Wild Welfare’s animal welfare field manager, Sarah Blake, recently completed her fundraising skydive. Postponed several times due to COVID-19 restrictions, Sarah finally took to the skies above Wales last week – there was no more delaying her jump. In our latest blog, Sarah shares with us what inspired her to fundraise for the charity she works for and how it felt launching herself from a plane to raise money for animals!
“This seemed like a good idea a year ago!” I yelled at my instructor over the noise of the plane making its ascent into the clouds. He just chuckled and let me feel the fear. I shakily clutched on to the handles of my harness, there was no going back. This was it. I was about to jump out of a plane and freefall 6,000 feet in 45 seconds.
Rewind to summer 2019 before the COVID pandemic hit and I was full of naive determination, offering to undertake the ultimate challenge event for Wild Welfare – a skydive. The rest of the team couldn’t believe it, offering to jump out of a plane felt daring and brave at the time, but as I set up my fundraising page and the jump date loomed, my resolve started to falter. Due to restrictions that came into place because of COVID-19, the event was postponed for more than a year, so I had the whole of lockdown to consider my doom and the more I thought about it, the more the nerves kicked in.
Thankfully, plenty of generous friends, family and Wild Welfare supporters were eager to contribute to my fundraising campaign as the date drew closer.
On the eve of my jump, donations had streamed in and I had managed to smash my initial target of £750. I knew this money could go far in helping Wild Welfare achieve its goal of animal welfare improvements across the globe, so that is what I tried to concentrate on the night before the big event.
As wonderfully supportive messages came flooding in on the eve of my skydive, I thought back to the animals I have met while working for Wild Welfare, such as the bears and macaques in Vietnam. And the elephants, horses and rhinos too, all of which have so impacted my visits to facilities across the country. Many of the animals I meet are struggling with poor welfare conditions, but the way in which enrichment provision, welfare audits and staff training – all part of Wild Welfare’s active projects – can transform their lives, is inspiring to see. The positive welfare changes I have seen and continue to see in my role with the charity, were worth all the fear I was feeling before my event.
The morning of the jump dawned and I watched the low lying mists burning away as I journeyed to the airfield. I had been far too nervous to eat any breakfast, which I would later discover was a huge mistake, but at the time, I couldn’t think about anything but the enormity of what I was about to do.
Nervously, I checked in, received my skydive training, got fitted for my harness and waited for the call to board the plane. It all happened so quickly.
Amu, our welfare bear mascot was going to be jumping with me, so he got fitted with his own harness and attached to mine. I thought back to the last time we had boarded a plane together which was for a project visit to Vietnam, but back then we had remained safely inside the plane. Today was going to be a bit different! We were both finally ready to go, clambering into the plane with the other jumpers and making sure I was firmly attached to my instructor as we made our ascent. I was oddly calm for the first 6,000 feet. The views over the Welsh countryside were stunning and I was busy trying to take in all the strange sensations around me. The hum of the plane, the constrictions of the harness and the realisation that I was going to be the last out of all of us to jump.
We reached our target height of 12,000 feet and the door on the side of the plane opened. A shot of adrenaline raced through my system as the first person jumped out and the rest of us shuffled forward towards the opening. My instructor made one final check that I was ready to go and I silently nodded my head, resolute in my determination but regretting the decision immensely. We shuffled up to the edge and I dangled my feet out, feeling the cold air swirl around my legs and trying to remember what I had just learned in skydive training.
Head back, feet crossed, hold on to the handles and GO!
The free fall was fantastic! We leapt out, leaving the plane behind us and plummeting through the air. I got the go ahead to hold my arms out, battling with the struggle to breathe through the rush of the wind and finally reaching terminal velocity. I was falling at 120mph. When my instructor landed us gracefully, I had never felt more thankful to be on solid ground again. Looking down at my harness, I checked that Amu had survived the experience and we untangled ourselves from the parachute ropes before staggering back towards the centre. It had been quite the experience!
After collecting my certificate, I spent the rest of the day recovering and updating my supporters on the events of the morning, many of which were considerably relieved to discover that I was, in fact, still in one piece. My fundraising total had shot up again while I’d been airborne which definitely made everything worth it, and in total I was able to raise more than £1,000 for Wild Welfare’s projects.
With COVID restrictions slowly easing in the UK and abroad, I am hopeful that Amu and I will be boarding a plane again soon, but we won’t be jumping out of one again!
If Sarah has inspired you to take on your own fundraising challenge for Wild Welfare, take a look at our events page HERE.
Image © Wild Welfare: Sarah with Amu our welfare bear mascot soaring through the skies!