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COLUMN: Face your fears, like jumping from an airplane

Photojournalist Kevin Lamb says swimming with great white sharks in the Pacific Ocean was another way to test his mettle

A number of years ago, I noticed a sign at the Buttonville Airport, in Markham, advertising that you could learn to fly a plane for just $100.

That sounded too good to be true.

Since I was working in an office building right next door at the time, I thought, 'why not?'

I never imagined myself becoming a pilot, and I still don’t, but riding in a plane for an hour during my lunch break sounded like great fun, and getting to take the controls for a few minutes could be an amazing experience.

After a quick rundown on safety and such, I climbed aboard a Cessna airplane with a young pilot and we took off up to about 3,000 feet.

We levelled off and started to head toward Lake Simcoe when he said, “OK, take the controls.”

Wow, that didn’t take long.

To my surprise, all he was doing was taking off and landing the plane. The rest of the time I was the ‘pilot’ — even banking and turning us around when we reached Lake Simcoe to return to the airfield 40 minutes later.

It was a bit terrifying at first — the plane was shuddering and bouncing under my control.

I soon calmed down and so did the plane.

What a fantastic experience, though, one which inadvertently helped alleviate my sometimes-fear of taking off down the runway on a commercial flight.

I decided from then on that I was always going to say yes to whatever adventure I could from now on.

Life is short, as they say, even though it’s actually the longest thing that you will ever do, but never mind that. 

Live life to the fullest. See and do everything that you can.

BarrieToday's editor once asked me to jump out of an airplane for a story.

“OK!” I nervously replied, remembering my personal pledge of saying yes to everything and also forgetting for a moment that I was afraid of heights and refuse to even climb a ladder to my roof.

I soon found myself strapped tightly, thankfully, to a Canadian military paratrooper and performing a backflip out of the rear end of a plane that looked like a flying milk carton.

Free-falling from 12,500 feet with the air roaring around us, I was a bit terrified, of course.

But then the parachute opened and it was instantly silent. Complete silence. I didn’t expect that.

While floating down through the final 5,000 feet or so, it was an indescribably beautiful experience, with the world all around far below.

This ‘facing my fears’ thing was turning out to be pretty awesome.

Mind you, I still won’t climb the ladder to my roof. Not a chance.

So what’s next? Well, having a fear of the dark, unknown depths just past the underwater cliff drop-off in the lake at our family cottage, I guess I would try scuba diving.

I have a friend in Los Angeles who organizes cage dives with great white sharks, so let’s tackle two fears at once!

Jaws was a film that scared the crap out of me as a kid and was clearly the impetus for my fear of the deep-water darkness at the cottage that I never dared to snorkel into.

So having talked my father into coming along, away we went to San Diego, then on to Guadalupe Island, a territory of Mexico that is uninhabited and mainly used for artillery training by their military. It's far out into the Pacific Ocean. The plan was to spend three full days of diving with the sharks.

Within the first 10 minutes of the dive, one of the great whites got a little excited after grabbing a large chunk of fish that was used to draw them close to us, and had smashed one of the cage bars off. It had entered partway into the cage and slightly injured one of our fellow divers. It was just a scratch, really, so no problem.

This was exciting stuff!

After replacing the one bar with a length of rope — which was hilarious in hindsight — it was back to the action. Adrenalin was running high at this point, so no time to be scared. I spent hours each day in the cage photographing these incredible creatures, which turned out to be one of the great adventures in my life so far.

What if I said no to all these opportunities out of fear?

I can’t imagine saying no to anything now, within reason of course, as you usually get a whole new view of the situation and realize that there wasn’t really anything to be afraid of after all.

The military skydiver I took a leap of faith with had logged more than 3,000 jumps up to that point and was a seasoned pro.

The great white sharks on our dive aren’t all that aggressive, as it turns out. They can be quite timid, in fact, forever circling the bait that attracts them to us and taking their time. They seemed more scared of us in the end. Eventually, they get brave enough to slowly glide by you within arm’s reach, which is something I will never forget.

I suggest starting out small with the easy stuff, like befriending a spider if you are afraid of them, and then work your way up to the sharks, polar bears and sasquatches.

Every summer I search out jumping spiders and make friends with them by hand-feeding them bugs.  They get to know who I am and climb to the top of their favourite plants to leap onto my hand.

Life to me, especially now that I am over 50, is all about the experiences and less about acquiring stuff.

What’s next for me when I get back to travelling? Standing next to molten lava in Iceland or Hawaii is a bucket-list topper now.

I’m hooked on the cage diving, so another trip to visit those great white sharks is also in order.

And I suppose this story could be interpreted as a hint to my editor to add me to that skydiving list again, or riding in a fighter jet when CFB Borden has its media days again.

Kevin Lamb is a local photojournalist whose work often appears on BarrieToday. 

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About the Author: Kevin Lamb

Kevin Lamb picked up a camera in 2000 and by 2005 was freelancing for the Barrie Examiner newspaper until its closure in 2017. He is an award-winning photojournalist, with his work having been seen in many news outlets across Canada and internationally
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