Green Green Grass: Jump

story and illustration by KAM REDLAWSK

“Ultimately we know deeply that the other side of fear is freedom.” – Marilyn Ferguson

I was fine on the drive up and felt mostly OK as I filled out the paperwork and zipped up my skydiving jumpsuit. This was it; there was no turning back. As my husband and the tandem instructor lifted my nearly limp body from the wheelchair onto the plane, I felt a sudden surge of doubt. What am I doing?

The aircraft took off. It felt like the longest plane ride ever as we cruised to a 15,000-foot altitude above beautiful Sonoma County. The cabin was silent. I sat there petrified. I talked to myself, told myself everything would be OK, willed myself to stop thinking about the incredible knot twisting around in my insides. I began to silently cry, not out of fear of jumping out of a plane, but in reflection—over what was happening in my life and what was yet to come.

If I can handle HIBM,* then I can handle jumping out of a plane, I thought. I can deal with my colossal fear of heights.

From a young age, I recognized there were two kinds of people: those who had no fears or at least lived in spite of them, and those who lived fearfully, who never tried anything and lived by a set of rules that kept them safe and comfortable. When I was young, I abided by such a set of rules, but deep down, I couldn’t wait until I was old enough so I could break every single one of them—starting with traveling the world. I could sense the regret others felt for not pushing themselves to live, a decision that resulted in a stunted spirit. THAT was my absolute biggest fear—of succumbing to fear.

Then HIBM came along when I was 20 and changed my whole world. Life felt both surreal and confusing. I was never one to fear death (except a painful one), but I never imagined becoming disabled—that was something that could happen to others but never to me, I thought.

When I went skydiving for the first time in 2011, my wheelchair had become a regular part of my life. I was using one during long-distance excursions and road trips, or even for getting around in shopping malls and art galleries. I had always been an avid traveler, but the reality of losing more and more muscle mass made my future a little murkier. As I sat there on the plane, about to jump out into the expanse below, I realized I could give up on the rest of my dreams by succumbing to fear, or face the challenge head on.

I chose the latter.

Life feels short and nothing has made me more aware of that than my chronic condition. In a way, my condition has been a blessing, by forcing me to become more adventurous. In the last 12 years, I have traveled to Japan, Korea, Thailand, England, Australia and France, and have taken road trips around much of California and adjoining states. I have gone skydiving, paragliding and dived in the Great Barrier Reef. And I’m not done.

I can’t change the cards I have been dealt, but I can choose how I want to play them. Fear steals from us and is all-consuming. So I choose to seek out freedom in the areas I can control: by having an open mind, accepting those who are different, having a sense of humor and, my favorite, keeping up my curiosity. And for that, I am extremely grateful.

*Hereditary inclusion body myopathy, or a rare genetic disease that leads to muscle degeneration.



Kam Redlawsk’s column runs every other month. To read more from Kam, visit or her official Facebook page.

This article was published in the August/September 2015 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the August/September issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).