Chattanoogan: Steve Still – Live Like You Were Dying

Tuesday, September 10, 2013 - by Jen Jeffrey

Every person could think of at least one thing they would like to do just once in their lifetime. Steve Still wanted to skydive on his 50th birthday. There are usually three responses about skydiving. Either it is ‘absolutely not’ or a ‘one day I’d like to…’ and then there is the person who says, “I’ve got to do it.” Steve determined to be the latter.

Born to Ken and Barbara Still, Steve was the middle child of his two siblings, Chuck and Robin. Living in Chattanooga all of his life (with the exception of college in Birmingham) Steve wanted to be a songwriter and performer during his youth. He played drums and guitar and took piano for a while.

When he played school sports, he suffered several concussions and was told he would have to wear head gear in order to play basketball. “I decided that was just not cool,” Steve laughs.

In high school he was exposed to many outdoor activities and enjoyed hiking and backpacking. On one camping trip in Smoke Mont, he and his friends met up with a few black bears.

“Black bears behave just like they are supposed to. If you play by the rules, they pretty much play by the rules too. It’s the element of surprise that knocks you for a loop. We followed the rules except for Jody Miller – he had sweet smelling chewing tobacco in his backpack. Then there was Mark who was a little hefty and didn’t believe in using deodorant. Instead he used an aromatic talc. How to you go into bear country smelling like something that would like to be eaten?” Steve cries out with a chuckle.

“You have to be careful about your campsite. When you watch a bear move you see how smart these guys are – it is just fascinating. You are supposed to hang up all your food so they can’t get to it. They are so smart. When they come into camp and see a pack, they think one of two things; either they can get into it or it’s not worth even bothering,” Steve explains.

The young boys had already seen bears before bedding down that night, but with no incident. With tents side by side, Steve was awakened at two in the morning when Mark who was sleeping the opposite way nudged him and said, “They’re back…” Groggily, Steve replied, “How do you know?” Mark said, “Because his nose is on my head.”

The black bear decided the talc wasn’t worth it and went to the next tent where Jody had his tobacco.

“The guys in the next tent were screaming because the bear had ripped through the front of the tent and stuck his head in. They had gone to bed with a couple of pots to scare any bears off and they started banging them,” Steve says.

Frightened, the bear rolled out of the side of the tent and rolled onto Steve’s tent pulling it down on top of him. The bear’s leg got caught in the tie down rope, but he eventually ran off.

After college, Steve worked at Pioneer Bank where he met his wife Kelly. “I spotted her across the lobby and had to find out who she was. I truly was smitten the first time I saw her,” Steve insists.

The couple moved back to Chattanooga and raised their son McLain and daughter Delaney. Steve has been a commercial lender for over 30 years with a national bank. He still enjoys writing and performing, but doesn’t get to do that too often.

“I appreciate good music. It’s frustrating to not be doing anything musically, because I really enjoy that. Sometimes I play for church services, weddings and funerals. I am always glad to do that for people,” he says.

Steve claims he is not necessarily an adrenaline junkie, but he does enjoy a good thrill. “I used to be really adventurous, but I had to get my priorities in order. For my 50th birthday, there was just something about jumping out of a plane that sounded like a good idea so I wanted to do that, but it didn’t work out that year,” Steve says.

A couple of years ago, Steve’s kids gave him a big box for Christmas.

When I opened it up, the first thing I saw were adult diapers and …I didn’t think that was very funny. Then there was a balsa wood airplane that you put together and a plastic guy with a plastic parachute and at the bottom of the box was a ticket to go jump out of a plane,” Steve says.

His son McLain went with him to Cedartown Ga. and the two made a jump at 14,000 feet.

“It was fast! It was so stinking fast!” Steve exclaims. “It was like I was at the top of a roller coaster going downhill and I kept waiting for the bottom and … there wasn’t a bottom coming! I was falling like a rock out of the heavens! It was crazy,” he says spiritedly.

Steve and McLain both had guides who would take them on the jump, but Steve’s guide was nowhere to be found. A 12-minute warning came across the PA system making Steve a bit nervous. He watched McLain’s guide giving meticulous instruction.

When the voice over the PA announced, “This is your nine-minute warning …you have nine minutes,” Steve’s guide AJ finally appeared.

“A long-haired dude looking like he just rolled out of the sack comes over and says, ‘Hey, is there a guy in here named Steve?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, that’s me’. He said, ‘Steve get over here… so what are you thinking right now?’ and I said, ‘I am thinking that I am getting ready to jump out of a plane.’ AJ said, ‘Let me tell you something …see these other guys in here getting all these instructions and trying to learn this stuff? Do you know what they are going to think when they jump out of the plane? They are going to think about all the stuff they are supposed to be doing and they will forget about enjoying what they are doing. I will be strapped to your back and I will tell you a few important things but other than that, I am not telling you anything except to have a good time’,” Steve relays.

