With her silver-and-red parachute billowing in the breeze and her ponytail straight out behind her head, Leslie Hastings glided to a gentle landing at the Perris Valley Skydiving Center, a "drop zone" well-known to Southern California sky divers.
After impact, she grinned before gathering up her chute. "That was fun!" she exclaimed enthusiastically as a half-dozen jumpers landed around her.
Since April, sky diving has become an integral part of a vigorous physical-activity program for Hastings, a 32-year-old former nurse who is now a third-year law student at California Western School of Law in San Diego. Every week, she tries to get in three or more jumps, driving 90 miles from her downtown San Diego apartment to Perris Valley or 20 miles to the San Diego Air Sports Center near Chula Vista.
Her regular weekly routine also includes two aerobic exercise classes, two weight-training sessions and a ride along the harbor on her mountain bike. Occasionally, she'll also fit in a run or go climbing.
A 5:45 p.m. aerobic-exercise class seems to work best for her schedule, she said. "That fits in with taking a break--then I go back to work or school." And rather than rely on the buddy system of exercise, she almost always runs, goes to aerobic-exercise class and bikes alone, although she usually climbs with friends.
Stress reduction is by far Hastings' prime motivation for remaining faithful to fitness. "When they first come to law school, a lot of people forget to exercise and get stressed out," she noted.
Taking a 'Light Load'
As a third-year law student, she takes 12 units--"That's a light load; people usually take 17"--in order to fit in her duties as editor-in-chief of California Western Law Review, a student-managed quarterly scholarly publication. She receives a scholarship in exchange for her editorial work. With law school classes, editing tasks and studying, Hastings' work week averages 65 or more hours.
At 5 feet, 3 inches and 125 pounds, Hastings said she's heavier than she'd like to be.
"I used to be in better shape, but I do feel I'm maintaining," said Hastings, who hopes to specialize in defending doctors in medical-malpractice lawsuits. To help herself stay in shape, she watches her diet, being especially careful to avoid saturated fats.
Whenever the rigors of her week get her down, Hastings tends to think about her upcoming weekend jumps. "Sky diving makes the rest of the week livable," sighed Hastings, who with 78 jumps to her credit is considered a novice.
While sky diving isn't considered a cardiovascular conditioning activity by exercise physiologists, Hastings believes the psychological benefits more than compensate for the lack of physical ones, and that the coordination and energy gained from the rest of her fitness routine help her perform better while sky diving.
Her sky-diving debut was sparked by a law school project.
For a research paper, she investigated the use of the "risk release," a contract that high-risk sports instructors and sponsors wishing to avoid liability ask participants to sign. When the paper was selected for publication in the law review, Hastings decided she should check out the use of the release personally.
"My justification for going out (sky diving) was to try to experience the same thing as the person I had focused on in the paper," she explained. "I was just going to make a jump for curiosity's sake."
Gliding to Earth
She drove to the Perris Valley Skydiving Center, sat through a daylong class and then piled into a twin-engine plane with 20 other sky divers. Jumping from an altitude of about two miles, she was in a free-fall (with two instructors, one holding her leg strap, the other her elbow, as needed, during the descent) for about 60 seconds before pulling her rip cord and gliding down to Earth for about another two minutes. When she landed, she couldn't quite believe what she had done.
"Someone had to drive me home," she said with a laugh. "I sat in the car and babbled."
But soon after she stopped babbling, she discovered she was hooked. The next week, she jumped again. "I feel good if I can make it once a week," she said.
She cringes when people call sky diving a daredevil sport, but acknowledges the risk factor.
"It's higher risk than some other sports," she said. "But it's a matter of having good equipment and being prepared and educated."
Despite the risks, she added, the rewards of the sport are worth it to her. Chief among them, she said, is the post-jump euphoria. "It does feel good. You know how you feel after you run? This is way better."
When she is tempted to slough off from her exercise routine, she also focuses on how she'll feel afterward.
"I may feel lousy now," she said she tells herself, "but I know if I change my clothes and go do some exercise, I'll feel better."
Staying in Shape
Then too, there's always the chance that staying in shape may make the next jump just a little bit better. Walking to the parking lot recently with her chute in her arms, Hastings claimed the day's worth of jumps had helped to relieve a week's worth of stress. "I feel great now. The legal world and law school can be so demanding. But sky diving gives my life a nice balance."