Lonnie Bissonnette Interview: What Lies Within Us

Over the past year I have had the privilege of interviewing some truly inspiring people from the sport of BASE jumping: Jeb Corliss, Clair Halliday, Tracy Walker, Matthew ‘Calvin’ Hecker, Lee Hardesty, Chris ‘douggs’ McDougall, Hank Caylor, Jevto Dedijer, Mike Pelkey and Randy’s brother, Rick Harrison.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Canadian BASE jumper, Lonnie Bissonnette, and although he will state infuriatingly that he is not an inspiration and grumble that he “hates” that word.  The fact remains that Mr. Bissonnette life story is an inspiration to many jumpers and non-jumpers alike; not because he still jumps today following his 2004 accident which left him a paraplegic, but rather his undying passion for the “big picture”.

The “big picture” being living each day as if it was your last while committing to the life investing, death-defying, sport deemed BASE jumping.  If ever there was a man who summed up Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us”, it is Lonnie Bissonnette.

When Lonnie speaks about his BASE jumping adventures his voice changes tone and the emotions fly left and right as if he is a composer creating a musical score.  He described his Angels Falls, Venezuela jump as such, “That place called to me.  I am so glad that I did that jump; you know the tallest waterfall in the world.  Angel Falls was a magical place for me that held so much in a spiritually emotional way. The place spoke to me; it was so gorgeous and majestic. I fondly recall the first jumps off of the KL towers in Malaysia.  Seeing the hundreds of spectators cheering for us which was different than skulking around in the dark to jump was a great experience. Niagara Falls was a big jump; there are so many jumps that were amazing for me for various reasons.”

His BASE philosophy reads as if its the tag-line for a BASE recruitment poster:

“My philosophy is to just enjoy. Enjoy the experience. You know, it’s not… I don’t think BASE jumping is about numbers.  It is about the experiences and the friendships you make.  You know a lot of jumps I don’t remember and those are just number jumps.  Then there are tons of memories and stories that are more important than the numbers.  I think you should just try to get the most out of every jump that you do.”

The BASE jump that stands out as one might expect is his 1100th jump at Perrine Bridge, in Twin Falls, Idaho which resulted in his paralysis leaving him with an every present reminder of what can go wrong.  He tells me, “That one, of all my jumps, replays in my mind the most often and is the most vivid.”

When asked if he had any regrets, “Yeah, I regret that on that particular jump I tried to do too much, I was organizing it, I designed the dive, I was taking care of some of the lower experienced people who were on the jump, I basically was doing everything including being the guy who was going to do the quad gainer. I was the last person to climb over the rail even though I had the most difficult job on the jump. I guess the regret is, that I regret that I didn’t let someone else take care of the organizing the jump, and let me focus on the task at hand, the jump itself.

There is a lot of background story to the jump as well as there was a lot going on in the jump, that I don’t want to get into. Either I could have done one of two things; I could have taken on all the responsibilities of planning the jump and went flat and stable.  Or I could have relinquished and given everyone else the responsibilities and tell them you do this and you do that and concentrate on the quad.  I really wanted to do the quad on my 1100 jump, so, I tried to do it all. That would be my one regret.”

In discussing his family’s reaction to the accident his “take it to the extreme attitude” lightens with serious statements about BASE jumpers, “manning up”.

Do you think that your family viewed the accident as just that, “an accident”, which could have occurred in a car accident or other scenario?  Did BASE ever come into the conversation or were they more concerned for your emotional well-being and moving on with life?

“Some of them had a really hard time with it.  My oldest boy had a tough time with it. I never got that impression from any of my family (that if only I hadn’t BASE jumped).  I think they had for the most part, brothers, sisters, parents, the adults, had known eventually it was going to happen.  I tried to prepare them too, because I was pretty sure it would happen.  It’s a numbers game and if you keep playing the game long enough, your number is going to come up.

