Written for NH Women Magazine
Freefalling at 120 miles per hour, Carolyn MacRae Goldman’s goggles were quickly filling with blood. She had hit her chin and nose jumping from the small Cessna that had brought her up for her first skydiving experience. “I flew back to Paris that night and went to work at [the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] looking as though I had been attacked and badly beaten,” she explained. After that, she returned to the United Kingdom and Avignon, France to work on completing several more training levels, or accelerated freefall (AFF) programs. “I think [my next jump] was about two weeks after my nose and chin healed.”
Now, 30 years later, this Scottish-born athlete turned New Hampshire resident has a stunning list of accomplishments, records, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences packed into her 16,000 (yes, 16,000) jumps. MacRae Goldman holds three world records and five national records, along with various speed star records (where skydivers exit the plane in a freefall and then come together to form a star). She has jumped in over 25 countries, has earned several licenses including tandem instructor and Safety and Training Adviser (S&TA), and is the Chief AFF Instructor, videographer, and S&TA (appointed by the United States Parachute Association) at Skydive Pepperell in Pepperell, MA.
When asked what started her skydiving career, MacRae Goldman said it began in Switzerland. “I worked for eight seasons in Verbier, Switzerland as a ski guide and there I learned how to parapente (paraglide). I then moved to Paris and decided to start an AFF course, which involved jumping with two instructors, but freefalling, opening your parachute, and flying yourself to the ground – as opposed to a static line. So, I found a course first in London, then Avignon, France and finally in Empuria Brava in Spain.”
Note: A static jump is when the new skydivers parachute is deployed after the jump from a static line attached to the aircraft.
For MacRae Goldman, skydiving has also been quite the family adventure. “My husband, Robert, is an AFF/tandem instructor and an extremely accomplished skydiver with over 6,000 jumps,” she said. “We travel the world together attending “boogies,” or skydiving meets, in exotic locations. Both my father and my brother have done tandem jumps, which I filmed. [My] father made three jumps – one at 65, one at 75, and the other at 80. [They] both took up flying and Dad flew up to two years before he passed away at age 90. So, the jumps I have done with him are very special.”
As a disciplined person, MacRae Goldman keeps detailed log books documenting her jumps. “I have several log books, I think about four, in which I record all my jumps. Since I do so many work jumps in a day, I record them on one page,” she said. When asked if MacRae Goldman marks dangerous or memorable encounters, she answers with a definite yes. “Yes, I do mark specific jumps, usually when I have had a malfunction which involves cutting away [the] main canopy and deploying the reserve,” she explained. “I have had five of those in 16,000 jumps. I also note down night jumps done during a full moon, records, and any ash dives where I have had the honor to be on releasing a deceased jumper’s ashes in a freefall. We put glitter in the ashes and family and friends can see it all from the ground.”
So, what does the sensation of freefalling feel like? Noisy? Windy? Peaceful? “We wear full face helmets now, so the noise is greatly reduced,” explained MacRae Goldman. “Freefall speed at belly-to-earth is approximately 120 miles per hour, so not very flattering on exposed skin. Temperature depends, of course, in which country and season one is in. I have jumped over the Swiss and French Alps in -25 degrees celsius (-13 degrees fahrenheit) temperatures and in Africa in +35 degrees celsius (95 degrees fahrenheit). Peace…it is all dependent on the type of skydive one is doing, but it is utterly impossible to think of anything else in the world other than what you are doing in freefall during those 60 seconds.”
What’s it feel like after the parachute has deployed? “Peace comes after deployment when one realizes one has a good canopy above one’s head and then the concentration of flying the parachute, avoiding others, and landing safely,” she said.
MacRae Goldman admits she’s not a fan of certain types of activities that involve heights. “Well, I am utterly terrified of roller coasters because I have no control whilst on them, but jumping out at 13,000 feet does not scare me…the earth is so far away it resembles a Google map!” But, what keeps her coming back? “The passion is ever there,” she said. And, this is where the interview really got exciting. By asking the simple, expected question of describing her favorite jump locations, MacRae Goldman was able to detail once-in-a-lifetime experiences that are truly mind blowing.
“[My] most special would have to be in Belize where [my] husband and I, along with others, flew 60 miles off the coast to the Blue Hole. We exited at 13,000 feet and landed in the deep waters of the Blue Hole where a dive boat awaited us. We ditched our parachutes and donned scuba gear and dived to 135 feet and swam amongst stalactites (resembling icicles formed from calcium salts deposited by dripping water) and bull and hammerhead sharks,” she said. “We were fortunate to do this two years in a row. Only a handful of people in the world have done this as it requires special permits and permissions.”
