The 10,000-foot Dive Along a Wellness Journey

Not long before Sandra Luebbecke is about to load into the airplane she intends to jump out of, her legs decide not to cooperate. It’s not uncommon as a symptom of her advanced Multiple Sclerosis to struggle to stand, but the timing couldn’t be worse and she’s unable to step out of her wheelchair into the harness. Sandra smiles for the camera while in the plane that would take her up for her skydiving adventure.

To Skydive is to challenge the limitation MS has imposed in her life, and it’s an important step along what Sandy describes as her wellness journey. Many people tend to describe “fighting a battle” against MS or cancer or any other ailments, but Sandra doesn’t see it as a fight.

“It’s not a battle, it’s a wellness journey, trying to give your body everything you can to get well because it has a tremendous capacity for healing,” she says. “We’re not fighting with our body; we should work with our body.”

Ever since she was a student at the University of Toronto in her mid-20s when she couldn’t afford to skydive, she’s wanted to take this leap. After moving to The Village of Riverside Glen 30 years later and feeling as though she’d lost an additional sense of independence, she never would have thought she’d have the opportunity to live out this dream.

Alex and Sandra fall through the air with their parachute about to open.Not jumping on this bright, summer Monday is not an option.

Alex Torre is the lead diver who will guide Sandy on her tandem jump. He sees her passion; he knows how much this means to her, but he also knows the risk.

“Any time you’re throwing somebody out of an airplane, you’re taking a risk,” Alex says. “Even with the most healthy person skydiving, there is a risk involved.”

Alex suggests Sandra wait and stretch her legs; they’d take another jumper up and once that drop is complete, they’ll reassess. For the next 20 minutes while Sandra practices getting up out of her chair, Alex’s mind is fixated on her. He’s almost moved to tears.

“I’m looking out the window and this flood of emotions comes over me,” Alex says. “This person wants to go so bad and I can’t not take her.”

Sandra is determined and with a little help from the Riverside Glen team, she steps into the harness when Alex returns. He gives the go-ahead; they load into the small plane and they climb to 10,000 feet.

Motion sickness is not uncommon, and Sandra feels the movement of the climb along with the exhilaration of what’s to come. She feels no fear, though. Alex has jumped thousands of times over three decades and he told her to trust him, and she does.  

They edge to the open after 10 minutes or so, and they drop; the feeling of diving through the air sends electricity to every nerve in Sandra’s body. A lifetime of anticipation falls from the sky in mere minutes, but the shock coursing through every nerve of her body lasts for hours. She’s exhausted, but in the best way.

To live out this dream with the support of The Village is a source of deep gratitude for Sandra. “I know there was a purpose for me coming here,” she says, “and this just fell on my lap.”

Alex later reflects on the connection he and the Skydive SWOOP team made with Schlegel Villages and Riverside Glen, who had jumped with another resident, Michel, just a few days before Sandra.

“This place is encouraging their residents to go and jump out of an airplane and we’ve just talked it up like it’s the most magical place on the planet for these people,” Alex says. “We absolutely loved it; we love the attitude there.

“I give them a 20 out of 10.”

For her part, Sandra hopes others might be inspired to consider what leaps they might take along their own wellness journey, regardless of age or ability.

“It’s really good to put yourself out of your comfort zone,” she says. “It’s good for your brain and good for everything. This really revitalized me.”