Steve actually appreciated AJ’s ‘cut-to-the-chase’ style. When the group of jumpers got on the plane and it started up, Steve was a little more nervous.

“I kind of have trouble with planes anyway, but I was fortunate to have AJ,” he insists.

There were 28 people on the plane - 14 jumpers with their guides and other staff. Two benches ran down the length of the plane which the jumpers straddled as they waited to jump.

“I just started thinking about being strapped together and thought, ‘Oh wow …we are both gonna die.’ AJ told me a few things that were going to happen and I asked him a question. He started laughing at me and said ‘Steve, there is so much more out there that can kill you than what you just asked me… just don’t ask me any more stupid stuff, okay?’ and I said, ‘Okay, I’m cool’,” Steve asserted.

Things got serious when AJ told him, ‘Okay Steve, here’s what is going to happen. The door is going to roll up and people in front of you are going to turn and roll out. When the bench is empty in front of you, it’s time for you to go. Now, I can’t carry you and you can’t carry me, so we have to do this as a team.”

AJ asked Steve if he were scared. In reality, Steve knew AJ wanted to live as much as he did and was counting on him to control that. As Steve tried to stay calm, the jumpers ahead of him made their jumps and Steve tried to drag him and his guide along. AJ said, “Steve you can’t do that, man, calm down.” Steve realized he was pretty nervous. When the bench emptied AJ said, “Let’s go jump out of a plane!”

When they approach the door AJ instructed, “You are going to stand up and I am going to grab the rail and then we are going out.”

Steve understood his instruction yet ended up grabbing the rail himself without even realizing it. “I reached up and grabbed the bar and AJ leaned up to me cussing like a sailor. He said, ‘That’s my bar - you don’t touch my bar’,” Steve mimics.

When looking out of the opening Steve yelled, ‘Gah-h-h, do you see what’s out there?’ AJ once again warned, “Steve… let go of the bar…” Steve let go of the bar and they were out of the plane. “Gosh, it was so stinking fast!” Steve says excitedly.

“I wanted to see where McLain was, but once you step out of the plane it is incredible how fast you are going and how quickly you reach 120 miles an hour. The plane was just gone! Other than the physical discomfort of having this little seat thing crammed up your crotch and hanging in front of the guide, it was not a bad experience. I think AJ had over 5,000 jumps and he was just cool as he could be,” Steve declares.

Seconds out of the plane as the duo plummeted downward, a videographer glided over to Steve and started filming his adventure.

“As we are free-falling, this guy was just floating around us - it is so bizarre. He put his foot in my chest and AJ told me to hold his foot. The guy started snapping all these shots. There were a couple of shots where it looked like I had 14 necks! My skin was flapping and I am surprised it didn’t choke my guide behind me!” Steve jokes.

“The guy did a little tuck and roll thing and he was gone! It was cool - you gotta try it!” Steve demands, “AJ pulled the rip cord and the chute opened. It was a rush like you just can’t believe.”

As AJ controlled the chute, he guided their open-flight exactly where they were supposed to land. The chute slowed them down some, but they were still falling at top speed.

“Your perspective is all screwed up. You are so high up and even though you are still moving pretty fast… there is not much wind noise because all the noise goes through the chute. AJ and I could carry on a conversation. I would ask him what everything was over the horizon and he said, ‘Quit asking stupid questions, man, I don’t know what that is.’ The closer we got to the ground I saw how fast I was going,” Steve said.

AJ instructed Steve to pull his legs up into his chest when they were about to land.

“I don’t have abs of steel so trying to maintain that position for 20 seconds is a little tough on the old man,” Steve admits, “AJ yelled at me, ‘Get your feet up …I said get em up!’ And the next thing I knew, we were sitting on our bottom.”

AJ asked Steve what he thought about it and at first he was at a loss for words. Then he started babbling and true to character, AJ said, “I’d love to stay and talk, man, but I got another jump, I will see ya!”

The videographer was at the landing and asked Steve, “So what was your favorite part of the jump?” To which Steve leaned over patting the ground saying, “This right here…”

Steve might have been a little nervous at first, but when asked what other quests he’d like to try, he simply says, “I would just like to do that again. My dad is a cancer survivor and he got to have the experience to drive a race car,” Steve says.

When asked if he would like to drive a race car Steve replies, “No, that’s not fast enough! After jumping out of a plane and falling like a rock at 14,000 feet I can’t imagine driving a race car that can run into things. That just wouldn’t do it for me.”

jen@jenjeffrey.com

 


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