I have always believed that I was going to die BASE jumping; from when I stood on the edge for the very first time in doing my first BASE jump.  I had a Déjà Vu moment standing on the edge and it freaked me out.  Because it was like how can I look down here and know everything that I was seeing. I recognized it as if I had been here before a hundred times, a thousand times.  I have thought about it and truly believe this is how I’m going to die.  I have told my family from day one that this is how it’s going to happen, I’m going to try to stick around as long as I can, but most likely that is how it’s going to end.

My kids are getting older now; they understand more now than at the time of the accident.  My little guy was only 9, so for him, it didn’t really effect him much.  They called him at his best friend’s house where he was for a sleepover and told him “Dad had been hurt really bad in a BASE jump and he went back to riding his bike, it was kind of like “I guess the doctors will fix him.”  My oldest boy was 14, my accident affected him in a deeper sense.”

I suggest that his eldest son no doubt comprehended that life was going to change for the entire family from that point on. Of which, change in itself is difficult on a teenager, discovering Dad is breakable couldn’t have been easy to accept.

“Yeah I think so too”, he responds softly. “He understood and withdrew from me for a time.”
“They (my boys) watched their very first base jump maybe three years before the accident.  Obviously I couldn’t take them out in the middle night when most jumps take place.  Eventually I found some jumps I could do during the day and they would come out and watch, often arguing over who got the radio.  I think just being around me talking about BASE, even before being able to witness the jumps; they got a sense what it’s meant to me in my life.”

This led us to the importance of BASE jumpers conveying to family members and friends their desire to jump and acceptance of the consequences & risks that may befall them. I, having read the Snake River Academy First Jump Course Reader that outlines reasons jumpers should write letters to their family before starting in BASE; mention to Lonnie the reality is there are likely jumpers who have not informed their family of their activities.

“Yeah, I don’t subscribe to that way of thinking.  If you are going to go out there and get into any sport where you can be killed or worse crippled, then your family should know of the risks ahead of time.  If you get hurt it shouldn’t be a surprise of “why did he/she do this?”  I’m sure every family loves their children just as much as the next, but some parents are more controlling and will state outright they don’t want their kids to jump.

Personally, I don’t like hiding stuff.  Yeah of course, you are always going to get people who argue, “I don’t want my family to worry”, but you know they are going to worry if you go camping or when you’re in a car also.  They are the type of people who worry.  Keeping them in the dark and hiding things from them, I don’t agree with that, doesn’t sit well with me.  I have always taught my boys, if you make a mistake or choose a path that deviates from the norm, stand up, take your grief, face the music, because to me…hiding it, is being a coward.”

The passion and conviction in which he speaks are reminiscent of a preacher at the pulpit on Sunday.  This trait is what I believe makes him an inspiration to others.  Grumbling be damned, only his two sons rate an equal quantity of love and commitment.  His oldest would tag along to the drop zone with dad for days on end back when Lonnie was an instructor in skydiving and the youngest, being born shortly after starting BASE, earn “his boys” the title of “biggest influence and inspiration” in his life.  “My kids, they put everything in perspective. They help me focus on what’s important in the big picture.”

Kristopher, Lonnie and Michael Bissonnette

I ask Lonnie if he would ever give up BASE jumping if his sons were to ask him.

He pauses for a moment, “That’s a tough one.”

Assessing the dynamics of their relationship I ask if the question instead is, “Would your sons ever ask you to give up BASE jumping?”

The rephrasing of the question appears to make all the difference in his quick reply of, “No. I can’t picture my kids ever asking that of me.  My kids get it; they get me as a person”.

I have come to realize that the Bissonnette clan are comparable to a motor sports family, the risk, sacrifice and commitment to the sport  ingrained into the family way of life as “what Dad does” and would cause a stir if suddenly “Dad wasn’t acting normal by jumping from objects or falling from planes, even without the use of his legs.”

