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Turns out, fear of heights was misdirected all along

TAMPA — To many, the Red Bull Flugtag was a good excuse to spend time with friends.

Others were drawn to the promise of a spectacle.

I thought of it as good therapy. You see, I am afraid of heights.

I know it's not rational. Oh, I like a good roller coaster ride. But when I step too close to the second-floor railing at a mall, my head spins, and butterflies knock around in my stomach when I drive over the Sunshine Skyway.

Fueled by the desire to overcome this fear, I embarked on a voyage of self-discovery and caffeination with Flugtag.

I consulted Daniel Van Durme, a sports medicine expert. He said if things went poorly I could break an ankle or suffer a belly flop bruise, but serious injury was unlikely.

Joe Greenwell, a diving coach from Brandon, told me to tense up before I hit the water. If I jumped well, I would want to do it again, he said. Otherwise, "it may mar you for life."

On Saturday the teams shared duct tape and permanent markers, swilled Red Bull and admired each other's crafts.

Chris Demarco, from Gainesville, said he too was afraid of heights. He had a secret weapon — jumping without his glasses. "I'm going to limit my visibility and focus on something far away," he said.

I briefly regretted lacking such a plan but thought it best medically to experience the terror of the jump to its fullest.

The folks at Red Bull attached me to the Hargh! Baking Team out of Lady Lake. We were told we would be 13th to leave the platform. Now, I'm not usually superstitious, but being smack dab in the middle of a self-imposed therapy session did leave me a bit vulnerable.

We mounted the platform. My hands shook trying to secure the helmet. I tried to keep my voice from trembling. At the edge, the words "mar" and "life" flashed in my head. Then over the brink —

Nothing but air under my feet. A pang of terror.

Water. A sudden stop.

Darkness. Water up my nose.

The height, the fall, they weren't that scary.

I should have worried about the brown brackish water that filled my mouth and ears.

Joshua Neiderer can be reached at jneiderer@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3374.

Turns out, fear of heights was misdirected all along 07/19/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 1, 2010 4:32pm]
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