Driving north on LaGrange Road in Hickory Hills, just south of I-55, a distracting sign on the left side of the road features a smiling parachutist, thumbs up, declaring "Why Drive When You Can Fly?'
It's an ad for iFLY, an indoor skydiving experience that creates true free fall conditions, without having to jump out of an airplane. "Just you and the air," says their website, "and it's the most incredible adrenaline rush."
I was invited to spend some time in the air with a certified instructor. I took the plunge to overcome a longtime fear of freefall heights, which I chronicled by ziplining across a lake at the YMCA's Camp Tecumseh.
Why'd I try this?
Mostly because I have a child who is capable of smirking when I show fear. So, when the opportunity came to try free fall parachuting at iFLY, the time had come.
"Okay, six million customers worldwide can't be wrong, " I told myself as I pulled into the parking lot of iFLY's Naperville location. "And it even says 'no experience necessary' on their website."
The tall, steel structure looks like something out of NASA. People wear flight suits everywhere. It's crowded, with several groups, including a STEM group from Thornton Fractional High School, ahead of me. I see people of all ages here. Some look older than me. The professionals are doing their job.
Gathering courage, I meet Nicholas, my escort, and Sergio, who checks me in. "It's my first time," I said. "Please be gentle with me?"
Sergio laughed. "Don't worry. It'll be so easy. You'll be fine." Sergio signs me up for the first-time package....'Earning Your Wings,' which includes a one-hour flight training session, rental of the flight suit, helmet and goggles, two one-minute flying sessions in the air chamber, and a personalized flight certificate. I'll need that for my kid.
As we boarded a glass elevator to the flight chamber, I definitely feel like I'm at NASA. I'm greeted by Kristin, my instructor. She's one of a handful of women who are certified flight instructors.
Why'd she get into this? "I've always been athletic, and after my first parachuting experience, I was hooked.," she said. "I want to teach others to have that same love for parachuting that I do."
And she's thoroughly professional, instructing about 35 of us on how to hold our bodies
"Relax, stretch out, and bend your knees, hold your arms in front of you with palms up"
And then, as REO Speedwagon sang, it's time for me to fly.
There's no time for panic as I step into the flight chamber.
Making the sign of the Cross, I assume flight position with Kristin, while feeling 110-mph winds catapulting me upwards toward the top of the flight chamber.
I feel like I'm in the vortex of a tornado, spinning in circles, feeling weightless, and somehow, exhilarated and safe at the same time. Kristin constantly adjusts my torso, knees and hands.
It's over in a minute, but feels much longer. I wave at Nicholas, smile for the cameras, and high-five my group as I leave the chamber. They applaud.
As advertised, I feel the most incredible adrenaline rush.