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Remembering Jan Davis
by rita -

"My Dad is a man who taught me to never be afraid of life. He taught me I can achieve anything I want if I'm willing to make the sacrifices to have it. He taught me to stand on my own two feet, to accept responsibility for my actions and decisions. He gave me my strength, my ability to overcome the often overwhelming obstacles that have been placed before me in my life. He taught me that despite the fact that I hadn't been dealt a good physical hand in this life, it was a hand that could still be played to my advantage, if I but had the courage to play it for all it is worth."

These are words Jan Davis wrote about her father on the rec.skydiving newsgroup last year. These are words I write about her today. As I sit here at work scanning some stories on the newsgroup, I am devastated to learn of Jan's untimely death while doing those things she loved, standing on her own two feet and living her life as she chose to live it. Jan was a rebel. Many people didn't care for her brash manner, and sometimes that included even me.

Photo © 2000 Jan Davis
Photo by Jan Davis    

She seemed to have a total disregard for others' feelings sometimes, but that was just her tough exterior. Once you got to know her, you realized that she truly had a heart of gold. It was just that she spoke her mind in no uncertain terms, and if others couldn't deal with that,well, that was their problem.
I have so many memories, snippets that float through my mind as I sit here tonight in a fog of grief. Don't get me wrong, I was certainly not close to Jan. Hell, I only saw her what? Once a year? I was probably not even a person to have made much of an impression in her life--just one of thousands of people she has met and shared the skies with. But, to me, Jan embodies the independence, the zest for living, the courage to take chances, to grasp the true embodiment of what truly living means.
I first met Jan online several years ago. We were planning a gathering of skydivers from the rec.skydiving newsgroup. Jan offered to join us to film the festivities. A few emails going back and forth, posts on the newsgroup. We learn there could be a glitch. Jan is not a member of the camera staff at Sebastian, the location we've chosen to stage our little "boogie." Some more quick emails, a few phone calls. The consensus seems to be that if we are a team, and wish to bring our own cameraflyer, then that's okay. But to just employ a cameraflyer for our individual jumps, we need to go through the dz.
Okay, then, we'll "make a team." I christen us Team Faceplant. Seems an appropriate name for us mostly low-timers! Seems a very appropriate name for a team that would have me as a member. Karen (Unclbennie) makes up tee-shirts. Jan Davis is our "official" camera flyer. Problem solved.
That first boogie--oh, what memories! Little did I know that it would be my last jumps before an injury that still leaves me out of the air today. But such great jumps they were! Two groups form: the inexperienced and the ones who knew their shit. Guess which group I was on? Jan stuck to our little three-way like glue. She knew photogenic material when she saw it. Any jump I was on would surely make for good video.
The funneled exit. I was jumping with SkyJames and Skydive Sebastian organizer, Mike Trist. He had specifically told me to let go of the chest straps if I seemed to be going unstable. I have a short memory. After getting into a nice standup, with James and Mike both rapidly gaining speed in a nice head-down, the light dawns. Oops! I cartwheeled out of frame doing what appeared to be a graceful aerial ballet. Jan caught a still at just the right moment which actually made it look like I was one awesome freeflyer. The video tells the real story.
The canopy ride. My most embarrassing moment. Watching the video in the team room, it looked like a graceful canopy ride going on for minutes. "Jeez, that looks like me!' You dummy, it is. I never even saw Jan behind me! And all that time she was there too. Thank God she was more alert than I was.
Catching hell from Jan after another jump. No question about it, I went low, dangerously low. A total loss of altitude awareness. Break off was as planned, but somehow I became "distracted" by the breathtaking view of the Atlantic Ocean spread below me. The video clearly showing James and then Mike, both deploying, with me doing the same seconds later. Jan reamed me a new asshole for that one and rightfully so. She was concerned about me, and at my level of jumps, I had no business pulling at two grand.
The long talks about philosophy and how jumping fits into that philosophy. Her views. The way she grabbed life and lived it for all it was worth--I could relate to that. She was everything I wished I could be.
