A tap on the shoulder, a shuffle to his left and within seconds Kyle Parrish, 59, soared to fulfill a lifelong dream of skydiving.
“All the time I was up there I felt a freedom,” Parrish said. “I felt like I was the only one up there. It was peaceful and a freeing experience.”
Parrish could serve as inspiration for those with adversity. Since age 15, Parrish has been blind. A tumor that crushed his optic nerves left him only with some light perception in his left eye.
Yet the brave diver said he’s done a lot more dangerous things in his life.
“I’ve done everything I ever wanted to do. Rock climb, go whitewater rafting, hang glide and mountain climb,” he said. “I downhill skied for years. It’s a lot harder than coming down in a parachute.”
Parrish went up with 14 other tandem skydivers on Aug. 24 as part of Olympic Cellars’ ongoing skydiving events through Kapowsin Skydiving of Shelton.
Deb Cox, a friend and board member of the Vision Loss Center in Port Angeles where Parrish is director, said she mentioned the event to Parrish. He liked the idea but said the cost was too high for him. Cox took up a collection from center volunteers and earned enough for him to go. Parrish said with everyone behind him, he had to do the jump.
Leading up to the dive, Parrish said he had some reservations.
“With vision loss, you think things through before you do it,” Parrish said. “It was all new to me. I was thinking, ‘How am I gonna find the edge of the plane?’ Just little stuff like that.”
The day of the jump, Cox said Parrish was visibly excited and didn’t seem nervous at all.
His jump partner, Joe Williams, worked with Parrish to create a system for their jump. One of Parrish’s fears was that he wouldn’t hear instructions over the cabin noise and wind.
“He told me what to expect,” Parrish said. “We’d free-fall for a minute, then he’d tap me three times when he was going to pull the chute.”
Parrish and Cox were in the first flight to load up at Sequim Valley Airport and go to the sky. The jump wasn’t scary for Parrish but his senses went into overdrive.
The plane doors opened at 13,000 feet and Parrish took position — within an instant they were falling. Williams tapped him three times and the parachute came out. Parrish expected a sharp jerking motion from the parachute, but it wasn’t like that at all.
“As soon as the chute opened it was incredible,” he said. “Dead silence.”
Williams then began aerobatics: The duo went left, right and in circles until they closed in on the ground.
They bounced once and stopped, with Parrish landing on his bottom.
Parrish said he expected the chute to carry him across the field or for the landing to hurt but on both accounts he was happily proved wrong.
Parrish’s guide dog, Peter, greeted him behind the winery where everyone landed.
“He saw me when we got close and when they pulled away the parachute he was right there in my face,” Parrish said.
Parrish said the dive worked out perfectly and was the thrill of his life to that point.
“I’d love to figure out a way to do it myself ... it’s a dream,” he said. He encourages others to pursue their dreams.
“If you want to do something, it doesn’t matter if you have a disability, do it,” he said. “It’s just a great feeling. Something I’ll never forget.”
Parrish helps run the nonprofit Vision Loss Center in Armory Square Mall, 228 W. First St., Suite N, Port Angeles. The center is open 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Call the center at 457-1383 or visit www.visionlossservices.org.