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Free Falling: Ohio Skydiving School will change your perspective on the world

Mitch Hooper



The things I do for content.

My Saturday mornings are typically relaxing. I like to wake up early, listen to some music, play a few games on my Xbox, and then make my way into the world. I like my couch, I prefer pools to oceans, and my idea of a risk is getting pinto beans instead of black beans in my Chipotle bowl. And somehow, on a Saturday morning, I found myself with a grown man strapped to my back plummeting 11,000 feet towards the Earth’s surface.

Making the hour drive to Skydive Greene County was tough with a giant pink elephant in the car—the uneasy feeling in my stomach the entire way where every bone, muscle, and cell in my body was screaming: TURN AROUND. When I arrived, my trusty skydive team trudged forward, making jokes—they say seven out of every eight divers make it to the ground—and we scoffed at the “Hell Is Real” billboard.

Photo: Adam Fakult

The facility at Skydive Greene County has been in operation since 1961, and the numerous plaques, flags, trophies, and more were a reminder of the 50+ years of success they’ve experienced. It all began with the owner, founder, and general badass Jim West. He began skydiving in 1959 and never looked back. Since, he’s logged more than 16,000 skydives and 30,000 hours piloting planes. Can you even think of anything you’ve done 16,000 times?

After an informational video about the “do’s” and “don’ts” of diving, our group was separated to meet with our tandem instructor who assured us, “We always find the bodies.” It may sound morbid hearing these lighthearted jokes about dying, but rather I saw it as a bode of confidence. My tandem jumper does jumps almost daily from sunup to sunset without a single accident. I’m just another day at work, so to speak.

We were informed we were the third group of five to start the jumps of the day. Each time, I’d see one group nervously approach the plane. About 15 minutes later, they’d softly land on the grass with a beaming smile and what I assumed was a new perspective on life. And each time one landed, it was a reminder that I was soon to do the same. My stomach was a war of butterflies and creepy crawlies just at the thought. Dear Lord, don’t let me splat on the ground.

Photo: Adam Fakult

(Okay, maybe that “Hell Is Real” sign had more influence than I care to admit.)

Finally, it was our turn to board the plane. My instructor pulled out a GoPro to keep note of my emotions before and after. My instructor asked me the final question: Anything you want to say before we go up?


Tell my mom I love her.

Next thing I know, I was sitting on his lap processing all the steps I need to do before and during the jump. Sitting across from me was a solo jumper checking his altitude meter. A light on the wall was glowing red, then we’d get a little higher and it turned yellow, and eventually it turned green. The solo jumper opened the door, looked back, gave me the peace sign, and like a vacuum sucking up a dust bunny on the floor, he was gone.


My instructor taps me on the shoulder to tell me we are next. I don’t know if I was walking towards the door or if my instructor did the work for me. He said we’d go on the count of three, but when he got to two, we had already leapt.

Instantly, I lost my breath. Fear rushed through my body like a jolt of electricity. And it was in that exact moment I found peace. All the stress of my day-to-day disappeared for a second. I wasn’t worried about heartbreak or deadlines, I had to focus on what was important in that moment and what I could control. I took a deep breath, we began to flatten out, and pure bliss smacked me in the face. I was free. I was alive.

The more we were free falling, the more peace I found. The views were incredible, the feeling of letting go was powerful, and the adrenaline turned into serenity. Eventually, the parachute was pulled giving us more time to take in the sights, and more importantly, play around. We tried a slow turn and that sensation of your legs falling asleep crept into my body. Then we tried a fast turn and my entire body became numb. And hell, why not? We did another fast turn. Our bodies spun like the slingshot David used against Goliath.

Photo: Skydive Greene County

We finally approached the 1,000 feet mark and began to practice the landing maneuver. It was simple in the moment—just raise your legs and butt up and prepare to slide. But as we grew closer to the ground, nausea and motion sickness hit me. I tried to muster every ounce of energy I had to properly land, and to my credit it was a decent landing. But as soon as I landed, I rolled over on my hands and knees and proceeded to do the sick cat pose. Looking death directly in the face at 100+ miles per hour takes a toll on a fella. But what do we say to the God of Death? Not today.

And just like that, it was over. I can’t lie, the emotions got the best of me. I went to the bathroom and sobbed while I laughed. It was strange. It was weird. And I can’t say this enough, you need to try it at least once. Whether you’re in a funk because of life or in a creative rut from work, the experience here is a wake up call. Living is fun, and we can’t let fear hold us back. Make the leap, catch your breath, and enjoy the views— that’s all we can ever really do.

Feel like falling out of a plane and changing your life? Go to

millennial | writer | human

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Life is but a dream with Greater Columbus Rowing Association

Linda Lee Baird



Sculling. Coxswain. Regatta. For the uninitiated, the language of rowing can be difficult to parse. But if you’re ready to build your vocabulary, muscles, and circle of friends all at the same time, rowing might be right for you. You don’t even have to be an early riser to join the club.