Boogie 2000 again, at Sebastian. This time I'm pretty much grounded, the result of an accident which occurred shortly after the rec.skydiving boogie of the year before. Someone else will have to provide the aerial excitement this year. Jan can't find anyone else. Not anyone with the unique abilities such as me anyway.
She sets about talking me into doing a tandem. She goads me into doing a tandem. I was glad to have her.
Arrangements are hastily made. A tandem master especially good at landings is recruited. Jan is right there, along with Jim Bozo, to relish the experience along with me. I'll never forget seeing Jan in the air with me, flying in from a misjudged launch. Getting back in record time, parking herself before me. I can just imagine her smiling as pull time nears, having made a secret bet with Jim beforehand, "she won't pull...whadda wanna bet she'll miss the pull." Jan won that bet. God was I rusty.
The fun on the ground. Jan gets a traffic ticket. We're all going to dinner. Jan's got one group in her car. She pulls out in front of a particularly slow "grayhair", crosses a double yellow line, and gets pulled over. She doesn't get mad. She's joking with the cop. Has him laughing as well. I honestly didn't think he was actually gonna write the ticket, he seemed to be having so much fun with this group of crazy skydivers.
The "reluctant" AFF student. We all had a ball with him. He came to the boogie at my invitation. A young guy from the east coast who was struggling through an incident-riddled student progression. A fresh start under the blue Florida skies might be just what he needs. He decides to join us. We quickly see he's not gonna jump. He's just too scared. He's acting like a wuss. Uncharitably, we all snicker behind his back. Jan takes him under her big swooping wings, talking to him, showing him videos, trying to inject some confidence into his psyche. Alas, it does no good and he returns home after one day, but she sure made more of an effort than any of us others did, to our shame. That's just the way Jan is, champion of the weak. The one others scoff at will be the one she befriends.
Jan has always been there for me in more ways than you can imagine. She was someone I never wanted to let down.
One of the first to email and to call after my accident was Jan. As I lay in an Orlando hospital back in '99 she tells Patti Johnson, "you've got to get her back online as quickly as possible, otherwise depression will set in." Patti realizes the wisdom of Jan's advice, and procures for me a laptop. We no sooner get it hooked up in my hospital room and I log onto AOL using a special temporary account that Patti set up for me. Jan's been waiting. I'm no sooner online than I'm getting IM's from her asking, "how you making out?"
The "Parachutist incident", where they put Jan Meyer's name on Jan Davis' boogie photo. My heart sank when I saw that. I knew she was gonna be madder than hell. "Jim, please," I beg. "You tell her. I hate to be the bearer of bad news." Jim, dear Bozo, so much more courage than me. He tells her. "How did she take it?" I asked in an email later that night. "Does nuclear have any meaning to you?" he responded. "I'd hate to be a person working in the office of Parachutist tomorrow," he added.
Of course, he was kidding. Jan simply called Parachutist and pointed out their mistake. "Rita says I should get a cover out of it, don't you agree?" she informed the editorial director. Guess they won't be taking my articles anymore, I'm thinking.
This year's rec.boogie--I was sorry when I realized I wasn't gonna be able to make it. A change in career direction this year, doing tax preparation work. The boss says he needs me, can't spare me for all of five days. "But, I haven't seen my friends in a year, this is special," I wail to him. He's not happy. I made a commitment. "Can't you go to Florida after April 16?" I didn't go, and in the process, I didn't follow my heart as Jan would have. How sorry I am about that now.
It is so true what people say. Seize the moment, live for today. Don't put off what you want to do for a later time because that time may never come. I will never see Jan again in this lifetime, and for that I am more sorry than anyone will ever know. I wasn't true to myself, and I'll pay the price.
But there is another side to this earthly existence, of that I am certain. It's a realm where the skies are always blue and where we as humans will evolve in wisdom so that we can all be the happy creatures we were meant to be. I know Jan is there now. She's probably getting the lay of the land, planning her next load. Fly high, Jan! For you will always be in the hearts of the so many people you've touched here on this earth. I know you will always occupy a special place in my heart, and I will never forget you. Until we meet again, stay well and be happy. Others may call you the Jan Devil, but I know better. I've got a new Guardian Angel now, and that's you.
Blue skies to you always, Jan, and take good care of me, okay?

For more stories see pages   [1]   [2]

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