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SW Aviator Feb/Mar 2001
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Wischful Thinking
By Jay Wischkaemper

I finally feel safe coming out of the closet. I’ve discovered there’s somebody else out there like me.

Several years ago, my friend Tim Williams needed a ride to Abilene to pick up his Seneca. It had been left there due to some alternator problems. Tim is a gadget freak. He’s a dentist, and he brought along on the flight his little instrument you put on your finger that tells your pulse rate and oxygen absorption. A pulse-something-or-the-other. After takeoff, Tim insisted I put it on. I complied since he was some sort of Doctor and you always do what the doctor says, and it showed my pulse rate to be about 90. Tim chided me for being out of shape. “I’m not out of shape,” I replied. “I’m scared.”
I was only partly joking. You see, every time I’m about to take a flight, I do get very nervous during the preflight. I’m fine when the decision is made to go. In fact, I look forward to it. I’m fine on the drive to the airport. I’m fine right up until I open the luggage door and retrieve the rag to check the oil and the strainer to check the fuel. When I’m walking around the front of the wing to sump the first tank, I usually get so nervous I almost throw up. I’m that way until I get the first tank sumped and the oil checked. After that, I’m fine. When I strap into the plane, I’m calm as a cucumber. When I get ready to come back from my destination, I don’t have the problem. There’s just that little point in there when something happens.
I’m sure I could see my psychologist friend and spend a few hundred dollars figuring out what causes this, but if I did, I’d probably need to put that on my medical, which would delay the next one by three months. I deal with it by getting to the airport before my passengers so I’m calm by the time they get there. That way nobody knows. Or at least they didn’t until now.

The reason I’m coming clean is that I read a book yesterday that lets me know I’m not alone. You’ve probably never heard of the book. It’s not a bestseller, except in Lubbock. It’s written by Marsha Sharp. Since most of you probably never heard of Marsha Sharp, she’d the 5’4” coach of the Texas Tech women’s basketball team. Her program is highly successful. She’s been inducted into the college basketball hall of fame. She’s one of the winningest coaches in the game with one national championship under her belt. The title of the book is “Tall Enough to Coach.”

I read the book because I was told to by my wife the fan, but I’m glad I did, because I found out Marsha and I have something in common. It seems that before every game, she usually throws up from nervousness. At first, I found that a little strange. After all, a basketball game is not exactly a life and death situation. But then I thought of some of the fans that sit around me at the games, and I concluded I might be a little nervous as a coach too. The guy just across the aisle doesn’t know winning is not a life or death issue.
She relates how a few years ago, she had a point guard who would also become very nervous before a game, but her nervousness was exhibited by sweaty hands. Before every game, Marsha would feel Melinda’s hands, and if they were sweaty, she would say, “All right, you’re ready to play.” Melinda would then ask, “Have you thrown up yet?” If the answer was yes, both were ready to go.

I’m not sure why I’m nervous at that particular point in the process. I don’t fear flying. I love flying. But perhaps anyone who doesn’t approach a flight with a degree of respect for what might happen if you fail to respect your own limitations as well as those of the aircraft has no business crawling into that seat. It’s not that we should be morbid about the possibility of our own demise. If we’re that bad, we need to walk. But a sense of healthy nervousness can serve to make us more cautious about what we do. The mindset before a flight can make a big difference in how a flight is conducted.

I’m not suggesting everyone throw up before every flight. But if you don’t think about what you’re about to do and appreciate the seriousness of it, perhaps you need to rethink your attitude. To sit at the controls of a machine operating in a three dimensional, fluid environment at the speeds many of us attain, with all sorts of unknown variables coming into the process is serious business. It is not something to be taken flippantly. Stuff does happen up there, and the more care we take down here, the more we will be ready for what might happen up there.

So if you happen to see some guy doubled over in front of a red, black, and white Bellanca looking like he’s about to throw up, the cat’s now out of the bag as to who it is. But at least I’m in good company.

Jay Wischkaemper is a successful MassMutual life insurance agent based in Lubbock. He is a long-time partner in a Bellanca Super Viking, which he uses for business and pleasure.

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