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The sky's the limit.

The Sky's the Limit

When was the last time your mother jumped out of an airplane? Your wife? Your secretary? For most, the answer is probably never.

But for Sandi Falkenhagen it was only this past July. The full-time wife, mother of two, and executive assistant had often dreamed of parachuting, hang gliding or driving a race car when she watched the daring feats of others.

One of Sandi's fondest dreams came true this past Independence Day when she jumped 3,000 feet from an airplane as part of a fund-raising event, Freedom Fest '89, benefitting the Montgomery Branch of the Arthritis Foundation's Alabama Chapter. The event was initially planned to feature local TV and radio personalities. While Sandi wan't a local celebrity, she was insistent -- she wanted to jump.

Parachuting from a plane not only fulfilled one of her wildest dreams, but the event held special significance--it raised money for the fight against arthritis -- a battle Sandi truly wants to see won.

Sandi has suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for the past 11 years. She is a dedicated Arthritis Foundation volunteer and currently serves as the president of the Alabma Chapter.

But why would a 42-year-old wife and mother want to jump out of an airplane? "I have always wanted to do something like this," says Sandi. "I never watch an auto race or hang-gliding competition on TV without thinking, `Gee, I'd really like to do that one day.'"

Sandi knew from the outset that her arthritis could make such an activity painful for her. But she figured that she hurt all the time anyway so why not do something wonderful, something she had always wanted to do, in the process? She admits there were days before the jump when doubts arose and she questioned her physical abilities. "There were days when I had flares and couldn't make a fist, much less raise my hands over my head. On those days I didn't see how I could ever get my body into the proper jumping position," she recalls.

Jumping into extreme wind resistance, carrying several pounds of packing on your back and maintaining the important "hand arch" position in skydiving are all very demanding on the body, even for those without arthritis.

But despite the obstacles and brief moments of apprehension, Sandi had plenty of motivation and encouragement. Comments from coworkers such as "Oh you can't do that, you have arthritis!" inspired her to prove that she could and would achieve this quest.

With her 8-year-old son's claim, "My mom's not scared of anything...she's going to jump out of an airplane!" and her husband's final concession, "Sandi, you have to do it or you'll always regret it," she received all the support she needed.

"The entire time I was in the air I was going over what I needed to do to land safely and on target. But I kept thinking to myself--`Who want to land? I like it up here--just me and God,'" she muses.

Whether it's the challenge of something new, the excitement, the thrill or simply the sense of accomplishment, Sandi's not sure what entices her. But she is certain of one thing -- you can do whatever you set your mind to, even if you have arthritis.

As Sandi sees it, "Living life with a chronic illness -- that's courage -- that's challenging. Jumping out of an airplane? That's a piece of cake -- nothing to it."

PHOTO : Sandi Falkenhagen of Birmingham, Ala., fulfilled one of her lifelong dreams by jumping

PHOTO : 3,000 feet from an airplane. As a bonus, her jump helped raise money for the fight against

PHOTO : arthritis.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Arthritis Foundation, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:profile of arthritic skydiver
Author:Ballew, Tracy
Publication:Arthritis Today
Date:Jan 1, 1990
Previous Article:A race to the finish.
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