By Tanner Kent

CNHI News Service

WASECA, Minn. — Cruising 2,500 feet above the ground, the door on a small-engine airplane flies open.

The realization is immediate that little can be done to prepare the mind for that exact moment, when the door releases and the sky fills the cabin with wind, drowning the sounds of the ground in the clouds. Even some veteran skydivers say the first adrenaline rush comes when the door flies open.

But the second rush is jumping. And that’s what 42-year-old Cory Hanna is here to do.

Positioning himself under the wing, helmet protecting against the stiff breeze blowing across the small airfield in Waseca, Hanna makes one last check of wind direction and dives for the ground.

Viewed from above, his figure appears terrifyingly small, even as his chute opens and feathers him toward an endless expanse of corn fields and townscape and trees.

The landing for both pilot and diver is soft. Hanna is assisted taking off his parachute and in strapping on a new one. The airplane taxies back for another run.

Jump No. 32 is in the books. Only 68 left to go.

“The stamina part won’t be so bad,” said Hanna the day prior, when he was out at the airfield wrapping up nine months of preparation for his record-breaking feat with a few last hours at the drop zone.

“It’s more of a mental thing.”

One hundred jumps in one day — that was Hanna’s goal. And when his feet touched the ground for the 100th time around 7:45 p.m. to a roaring wave of applause, he became the state record-holder for skydives in a 24-hour period.

But Hanna, who is an experienced jumper and member of the Waseca-based Minnesota Skydivers Club, had a larger goal in mind.

Not long ago, Hanna’s ex-wife and the mother of his 20-year-old daughter committed suicide. To relieve the guilt and depression, his daughter suggested they jump out of a plane together.

Hanna thought it might be therapeutic, so he agreed. Literally hundreds of jumps later, he said skydiving has changed his life.

“It’s a very empowering sport,” Hanna said.

All proceeds from Hanna’s record-breaking effort were donated to SAVE (Suicide Awareness - Voices of Education). All of the jumps were sponsored by a corporate donor or by a family wanting to memorialize a loved one lost to suicide.

“As I started talking about this, people just came out of the woodwork telling me their stories,” Hanna said. “Everybody, it seems, has been touched by this issue.”

Helping in the logistical effort were fellow members of the skydiving club.

Several members employed themselves in the repetitive task of packing the 30-pound parachutes. A few more tracked each jump, trying to keep Hanna on a six-minute pace per attempt. A few members were on-hand to catch Hanna when he landed (in case the wind blew up) and yet another conducted safety checks before and after each dive.

Two pilots rotated two small airplanes and a spotter on the offered constant radio advisements.

“We’re doing all the real work,” said Teddy Hoehn, club president, only half-kidding.

Meanwhile, Hanna and his custom Sabre2 parachute glide again toward the drop zone. With just a few feet left in his half-mile descent, he pulls on his parachute cords and comes to a gentle rest on terra firma.

With an unclip and a skip, he’s into a new parachute and striding toward the waiting airplane. He’s ready for another jump.

Tanner Kent writes for The Free Press in Mankato, Minn.

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