Otto Becker's thoughts turned to prayer as he sat on a bench with 165 mph winds flinging people 18 feet into the air just inches away from him. As the air rushed and howled, Becker couldn't see how easily it lifted women, children and even men his size high into the tube at Naperville's iFly indoor sky diving facility. The 67-year-old Aurora man has been blind his entire life. But this was a sound he knew to fear.
"The wind is really strong," Becker said. "It feels like being on the edge of a hurricane."
Not just any hurricane. Becker grew up on the East Coast and was present for Hurricane Hazel, the deadliest hurricane of the 1954 Atlantic hurricane season. Yet Becker sat calmly in his black and blue jump suit and helmet on Saturday. He had the confidence of practicing his body position on a short bench and rehearsing a set of signals, squeezes to his left wrist, that would tell him how to position his arms, legs and chin to avoid crashing into the sides of the wind tunnel.
"You're going to be great in there," said Kristin Miller, his instructor. "You're going to be the best one."
And Becker believed. Why not? It wasn't his first adventure. Ever since he met his friend Dan Coyne at a church service at Wheaton Warrenville South High School two years ago, the pair have become adrenaline junkies. Coyne, who has his vision, acts as Becker's guide and fellow guinea pig. They've conquered paintball. They've gone sailing on Lake Michigan during high winds. And they thought sky diving, at least the indoor version, would be worth a few laughs as well.
So, after watching a 10-minute instruction video and suiting up, Becker and Coyne sat side by side in the vestibule of the wind tunnel. Think of a hand-held hair dryer pointing straight up, minus the heat and plus about 1,600 horsepower, and you have an idea of what indoor sky diving entails.
Becker admitted to being a bit nervous as his turn approached. But Coyne was by his side, and just as nervous.
"I think I'm more nervous than he is, actually," Coyne said with a chuckle.
And then it was time. Coyne went first and had the advantage of seeing how about seven others in front of him fared depending on how closely they could follow instructions. Sixty seconds later, about 15 seconds longer than the free fall portion of an actual sky-dive, Coyne emerged wide-eyed but encouraging of Becker.
The sound of the wind and the mandatory ear plugs left Becker with only three of his five senses. But he had no hesitation. He stepped into the tube and was airborne, floating and seemingly carefree.
"That's amazing," said several members of a small audience that gathered to watch Becker's adventure.
Like Coyne, Becker emerged with a smile and certificate to prove he'd accomplished yet another adventure on his adrenaline list.
"If I made it look easy, it's because I had great instructions," Becker said, thanking Miller. "It felt really tremendous, like I was actually flying. You know Tom Cruise? He did that flying movie "Top Gun." Look out, Tom Cruise. You've got competition."
So does Al Pacino. "Scent of a Woman" is one of Becker's favorite films, and the inspiration for the next adventure.
"Dan thinks maybe he can teach me to drive," Becker said. "Hoo-ah!"