Alana Wilson feels the rush as she makes a tandem skydive. Wilson's nonprofit, Jumps for Hope, seeks to get people to check skydiving off their bucket list and raise funds for cancer.
One hundred people jumping out of a plane for cancer—at first blush the premise of the nonprofit Jumps for Hope seems like a gimmick. One can imagine the slogans: "Taking cancer drives to new heights." The event also sounds like something that most people are absolutely not going to sign up for. But after talking with soon-to-be jumpers, the whole idea begins to make sense and even seem a little tempting.
Participants say Jumps for Hope is not only a chance to fight a disease that robs so many of their lives, but also a way to celebrate life in the face of its impermanence, by doing what they have always dreamed and never dared.
"You think about the challenges that people with cancer have had, what they have done just to stay alive and be here with us," said Nancy Vroman of her decision join the Jumps for Hope and make her first-ever skydive. "If they can do that, I can do something that's out of my comfort zone, that I never thought I would or could." Vroman signed up on the third anniversary of her mother's death from cancer. Many of her other family members have suffered from the disease as well.
For Vroman, like many participants, skydiving is something she has always wanted to do. For recent cancer survivor Dr. Gary Kastello, it was literally on his bucket list.
Dr. Kastello is the director of Winona Survivors Unite in Exercise, a Winona State University program that seeks to help cancer patients become fit and active again. Kastello thought that was an important cause when he started planning it with colleagues, but he had no idea how personal it would become.
Just before the program began, Kastello was diagnosed with lymphoma. "Every cancer patient has that moment where the physician looks at you and says you have cancer," Kastello recalls. Kastello survived and is cancer-free now, but he was not sure it would turn out that way. "So I literally wrote out a bucket list and one of [the items] was skydiving," he explained.
Kastello said that before cancer, he might have put skydiving on his bucket list but he would not have actually done it. Cancer changed his mentality. "We all like to have thrills in life; we all like to have challenges. But sometimes we need a little push to get over that fear factor," he said. "In this case, I guess cancer has allowed me to get over that fear factor."
When Kastello heard about Jumps for Hope, he thought, "Okay, it's really knocking on my door now."
The organization was founded by Minnesota City resident Alana Wilson, who lost her father to cancer when she was young. Her father was about to turn 50 at the time. As she neared that age, Wilson decided she was going to jump out of a plane before she turned 50 herself. She has not looked back since. One jump turned into two jumps, then turned into ten in one day. Skydiving changed her life, Wilson says. She has become an avid skydiver and something of a advocate for the sport. Her excitement is infectious.
"I honestly have never felt such happiness or freedom since I started skydiving," Wilson said. it's giving me a confidence to move forward with whatever my dreams are.
"For me, and everybody I've ever talked to, it's one of the most empowering experiences that anybody could have," Wilson added. "It's a confidence booster." If you can jump out of an airplane, you can do anything, Wilson explains.
The Jumps for Hope event is on June 23 at the Rushford Airport. Of the $299 fee, $70 goes to cancer research through the Eagles Club. The organization is accepting donations as well. Learn more at www.jumpsforhope.com.