Dan Waldschmidt

by Dan Waldschmidt

June 30, 2018


Joan Murray was 47 years old. She had a successful marriage, raised two beautiful twin girls and had finally started to enjoy life. She had a career at the bank that she loved even though sometimes it took too much of her time. 

But Joan was learning to balance her life and when the weekend came, Joan sometimes took off to sew her wilder oats. 

One of her little pleasures — that wasn’t so little to her coworkers — was her newly found love of skydiving.

She had jumped out of 35 planes. The first few times she jumped tandem — attached to an instructor — until she was given her wings to jump alone. 

Joan went through all the training. She knew when to pull the ripcord. She knew how to land. 

She still got that familiar nervous feeling every time the plane got to that perfect altitude. Nerves mixed with adrenaline that soon turned into sheer freedom from the free fall.

There was no other feeling like it in the world — that one minute plunge out of the plane. The feeling of ripping through the air before opening the parachute.

Breathtaking beauty. Momentary terror. Breathing in life. And then another minute floating on air. Feeling the wind. Lifting her legs. Landing on the grass. 

Joan had done this dance over and over. She loved it. 

Saturday, September 25, 1999 was no different. She woke up. Took the one hour drive to Chester County, SC where she would put on her gear. Load into the plane. And take another jump. Her 36th.

She was not an expert yet, but she felt more experienced than a first timer. 

She waited for the all clear. And she rocked herself out of the plane. She enjoyed that feeling she knew so well of falling. The wind pushing her cheeks into a smile.

She pulled the cord to release her parachute. Nothing happened. She just kept falling.

Joan knew she had to think quick. She started spinning out of control, but managed to cut away the defective chute. 

She pulled the cord on her back up chute. She never dreamed she would have to use that one.

It opened like magic. Just like it was supposed to.

But Joan was still spinning uncontrollably. She couldn’t get herself straightened out. The cords got tangled.

Despite her quick work, she was on a collision course with disaster.

At 700 feet, her rescue parachute completely deflated. She was heading toward the ground at 80 miles per hour. 

Joan hit the ground. All the breath was knocked out of her lungs. Her fillings were knocked out of her teeth.

She couldn’t move. 

The world went dark. 

Joan lay in the field.

Lifeless. Feeling alone.

Until the ground below her started to move.

Barely conscious, Joan felt the first sting. Like a hot needle being pushed into her skin.

And then another. And another.

Joan didn’t know what was happening. Eventually, the pain was too much and darkness set in again. 

When paramedics arrived, Joan was covered in fire ants. 

She had landed on an ant hill. In order to protect the colony they attacked her broken body. Biting Joan over 200 times. 

She was rushed to Carolinas Medical Center not far from her home. The right side of her body was shattered. 

Joan was in coma for two weeks. 

As she laid in the bed, her 115 pound body swelled to the size of a 300 pound sumo wrestler. She was unrecognizable.

Covered in blisters from the fire ant stings. Bruised and swollen from the broken bones.

Held together with rods from her leg to her pelvis. 

In truth, she was only alive because of the ants. The repeated bites had kept her heart beating and her nerves firing. 

Joan woke up in more pain than she could have ever tried to imagine. And it just continued day after day.

She had to undergo 20 reconstructive surgeries. She had 17 blood transfusions. She had to learn how to walk again with rods in her leg. But she counted the days until she could leave the hospital. 

In six weeks, Joan stood up — with a metal rod in her right leg, a five-inch spikes in her pelvis, and holding frantically onto a cane.

She walked from the wheelchair to the car. And she went home with her family. 

The doctor who treated Joan made a quick note on her file before putting it away. 

It simply said: “MIRACLE.”

Joan jumped into rigorous physical therapy. And eventually made her way back to work at the bank.

She was determined to stay active after her accident. Even with the rod in her leg, she still ran. 

She blames nobody but herself for her accident. She knew what to do. She had been trained.

Looking back, she panicked in the moment and didn’t take the actions she should have to prevent herself from spinning after cutting away the main cord. 

But knowing that — didn’t make her feel scared.

And it didn’t take away her love of skydiving either.

Shortly after she went back to work at the bank, Joan jumped out of a plane again. It was her 37th dive. 

Was it a success? “It was perfect.” She said. 

In life, we all get beat up. We get bruised. And beaten. We let the small things get to us. We let people discourage us.

We let life scare us into not trying to succeed anymore. We think we only get one chance. 


Sometimes all it takes is one failed business. One failed relationship. One failed test. 

Joan Murray could have died. According to doctors, she should have died from a fall like that.

But what did she do the minute she felt like her body had healed sufficiently? 

She got into a plane and jumped again. She took the 2.5-mile fall again. She opened her parachute again. And she landed.  Successfully. 

Stop making excuses for why you haven’t reached your goals.

Stop worrying about all the things that could go wrong. Stop focusing on all the things that have gone wrong in the past. 

It’s time to take control of your life. It’s time to acknowledge your failures. It’s time to fly high again after your spectacular crash

If Joan could do it, so can you.

What are you waiting for? 

About the author

Dan Waldschmidt

Dan Waldschmidt doesn’t just talk about leveling up. He’s obsessed with it. He's set records as an ultra-runner and been the personal strategist for the leading business leaders of our time. He wrote a book, called EDGY Conversations that accidentally became a worldwide bestseller and continues to share his insights from the stage as a keynote speaker and on the blogs and podcasts you will find here. Most days, you'll find Dan heads-down, working on breakthrough strategies for his clients at EDGY Inc, a highly-focused, invite-only, business strategy execution company based out of Silicon Valley.