Lonnie tells me repeatedly that he isn’t special.  That he is a guy who “fucked up” as much as the next guy and who continues to “fuck up”.  He is an average man and anyone in his situation would have responded the same.  The truth of the matter whether he wants to admit it or not, is that everyone wouldn’t have responded the same in tackling the adversities he’s faced in his lifetime.  Behind every BASE jumping legends persona is a story; a very human story of a person who found meaning in that first moment they pushed off the edge, leading them to who they are today as jumpers and people.

He cracks jokes that he graduated with honors from the “school of hard knocks” before relaying the hard truth, “I thought I had all my shit figured out at the age of 15.  I had gone up north to live with my uncle Dave as my mother had thrown me of her home a year and half earlier.  My father had left when I was ten years old which became the motivating factor in being an ever-present father to my boys.”

Lonnie doesn’t BASE jump because he thinks it makes him “cool”, or “to get laid at the bar” or “because he has some death wish”.  As you’ll read in our question and answer dialogue, he doesn’t believe BASE is cool; he could have given up when he hit the water below the Perrine, but he didn’t and his love affair with BASE continues still today.

It’s no wonder that his favorite book is Groundrush by Simon Jakeman.  “I have such a horrible time reading and nothing seems to capture my attention.  I find that I read a couple of lines and have to go back and reread them over again; I wasn’t retaining what I was reading. That book I couldn’t put it down.  I picked it up and breezed right through it; probably helped that I read it when I only had about four BASE jumps at the time, but it totally sucked me in.”

He jumps because it fills a void inside like nothing else does, bringing him closer to his dream of human flight.  Life while jumping becomes vivid color, rushing at him “as if you have your face pressed up against a HD flat screen and the sound is turned up” when he commits to the point of no return of a jump. The body’s senses kick into overdrive and the rush is never stronger.

Cynthia Lynn: Let’s start with an easy question. How did you tell your family that you were going to continue to jump after the accident?

Lonnie Bissonnette: “Same way I handle everything, straight-up in their face. This is me, take a look, this is what you get.  I care about my family and I don’t want to hurt my family, but I need to put my happiness in front of theirs.  I would never deliberately do anything to upset or hurt anyone.  My happiness is the only thing that I can control.

I just told them straight up “I will jump again and I’m sorry if you are going to be worried, I can’t help that, I know you guys don’t want me to jump, but I have too and I’m going too. I have some family members that don’t want me to tell you about it, and then fine, I won’t tell you when I’m going to jump.  And then there are those that say, “I want to know when you jump and when done”.  So I do have to make those phone calls, I call before I jump and then I tell them I’ll be on the ground in twenty-thirty minutes and either I will call you or if something goes wrong then someone else will call you.”

Cynthia: Do any of your siblings jump? Are your sons skydivers and how do you feel about them possibly someday BASE jumping?

Lonnie: My youngest brother (Dan) and I did our first jump together. He never really got into it like I did. He did about 15 jumps, then quit for 13 years. After my accident he went back out and did another 50 or so. My other brother (Kerry) came out and did one, I was his instructor which was kinda cool.

Kristopher, my oldest has made 2 tandem jumps so far. His first… was also my very first jump back after my accident. The drop zone wouldn’t let me go solo, so I had to do a tandem as well. We jumped out together; I had my hand on his shoulder as we did a double front flip out the door! As we rolled out, he looked over at me; cool as a cucumber, thumbs up and sticking his tongue out at me! He was 15 at the time.

Mikey, my second boy, who is now 15 and says I have to take him out this year because Spike (Kristopher) got to go when he was 15. We are planning on doing a family jump day when I get back from Norway. They have 3 cousins that want to come out with us to jump as well.

Cynthia: What is your reaction to those who say, “How can you let your kids skydive?”

Lonnie: I don’t know, it kinda rubs me the wrong way, when people say, How can you let your kids ‘insert whatever you want in there’? You can argue, how can you let your kid Skateboard?  Do you know how many kids have cracked their heads skateboarding?  You’re going to let them ride their bike and be hit by a car?

