There really aren’t words to describe skydiving as it is completely incomparable for the adrenaline rush and the feeling of accomplishment. But there can be so much more to the experience than just the adrenaline. Skydiving is a celebration of life, a time to reconcile with the past and look forward to the future. It is a reminder that you are living your very best life and that you have the strength to do anything you set your mind to. That’s what skydiving has done for Juan Duarte.
Juan is a Skydive Tecumseh tandem skydiving student as well as a member of Team Recovery, a Toledo-based nonprofit organization dedicated “to passionately and enthusiastically carry[ing] a message of strength and hope to anyone affected by the disease of addiction.”
The nonprofit is a support network for people affected by addiction, those who are addicts as well as their families. Juan explained that the start of the group wasn’t intentional, “It started off initially as just a kind of like a joke or something, where a whole bunch of people would just put their hands in the center after meetings [in a detox center] and hype each other up and they called themselves Team Recovery. They’d be like ‘let’s go Team Recovery!’”
But the joke became so much more than that. They realized that in order to stay on track, they needed a support system that understood what they were dealing with and that they could go to with anything. Then it expanded beyond that. Juan said, “initially, it was just a means for us to support one another and to feel bonded. What ended up happening was a woman lost her husband to an overdose, and she reached out to Team Recovery and Matt and said,’ I lost my partner, and I was wondering if you knew of any support groups that use arts’… And he said no and then decided to start our own family support group meeting.”
Juan says that he feels like he joined Team Recovery the moment he became sober, which was due to those family meetings. “My mother had started going to meetings with Team Recovery,” Juan said, “Trying to figure out how to cope with our relationship and me being an addict and get support, and as a result of that, she started treating our relationship differently and not enabling me as much and got some tools, and one day I went with her… It’s a pretty cool story.”
He’s been sober since February 2016 and said that Team Recovery has been a vital part of his recovery and of his life. “I asked for help that day and I looked at all of these people and I thought, ‘these are my friends, whether they know it or not, like I take claim, like I am a member of Team Recovery,’” he said.
Since becoming a part of the group, Juan has helped grow the movement and community, arranging events and speaking at them as the Vice President and planning events that can bring the community further together.
That’s how Juan first went skydiving during the summer with others involved with Team Recovery. “I’m an idea man,” he said, “my creative juices are flowing and a couple of years ago me and Matt, we’re talking and I had an idea [to go skydiving] because a big part for us has always been for us to create an atmosphere that will show people that you can enjoy life after addiction.”
“I made a commitment to myself that I was gonna make this an epic summer,” Juan said, “So I thought, you know, well, why not do it now. It’s something I always wanted to do and I heard a lot of other people wanted to do in recovery.”
The team’s first skydive happened in early June of this year here at Skydive Tecumseh and it was an experience none of them will ever forget. The emotions Juan was feeling before the jump were almost indescribable.
“For me, the inspiration was, and still is, to jump for people who’ve lost their lives and to dedicate my life to the memory of them and people who are still in active addiction,” Juan said, “To know how blessed I am to be doing what I’m doing with my life today, because I very well could not be here today.”
He was there to jump for the experience, but he was also doing it as a celebration of life, and in memory of those he lost to addiction.
“I feel very fortunate all the time, I feel very, very fortunate that I get to do what I get to do,” Juan said, “And sometimes that’s just being alive and leading up to [the jump]… I’m wishing and hoping that other people get to have that experience of freedom, and I’m also remembering that a lot of people aren’t gonna have that opportunity, so for me I’m just really grateful for the fact that I’m there.”
On the way up to the jump, Juan kept focusing on his intentions, living in the moment, but not forgetting the past and everything that brought him to that moment.”
“I pray a lot, I have really strong intentions, and as I’m in the plane, the first time around, I’m yelling out people’s names,” he said, “If you ever met me, you know that I’m a pretty high energy individual, and as I’m in the plane I’m yelling… and I’m literally just saying people’s names out loud… I’m speaking for the people that I’ve known and speaking their name out and saying, I’m here.”
“As I’m jumping out the plane, I’m in disbelief that I’m here, that I’m able to see what I’m seeing,” Juan said, tears in his eyes, but still smiling at the overwhelming memory. “But that initial jump out the plane, that moment your heels are setting on the ledge and you’re looking out over the sky. That moment there is obviously very intense, but I’m thinking, here we go, it’s time to do it.”
