hobby of hers aside from playing wheelchair basketball is working on Pinterest projects. She said a fourth skydiver accompanied them on the expedition—her boyfriend’s brother, Vawn.
Kooiman said the idea to go skydiving was hers.
They booked the skydive at Park Township Airport in Holland, Michigan. “We only booked it a week in advance,” Kooiman said. “When I called to schedule, they were very nice about things and they said they could accommodate anything.” Tony Gwinn, who is a skydiving affiliate for the airport, said that special accommodations are made for people with disabilities—a special strap can be used to pull a person’s legs and arms in for landing.
“When you see these people that come in and can’t walk or they’re in a wheelchair, then they can do something that everybody else can do, it’s all worth it,” Gwinn said. “It’s pretty cool to see these people doing something outside the box.” When talking about how long she has wanted to go skydiving, Kooiman said, “I have wanted to skydive since I knew it existed.”
“I was a little nervous before,” Kooiman said.
“I was really nervous about the parachute not opening. Reality set in when they open the plane door 10,000 feet in the air. It was a good thing I was forced out of the airplane because I wouldn’t have jumped if I went alone.” While Rummelt said that she was not too nervous before the jump itself, she agreed that moments before the jump were nerve-wracking. “You are basically dangling out of a plane for a little bit,” Rummelt said. “That was probably the most intense part.”
Describing what it was like to skydive over Lake Michigan, Kooiman said, “It was absolutely gorgeous.”
When describing her jump, Rummelt said, “Through the air and everything was really peaceful. It didn’t seem as intense as what you anticipate going through the air.” Both Rummelt and Kooiman said that people with disabilities need to stop letting others hold them back. Rummelt said, “Don’t let the disability deter you from doing what you want. Don’t not do things in life because of a disability. When there is a will, there is a way and figure it out. Don’t let it hold you back.”
Expressing the same sentiment, Kooiman encourages people with disabilities to “Go for it. Just because you’re disabled that doesn’t mean you’re being held back by anything. If there is something that does hold us back, we find a way to make it happen. I have been told several times in my life that I couldn’t do something and that has made me want to do it even more. Life is too short to not try something just because somebody told you that you can’t.”
When asked what is next for her, Kooiman said, “Honestly, I have so many things on my bucket list. I kind of want to go on an airplane that doesn’t have the top on it.”