Cynthia: As you are proof, anything can happen to anyone at anytime. Unless you are going to put your kids in a bubble, odds are they are going to fall from a tree or off their bike at least.

Lonnie: Depends on where you want to draw the line, at placing your kids in a bubble or the point where they cross the line.  I have always encouraged my kids to try things, but also to think about it beforehand.  I want them to think about what they are doing and the consequences.  If you really want to do it, then plan it out.  “Are you really sure you want to jump from there, out of the tree at 10 feet?  I guess you really don’t know as a parent whether you’re encouraging them as children was a good thing or not, until they are adults.  Hopefully I haven’t screwed them up too much, but you don’t know until they are grown up.

I mock him, “When the boys are in therapy someday, you’ll see mister, it’s entirely your fault.”

He jokes back stating, “Yeah I’ll be telling the boys, “Sorry man, I thought it was a good thing at the time. I thought it was good to urge you to do back-flips off the high dive platform at the Olympic pool.  Which my little guy does that, the kid is amazing.  My ex-wife doesn’t agree with everything I do.”

I allude to the fact that Lonnie’s divorce is now final, “and her disagreeing is no doubt why she lives in a different house.”

“Exactly…that’s why she lives somewhere else, absolutely”, he laughs.

Lonnie is quick to point out that, for all the joking he does about being a first-rate asshole jumper, the mother of his children would never lay claim that he was cruel to her or that he didn’t provide for his boys.  He lives in the same neighborhood as his ex in order for the boys to live close to both, sharing parental duties and proclaiming “my house is more fun of the two.”

Of this I have little doubt as I have grown to know Lonnie, his dedication to his boys and their social activities.  There are ball hockey games, swimming/diving, backyard trampoline, snowboarding, UFC fight nights at dads, school events and family dinners.  If ever there was a sure thing in this world, it is that Lonnie has an undying, never exhausted passion BASE jumping and love for his two sons.

Cynthia: I am guessing Mom wouldn’t be happy if her sons entered the sport of BASE.

Lonnie: They both want to try BASE. I’m really torn over that. On one hand, I’ve never held them back from trying something they really want to do, but on the other hand …I know the real dangers of BASE, so I worry about them doing it. I think when the time comes, I’ll do the same as skydiving, I won’t encourage it, but I won’t try to stop them either. I always told them when they said they wanted to skydive,”well, we’ll see when you get old enough”. I figured if they really wanted to jump, they’d keep asking when they could go. The difference in BASE, will be that they will have to get the same experience that I required of my students before I’d teach, which was 200 skydives. I’d tell them if they get that experience, then we’ll talk.

Cynthia: Has there ever been anyone that you wouldn’t teach because you felt they weren’t coming into the sport for the right reasons?

Lonnie: No, there was not anyone that I didn’t teach for that reason.  There were people who I was afraid to teach because of lack of experience on their part. One guy in particular who had very limited experience and I kind of put him off, didn’t want to teach him, so anyway… the fuckin’ dude jumps on his own.  So at that point I felt trapped in a corner.  It was either not teach him and he is going to go out there and kill himself because he doesn’t know what the fuck he is doing.  Plus he might kill himself on one of my objects or teach him even though he didn’t have the experience in skydiving, the mental awareness, or evolved further along in the sport.

For a while I didn’t know what to do, “put him off, put him off, put him off” and eventually I did teach him.  He banged himself up a little bit along the way, but he is built like a brick shithouse, so he was fuckin’ able to take it and he turned out to be an awesome BASE jumper.  One of the things on the pro side of teaching him was that he really did love the sport.  He wasn’t out to be cool, because the jumps he had done already he hadn’t gone out bragging to people.  I found months later after he had done a jump and I was like, “What? You jumped off what? Dude what were you thinking, you have nothing in the way of experience.”  To his credit he really loves the sport and does to this day and I jump with him still. He’s a great guy, but he really scared me in the beginning with his lack of experience.

Cynthia: What would you describe as your biggest weakness as a BASE jumper?