“And I’m there and I’m like, I just can’t believe I’m here. I can’t believe that I’m here,” Juan said, “I’m screaming, I’m living, I’m living, I’m alive. I’m screaming it from the top of my lungs, I’m alive and it just hits a little different when you come off the streets and you’re sleeping on the concrete, flying in the sky, that just… It’s different, and I just feel really honored for the fact that I have the opportunity to be alive.”
That first experience, jumping out of the plane, looking out over the world was more than just a sport. It was a moment that allowed his energy to connect with the world and be completely in the moment. So of course he had to do it again. Juan said that he completed his second tandem jump in July and he has plans to start working toward completing the AFF course this month.
After the therapeutic experience Juan has had with skydiving, how it has benefited his mindset and life, he is now driven to help more people have this incredible experience. He explained, “A very important part for us at Team Recovery is to carry a message of hope and so I’m constantly thinking about how I can give that feeling or pass that hope along and create a community for people who feel like it’s possible for them too. So I’m constantly looking for opportunities to bring people into a full life. It’s what I’m good at. I’m good at building people up. I love being able to lift other people’s spirits and show them that more is possible even if they’re scared, and so I’m constantly bringing people into the adventure, the adventure of life, and trying to uplift them.”
Skydive Tecumseh was proud to be a host to Juan and the other members of Team Recovery. For Juan, the experience of the skydive was made even more powerful by the person he was able to take the dive with. His tandem instructor was Sean, who helped Juan to appreciate every moment of the experience.
About his experience with Sean, Juan said, “I felt like I connected with him on a really big human level, and so when we pulled the parachute, that was really amazing. The feeling of the jerk from the parachute that just sweeps you up, and then for him to say, look around and for me to be talking while we’re in the air. He’s pointing things out to me, and he’s also showing me what to do with the parachute. At the moment that I can really reflect when I’m sitting in the parachute and really reflect on what I’m doing and to share that I was like Sean, dude, I can’t believe I’m here, man. He said, ‘Well, you are. I’m so proud of you’.”
The fear that Juan faced before taking the leap of faith into life in recovery finds a perfect metaphor in skydiving. It can help others to start to understand what life is like for someone struggling with addiction.
“Recovery is a lot like skydiving in the sense that for me, for everybody,” Juan explained, “What ends up happening is we lose ourselves in our addiction and regular life for us becomes difficult. We’re scared of what it looks like to step into life and so we become hesitant and fear ends up really taking root in our lives. Even after drugs or alcohol are out of our system, we still don’t know how to step into life at times. In the sense where we have to take a leap of faith and we have to depress whatever that fear is in order for us to experience the promise life has to offer. Just making that jump in that commitment to live and to find out what that means for us individually, to not allow fear to run our lives because for us… It’s deadly. For us, it’s deadly. I think other people can get away with certain things. But in addiction, our mechanism for survival has been drugs for a long time, a lot of us use drugs to survive in a way because we didn’t know how to cope, it’s a pretty big paradox. It sounds really foreign to people that might not understand. In the sense that it being like skydiving, it’s really about that leap of faith and choosing into something. Choosing something regardless. And that’s courage. Trying to be courageous.”
Juan also wanted everyone to know that Team Recovery is there if you need them, no matter where you are in your journey, they want to offer support. “If there’s anybody that’s a family member or somebody in recovery even, most importantly, somebody in active addiction, if this message comes across them, if there’s anything that they need, if they’re unsure of what to do, how to reach out, just make the call. Make the call for help if you need help. Our LifeLine 419-561-LIFE would love to support you.”
Juan, we are so proud of you for being courageous enough to choose to take the leap and we are so proud of all the others who chose it alongside you. The skydiving community is a place where you are welcomed no matter your past, as long as you have a passion for skydiving, so welcome to the family. We can’t wait to see what new memories and moments we create together.
Don’t ever forget to take the time to celebrate life. Whether that is through skydiving or just by taking a moment to appreciate what you have. There is always something to celebrate about life, even if it is just the little moments. You are living, you are alive, and you are thriving.
On Labor Day my daughter took our first jump. She got me it for my 62nd birthday to check off my bucket list. It was the most intense adrenaline rush I have ever experienced. James and Amber (my daughters tandem partner) were very professional and made our jumps fantastic. We will be back again and hope to bring a group with us. Tremendous experience.