The Greater Columbus Rowing Association (GCRA) was founded in 1984 as a non-profit organization dedicated to the sport of rowing. The central location on the Scioto’s Griggs Reservoir provides rowers across the city with a place to get on the water, before or after work. Open to all levels and abilities, with new rowers, adaptive rowers, and competitive rowers welcome, the GCRA has provided dynamic opportunities for Columbus- area residents for 35 years.

Photos: Brian Kaiser

Rower Jan Rodenfels, whose lightweight quad team took home the cup at this summer’s Midwest Sprints race, started as a runner, and said that rowing requires concentration and coordination that she hadn’t needed before, even when competing in marathons. As a writer and motivational speaker, she had multitasked during her runs, planning and preparing with every mile. “With running, I could work in my head,” she said. But rowing put a stop to that. “You are working in your head on the stroke, as well as all your major muscle groups. It looks easy but it’s challenging, synching up [with other rowers]. Oars have to go in and come out together.”

Learning to row was more difficult than Rodenfels had anticipated. One of her early coaches cautioned the team that as they learned new skills, “Our problems will multiply like rabbits.” Rodenfels focused on learning one or two things at a time, as trying to put everything together immediately was simply too much. “I had to think Swan Lake at the beginning instead of rock and roll,” she explained. In other words, her primary focus was on getting smooth and perfecting her form before worrying about speed. “I could add the rock and roll when we could start moving fast.”

She extolled the benefits of rowing for beginners. “You use legs, arms, [and] back... You really develop your muscles and cardio system.” She cautioned that because the sport is so demanding on your body, having a good coach from the beginning is key. That way, you’re taught the correct way to do things from the onset. “You don’t want to have to undo all the bad moves you’re making.”

The schedule, too, can be a challenge, particularly when trying to coordinate with other busy members of a team. “We’re supposed to be out at 5:30 [a.m.],” Rodenfels said. “We’re out at 7:00 [a.m.], 8:00 [a.m.], whenever we can get all of our different boats in and coordinated.” And while the early mornings can be difficult, there’s something to be said for getting exercise while watching the sunrise on a boat with your friends. “It’s a beautiful sport.”

It’s also open to everyone who’s past their years of college eligibility. “Master’s rowing starts at age 21... all the way up to people in their 90s.” Even if you’re not a morning person, there’s room on the boat for you. Rodenfels said many club members practice in the evenings. Physical limitations can be accommodated as well. “We have a paradaptive program at GCRA that’s all done and supported by volunteers. We encourage anyone who would like to try it to go on our website and sign up.”

Still not sure it’s the sport for you? GCRA offers corporate learn-to-row activities that businesses such as Cardinal Health and even the Columbus Blue Jackets have taken advantage of. It’s a good opportunity to dip your toe in the water—whether you choose to take that advice literally or not.

New members might take up rowing for teamwork, exercise, fresh air, opportunities to travel and win awards, or all of the above. Whatever your motivation, Rodenfels recommends starting with a learn-to-row class, and getting ready to enjoy the ride. “When you do it, it’s so beautiful,” she said.

In mid-August, GCRA members headed to The 2019 USRowing Masters National Championships in Grand Rapids, MI and took the gold. Follow their journey and find out how to get your crew on at

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Obscure Columbus: Brown Pet Cemetery

Laura Dachenbach



I drove past it dozens of times before I realized what it was. 

I could see that it was a cemetery peeking out from under an overhang of trees, with stones spreading across a field. But something was different. One day while driving down Sawyer Road, I slowed down until I could make out a name on what seemed to be a very small marker: Pug. 

I had found the Brown Pet Cemetery. 

Surrounded by the grounds of the John Glenn Airport, the Brown Pet Cemetery remains mostly hidden. The cemetery was started in the 1920s by Walter A. Brown, a local veterinarian, and a cemetery association was founded in 1934. Over 450 burials cover the site, all a visual testament to the purity of the human-animal bond. Most markers bear the names not only of the pets themselves, but also of their human “parents.” Folk art decorates many stones, as well as oval ceramic plaques with black-and-white pet portraits. DIYers of decades ago have used marbles and shells to adorn handmade markers.

Pet names over the decades show their cultural and historical influences. Dimples and Trixie and Buster in the 20s and 30s give way to Lassie and Gidget in the 50s and eventually become Coco and Misty in the 70s and 80s. But pet owners have clearly always been common or creative in naming their animal companions. For every Blackie or Fluffy that rests here, there’s a Boob and a Stinky Bill and a Dammit, each of them memorialized and apparently cherished. 

It’s hard to tell how active the cemetery is. The articles of incorporation for the cemetery association expired in 1997, when most burials seemed to have stopped. However, during my most recent excursion through the grounds, I saw several graves marked with artificial flowers, as well as a memorial for Mr. King, a ten-year-old cat with a love of shoes, who was interred this past June. 

