LA PORTE — After descending 10,000 feet at 120 miles per hour for about 45 seconds, Marc Sherman touched back down to Earth and crossed another adventure off his bucket list.
On Aug. 16 at the Skydive Windy City, at the Michigan City Municipal Airport, Sherman showed up ready to fall.
Originally from Plymouth, Indiana, the Plymouth Sky Sports company moved to Michigan City about five months ago. Here, the company is now the most convenient skydiving center in the Chicago area, and offers amazing views of Northwest Indiana and Lake Michigan.
For Sherman, the incredible views were just an add-on. The act, adrenaline and opportunity for someone like him was a dream he’s had for last 20 years.
Sherman was diagnosed as a C5/C6 quadriplegic in 1995, after surviving a serious, near-fatal car crash. He lives in Greenwood, Indiana.
On Jan. 16, 1995 Sherman was on his way home from Vincennes University on a particularly foggy night. He happened to fall asleep at the wheel, and drive off the road hitting an embankment. His car flew air-born 100 feet, rolled three times and was not found for three hours.
“I don’t remember anything,” Sherman said. “This was all from the police report.”
Sherman was found face-down about 40 feet away from the car, making Sherman and his family believe he had crawled out on his stomach before becoming unconscious.
Because of the fog, Sherman was driven to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis instead of being transported in a helicopter. There he didn’t undergo surgery for a few days. The prolonged time Sherman was unconscious caused severe swelling on his spinal cord, pinched together parts of his vertebrae and resulted in a lot of inflammation in the area that took about a year to calm down.
He was paralyzed from the armpits down, with all four limbs paralyzed. In a nine month period, Sherman was transferred to four different hospitals for surgeries and therapy. And he was placed in a drug-induced coma with a ventilator to breathe for him and a feeding tube.
“I woke up on March 11, 1995,” Sherman said. “My birthday.”
It was a new beginning, a new birth he said.
For the next 20 years, in addition to recovering, relearning how to do things and readjusting to a new life, Sherman has lived every minute of his life to the fullest.
That now includes skydiving.
“It is just the biggest thrill,” he said while waiting at the airport for his turn to fly. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.”
He acknowledges the life threatening risk it could be for someone who cannot control his legs, especially for the landing, but he was convinced Plymouth Sky Sports was the best company to accommodate him.
“They have done it with people with paralysis and disabilities,” he said. “I have been waiting for a company to develop safe procedures to do this and Plymouth is it.”
The suit Sherman wore has a strap across his legs and knees so that the man falling with him, can pull up the strap, bringing Sherman’s legs to his chest, so that he doesn’t land on them.
“I wanted to find the right company, and you guys were it,” Sherman told Troy Church, the owner of the company.
“We appreciate it,” Church responded.
Waiting for the training to begin was like watching a child waiting to open the biggest present at Christmas. Every flier coming down in the airport field snatched away Sherman’s attention.
“I’m ready,” he repeated.
Adventures like this, where the thrill and adrenaline outweigh the danger in them, excites Sherman far beyond anything else.
Over the last 20 years he has played billiards and quad rugby. He has been water-skiing, shot a bow and arrow and has traveled in a hot air balloon. His next thrill will be in a plane doing aero-acrobatics, and riding roller coasters, when there becomes more safe ways for him to do so.
“My phrase I always like to say is, ‘If there is a wheel, there is a way,'” he said.
Sherman loves the struggles and fear of extreme sports, but said the hardest thing he has ever had to do was learn how to breathe again.
“It was the scariest thing,” he said. “I am paralyzed from armpits down and only have my biceps no triceps. I had to learn to use my upper shoulder muscles to inflate and deflate my lungs.”
But despite the difficulties and obstacles he’s faced over the last two decades, he said he would not take back one thing.
“I would not trade this for anything,” Sherman said. “I was given a second chance in life.”
Sherman works full-time at the Center for At-Risk Elders Inc. (CARE) in Indianapolis. The center is a public interest law firm that obtains guardianship for Indiana’s neglected, abused and exploited elders.
Sherman has been at the firm for a year and a half as the assistant director of the volunteer advocate program.
“We manage their estate and make all their life, financial and end of life decisions,” he said. “I get to serve those who cannot serve themselves.”
“I am a person with disabilities serving people with a disability,” he added. “I am proof that life is worth every moment.”
Sherman said his dream job is to be a motivational speaker, but the amount of traveling makes it near impossible.
“I have spoken to thousands in a stadium,” he said. “If I could just inspire and touch one person not to give up in life and wallow in sorrow then I made a difference.”
His main message toward these groups is to just try.
“I will try anything,” he said. “Except Chinese food. I just don’t like it.”
Many people tell him that they can’t do something, he said. And his reply back is always the same: “Did you try?”
Since his accident, Sherman has spent many years on the boards of various organizations advocating for equal rights for people with disabilities.
“I want to remove all forms of discrimination,” he said. “They can be physical, verbal or attitudinal. Just get rid of them.”
He is currently serving on one board, but has been a member of Rehabilitation Hospital Indiana Sports, Servants at Work, the Americans Disability Act and has lobbied Indiana Senators and Representatives at the statehouse.
In addition to his advocacy work, Sherman returned to school at Indiana University for his Masters in Social Work.
It is a lot of work, but a good attitude and strong support system behind him helps out immensely.
On Sunday a group of family and friends came up to the airport to see Sherman dive.
Nick Moore, Sherman’s friend since they were four years old, came up from Kentucky with him.
“He’s crazy!” Moore exclaimed a few times to Sherman. “But I am doing this next year with you.”
Sherman and his crew arrived in Michigan City in Sherman’s specially designed van for people that use wheelchairs. He controls the car with his arms and has buttons for everything to operate the car.
Over the years, there have been opportunities and products created to make Sherman’s life a little bit closer to “normal.” But normal is something he doesn’t strive for anymore.
“You know what normal is?” he asked. “Normal is a setting on the washing machine. There is no such thing as normal.”
After the jump, Sherman said there were no words to describe the thrill, excitement and adrenaline that he felt during the adventure.
“When is was free-falling, I screamed so loud in thrill,” he said. “When I landed, which was like a butterfly, I was so flooded with emotions I could not stop the tears pouring from my eyes.”
It was an adventure he has never experience before, never will forget and will be back to it again in the future.