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By David Knopf, News Editor
Some people just want to jump out of a plane once to say they’ve done it. Others like the rush so much they choose to do it again and again.
Since he turned a sky diving club into a business in 1983, Hardin native Tom Dolphin and his Missouri River Valley Sky Divers have provided training and thrills for both groups.
Last Saturday, around 200 people jumped at Lexington Memorial Airport – some more than once.
“We had people from Illinois, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri,” he said.
Thanks to the shifting of the Missouri River, the Lexington airport is located in a corn field east of Henrietta – on the Ray County side of the river. Technically, it’s part of Lafayette County, but that’s a geographic oddity for another day.
Dolphin says that between 1,500 to 2,000 students and one-time jumpers come through his facility in a year.
He made his first jump in 1977 and since then has gathered enough experience to not only teach jumping and parachute rigging, but to teach other instructors.
When people contact Missouri River Valley Sky Divers they’re given a choice of jumping tandem – a one-time experience where the novice is attached to an experienced jumper and shares one parachute.
“Most people do that,” he said. “They don’t want to spend the time or take the risks. If they really get the bug and want to continue doing it, they can jump with our static line group.”
Those who opt for the longer-term committment receive training in everything from packing a chute to leaving the aircraft, making adustments during a jump and landing properly.
On Saturday, Dolphin worked with first-time jumper Ken Greimann, who traveled from Columbia to Henrietta to make his first jump. Greimann’s son, Pete, 21, also was among Saturday’s group of novices making their first jumps.
“We wondered if we were crazy not going for a tandem on our first jump, but after experiencing it (solo), I think we made the right decision,” Ken Griemann said.
While Griemann made the descent from 3,200 feet – a jump from that altitude takes just five minutes – Dolphin was on a hand-held radio giving him pointers on how to correctly position his body and influence the direction of his parachute and ultimately, his landing.
The urgency in Dolphin’s voice is evidence of how seriously he takes the sport.
“It’s fun, but it’s an adult activity and there are risks,” he said. “The injuries and fatalities we have any more aren’t parachutes failing but people hitting immovable objects.”
When Griemann landed Saturday he hit the ground near the desired drop zone. But his touch down wasn’t as smooth as he or Dolphin would’ve liked.
“That’s what I’m trying to get them to learn is the sweet spot,” Dolphin said.
Missouri River Valley Sky Divers (www.skydivemrvs.com) draws jumpers from the region, but it’s also had its share of Ray Countians. In addition to Dolphin and his wife Patty (a member of Millville’s Kincaid family), jumpers have included Farrell and Peggy Hockemeier and current jumper Scott Sullenger of Hardin, who works at Ray County Memorial Hospital.
Dolphin now lives in Richmond, but said he’s never drifted too far from his roots.
“I grew up in Hardin and started school there when I was 5,” he said. “Then we moved to the big city of Richmond. So I haven’t ever moved too far from home.”
What Dolphin hasn’t done horizontally – moved away from his birthplace – he’s more than made up for vertically. While some of his more experienced jumpers began their dives at 13,500 feet on Saturday, Dolphin personally has jumped from 22,000 feet – a distance of around four miles.
With air that’s cold and thin on oxygen, Dolphin said it’s a height that can cause an improperly equipped jumper to “grey out” – partially lose consciousness. He calls in an “inhospitable” alitude.
For more information on sky diving, see Dolphin in person at the airport or call him at 816-984-4432.