“A demo jump for the birthday of President Chisano of Mozambique was another memorable one,” she explained. “Eight of us were invited to fly to Maputo from Durban, South Africa and we were proffered a variety of aircraft from which to jump. We landed to cheers from hundreds of spectators and a banquet prepared by the president’s staff was laid out for us.”
MacRae Goldman has also had many jumps in Pepperell teaching royalty. “[I’ve had] many jumps in Pepperell teaching the (former) Royal Crown Prince of Jordan to skydive. He invited [my] husband and me to Jordan to teach some of his men to jump, but due to war beginning in the middle east, we elected to forgo that opportunity.”
“Over the Swiss Alps, I climbed onto the lap of a paraglider pilot (not a tandem) and hung on until we reached 6,000 feet and I jumped off,” MacRae Goldmad explained. “I landed in a small village at the foot of the mountains, far away from my ski resort in Verbier.”
“Two years ago, I was asked to work in Nepal to film tandem students jumping in the Himalayas,” MacRae Goldman said. “[My] husband came with me on one particular jump and we realized that we were not going to make it back to the designated landing area. There were few choices on the sides of mountains, other than rice paddy fields surrounded by small stone walls. Fortunately, we both landed safely but the outcome could have been so different if we had landed and got hurt.”
Then there was the time she landed near a group of wild baboons. “Jumping outside Johannesburg, I also realized I was not going to make the dropzone and I landed in a secure, fenced-in baboon quarantine park. I landed and was quickly surrounded by a troop of wild baboons. I covered myself with my parachute and sat motionless in 35 degrees celsius (95 degree fahrenheit) temperatures for what seemed like a long time until a ranger came and rescued me.”
Her jumps have even led her to demo jump onto a golf course awaited by one of the most talented athletes of all time. “I was asked to do a demo jump into a [golf course] in Chicago for Michael Jordan’s private birthday party,” she said. “The landing area was so tiny and I just made it in and landed with panache. [Jordan] was so impressed, he drove me around all afternoon on his golf cart and introduced me to a lot of celebs. It was my 36th birthday that day and it was one of my most memorable birthdays.”
The experiences haven’t come without some physical cost. MacRae Goldman is currently nursing a shoulder injury and has faced several serious injuries in her career. “Oh lord, where to begin? My goal is to jump [again] in June,” she explained. “I’ve crushed my ankle, broken my back, broken my second rib, had two prior shoulder surgeries from wear and tear, torn meniscus, total hip replacement…obviously not all on the same jump, but enough to keep me grounded for a while. When I resume jumping, I am so focused that I forget the injury.”
With this year marking her 30th anniversary of her skydiving career, MacRae Goldman said she has no jump number in mind to achieve before retirement. “I would like to continue as long as possible,” she said. “We have several groups: POPs (parachutists over ‘phorty’), SOS (skydivers over sixty), JOS (jumpers over seventy), JOEs (jumpers over eighty) and JONS (jumpers over ninety). I’d like to be a JON!”
MacRae Goldman said she is also turning 60 years old in June and plans to do wing walking. “No parachute allowed,” she said. Wing walking is pretty much what you expect it to be. Terrifying, yes, but exhilarating all the same. There are no parachutes involved as MacRae Goldman explained. A wing walker is harnessed to the wing of a biplane that gently rolls, producing experiences with zero gravity and speeds of up to 140 miles per hour.
There isn’t a place MacRae Goldman hasn’t jumped, but yearns to. Well, except for maybe two. “Jumps have been done in Antarctica and over the Pyramids, so that may be something we will do.” On the opposite side of the coin, MacRae Goldman said perhaps Mozambique may be a place she won’t go back to. “Jumping in Mozambique was a little dicey and we were surrounded by spectators on landing and one of the female jumpers was stabbed.”
The best advice comes from people with the most experience. One of MacRae Goldman’s cherished times is providing guidance and encouragement to new skydivers at Skydive Pepperell where she films many people jumping for the first time. “If you can jump out of a plane, you can do anything,” she said. “I get to experience this all the time and the thrill of seeing their faces never grows old. Our jokes and quips continue to be old and used, but still amusing,” she joked.
When asked what the future of her skydiving career looks like, MacRae Goldman’s reply is as expected. “I will wind down a little in terms of the number of jumps performed in one day, but I will jump as long as mind and body allow.” And, as concise as her answer about her future, so is her succinct and beautiful explanation of life as a skydiver, “It is said skydivers know why birds sing. I suppose that is true! We feel we are quite an elite group of people.”