I think that therein lies the problem, Ashwin. As part of my own training to be a much better free fall skydiver, I spent a fair chunk of time at one of these wind tunnels in Dollywood, which was one of the few places that existed back at the time (late 1980s). By that time I was well experienced and had a lot of body control. The guy who ran the tunnel at the time was also a very experienced skydiver, which I believe had a great deal to do with how he managed the place. That went to the safety briefing, how to manage folks in the air, and the dive master (what he’d otherwise be called) who managed my work in the air. Like so many outfits like this, once it becomes profitable, other folks want to jump on the bandwagon. That would of course include those who have no clue about flying your body, airflow, and all the dangers contained therein. It takes very, very little body or hand movement in a 120 mph airflow to flip you over, whip you around at speed, and do a great many maneuvers which are very impressive (IF YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING) but damned dangerous if you’re clueless.

Those of us who have experience in the sky do know those things and we are very respectful of the third dimension(up-down), and take great care when dismounting the air flow. In fact, if I recall correctly, the wind was turned off so that we could dismount safely. What is sad is like so many other so-called “thrills,” the people drawn to these places -often young, often bad showoffs- build their skills and then show the clients what THEY can do with hours and hours of dedicated practice. Then it’s not about a safe experience for you and me, it’s about a stage for them. That’s a recipe for trouble. Every drop zone, every kayaking location, no matter my sport (and I do plenty) there is always the badass local whose skills are just enough to be impressive, and just poor enough to be supremely dangerous. Most of these indoor skydiving injuries would likely be avoided if the wind were gently turned off and people allowed to float gently to the floor. However, that takes time, and in these places, time is money. A friend of mine in the UK just spent nearly $500 for ten minutes of wind tunnel coaching. That’s a lot of pure profit. That is, until someone dies, and the whole place gets shut down.

About the only way we can work around something like this is to say no, team exercise or not. If your gut isn’t comfortable, which it sounds as though it wasn’t, then something inside knows. Then don’t bloody well do it. Years and years ago I felt very pushed to walk across the coals at a Tony Robbins seminar, and I refused. I don’t need to do that to know what kind of backbone I have. I climb badass mountains and kayak some gnar oceans and have done the kinds of things most of those folks wouldn’t of trying, and I started at 60. So no, peer pressure sucks. It’s either for you or it’s not. Sometimes the more courageous thing to do is say NO, rather than go along with an activity that you have grave doubts about. Man, that can take a great deal of backbone when the whole team is shoving at you. Interesting, that then becomes the firewalk- refusing it, I mean- rather than the firewalk itself.

As someone with several clients who run trips up Kilimanjaro, I hear stories all the time about people who got co-opted into the trip who had no interest in or enthusiasm about this very difficult climb. They are failures waiting to happen. It is uniquely unfair to pressure folks into any kind of extreme activity for which they are neither suited or have any interest in whatsoever.

This past year I had rotator cuff surgery to repair damage from being stomped by a horse, and then thrown from a galloping one. I choose these sports. I get hurt. But I choose them. Your story is fundamentally different. We shouldn’t feel as though we HAVE to participate in what could be a dangerous activity just because the company paid for it.

The average person is wholly clueless on how to use the body as an airfoil. Many of us who do also fly airplanes and we understand the wind. I also fly, so I do understand. To me, while I can understand the thrill, the lack of management oversight and truly mindful culling of those who don’t belong on a powerful, invisible fountain of air are going to continue to end in injury. Flying isn’t for everyone as you clearly point out. I wish you luck with your shoulder. Toughest joint in the body to heal, but it can. Best wishes for a full recovery.

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Horizon Huntress, prize-winning author, adventure traveler, boundary-pusher, wilder, veteran, aging vibrantly. I own my sh*t. Let’s play!

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