Regardless of activity, the sentimentality of this space is palpable. (A visit will likely require a package of Kleenex.) Be ready to be touched by the still-visible memories of the pets who have found peace here.
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Put me in, coach! Fall sporting leagues you should join today




Sure, you can join a pickup game of basketball or soccer pretty much anywhere there are courts and fields. However, in an active, outdoor- friendly city such as Columbus, a growing number of public sports leagues and athletic clubs throughout the downtown area are evolving. They embrace not only traditional sporting leagues, but also nostalgic fringe sports (such as kickball and dodgeball), and the fun-loving attitude that comes with them, where often times competitiveness is eschewed for simply having a good time. Isn’t that a novel idea?

Columbus Recreation and Parks |

If you’re interested in sporting in Ohio’s capital, the first (and for many the only) place to look is the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department. While municipal recreation teams might seem to many like they’re geared toward youth participation alone, this simply isn’t the case. So don’t worry, you won’t be reliving the glory days of 50-minute T-ball innings and basketball games ending in a score of 8-4.

According to Columbus Recreation and Parks Communications Manager Brian Hoyt, last year alone Columbus saw over 1.5 million people participate in city sporting leagues, and the majority of them were adults.

“Columbus is actually thriving in the business of sports tourism,” says Hoyt. “Often times you have strong youth sports programs in the surrounding towns and cities, but they can be lacking in adult programming. Because of that, here in Columbus, we see people coming from Gahanna, from Upper Arlington, from Dublin, you name it.”

And with such a robust group of athletes, the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department doesn’t skip a beat when it comes to the variety of leagues being offered. Leagues for every major sport are offered at varying levels of competition and seriousness across the city, including flag football, basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, volleyball and much, much more.

One of the draws of participating in Columbus athletic leagues is their often top-notch facilities.

In fact, according to Hoyt, the city’s Lou Berliner Sports Park is nothing short of a world-class venue. Just this year the sports park, which is one of the largest diamond ball eld complexes in the country, was certified as an Environmentally Certified Sports Facility by the Sports Turf Managers Association. This makes Berliner the first facility in Ohio (and only the 32nd in the world) to earn this certification.

“I think [Berliner] is like one of those great secrets that everyone actually knows about,” says Hoyt. But the wide world of Columbus adult sporting contests goes far beyond the city’s recreational leagues.

Sports Monster Club |

Sure, traditional sports like basketball, baseball, soccer, and football are great for many. But every so often we all get the urge for something different. Sometimes we’re in the mood for bowling, handball, or maybe we want to unload a heavy rubber ball at our best friend’s face while suspended ten feet in the air.

Yes. I’m talking about trampoline dodgeball.

Currently, the novel sport is offered by the Columbus-based Sports Monster Club, an organization (now boasting multiple national hubs) that seems to be pushing the boundaries of sporting leagues and loving every second of it. While regular dodgeball is no longer offered, trampoline dodgeball is still available at the league level, with the occasional tournament as well. And while Columbus has yet to see many of these, the group regularly tests out some of the weird fringe sports (such as pickle ball and Spikeball) at other locations, checking their viability for a larger market.

And while the presence of dodgeball itself may be a novelty without top-tier staying power, the trend of including fun, less- traditional sports in leagues across Columbus seems to be here to stay.

When we think of kickball, it’s more likely we recall recess on the blacktop than a televised sporting event Nationwide Arena, but nevertheless the quirky competition has found a niche in the heart of Columbus athletes, with Sports Monster boasting the largest kickball league system in the city.

And according to the Sports Monster’s Bart Fitzpatrick, there’s good reason for its popularity.

“Kickball is doing very well. It is the most social sport of all—where anyone, of any athletic skill, can participate and have a good time,” Fitzpatrick said. His assessment underscores the fact that many participating in adult sporting leagues are doing so for mixed purposes: sure it’s fun to win, and competitive leagues are still going strong, but many younger members of Columbus sports clubs are joining to be among friends.

“The social component [of kickball] is huge. We always have host bars for after-league for folks to hang out and revel in their on- eld/on-court antics and glory,” Fitzpatrick added.

Columbus Young Professionals Club |

Another innovative athletic group in the city is the Columbus Young Professionals Club. The group, created in 2005, acts as a hybrid networking and social organization mixed with athletics and community service elements as well.

“At our most basic level, the social membership, it’s free to join. And there are plenty of opportunities; we have about 20,000 members now,” says CYPC Athletic Director Anish Mistry. “It’s a really great way to be among friends, or even to meet new people.”

Similar to Sports Monster, CYPC represents an interesting trend where competitive athletes have the opportunity to square off, but the holistic club at its core seems to be about blending sports and social opportunities.

With upcoming softball and volleyball leagues in the fall, the group is also currently offering bowling and even euchre registration. What’s more, among its slate of athletic leagues, the club offers a litany of social events, including coffee talks where young professionals can gather to discuss prominent issues in their lives (each evening revolves around a specific topic), dedicated networking events, and regular community service projects, including clean-ups at local parks and volunteering at Columbus-area festivals.

It’s clear that the project of the CYPC involves athletics, but it seems to do so in a more dynamic sense, inclusive of sporting leagues from the seriously competitive to the fully laid-back.

And this seems to be a movement the city as a whole is beginning to embrace—where there’s a sporting team for everyone, but a lot of us are just along for the ride. Sign me up for that.

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