Lonnie: Probably my biggest weakness would be that I was never satisfied.  I always wanted to do more, go harder. I was never satisfied.  When I first learned how to do aerials, one flip was cool, okay that’s great and after doing a couple well now I wanted to a double, then a triple, and then I want to do flipping twisting aerial because flipping one direction wasn’t enough anymore. I was never happy; I was never happy with what I had. I had to always push it. Unfortunately it can bite you in the ass too.

Cynthia: I take it that you have never subscribed to Chris ‘douggs’ McDougall philosophy that you dial it back to 80%.  You were all out, all the time?

Lonnie: Yeah I think I was an all out guy. I had a hard time dialing it back to the 80%.  I always had to keep pushing my own limits.  I was always like, “go-go-go.”  Most likely my weakness is that I couldn’t dial it back, had to keep pushing my own limits.

Cynthia: Were you like that with not only skydiving or BASE jumping, but life itself? If you were shooting pennies, you had to win at it.

Lonnie: In life. That’s me in life, I have two speeds, sleeping and going all out.  I didn’t have to win.  Yeah, I had to do the absolute best I could do.  Bettering and pushing my own limits.  So if there were guys that were faster, stronger, better base jumpers than me, I was fine with that.  The competition was never there for me.  It was always me pushing myself.  I wanted to go harder, farther.  I couldn’t dial it back. So if there were guys who were more experienced or talented BASE jumpers then me, I would like to look at them, learn from them and better myself.  I was never behind or ahead, I always wanted to go harder, farther.  I didn’t have to win.  I just had to do the absolute best that I could do.  It wasn’t about competing and winning.  I was only competing with myself, not other jumpers.

Cynthia: Did you have these same personality traits as a child?

Lonnie: Yeah, my mom said I was a fucker even then.

Cynthia: Well, it does fall in line with you dropping out of school at 15, because you thought you had it all figured out.

Lonnie: Yeah, I thought I was just going to do it.  I was living with my uncle Dave and he wasn’t getting any money to raise me.  Really I felt that I needed to help out, to contribute.  I thought I had to step up and be a man.  That I needed to get a job, pay my way and that I could dropout and then go back to school later. He was always an inspiration and influence in my life too.  Standing up and being a man and accepting the shit you get or take for the stuff you did.  I am really close to him, but it took a lot of years.  He didn’t even want to talk to me.

He said, “You little fucker, I knew you wouldn’t ever go back”. He said he didn’t worry about me not making it or being a good worker, but that I wouldn’t go back to finish school.  He said, “I knew once you got a taste of that money, you wouldn’t go back.  He told me that I pissed him off so much, like I said; he came in my room that night and scooped all my clothes in a garbage bag. The next morning sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee, I noticed the garbage bag and as that was one of my chores to take care of the garbage I thought to myself I don’t remember that from last night, I’m usually on that shit.  Finally halfway through the coffee, I asked him “What’s in the garbage?”  Then without even looking at me, my uncle said, “that’s your shit, get the fuck out.”

Cynthia: Talk about ‘tough love’.

Lonnie: Yeah, like I said “school of hard knocks.” I asked him what happen to my two weeks to get a job.  He said, “Fuck you, get out, I’ve got a ride for you to take you back. (To the area I grew up)  At that time I was living 4 hours from here in St. Catherine’s.

Cynthia: How many siblings are in your family?

Lonnie: There are five of us. I have a sister older than me and then everyone else follows me.

Cynthia: Are they as stubborn as you?

Lonnie: Yep, now that you mentioned it.  We are all stubborn; we are all the same in that sense.

Cynthia: Maybe stubborn isn’t the right word, perhaps “driven” is a better description?

Lonnie: Stubborn is a good one, I don’t mind that, it’s a negative term I know, but when you are stubborn it can be viewed as a negative. When you are stubborn, you are. The first person to come to mind is my brother who is next in line after me.  He is the most stubborn son of a bitch I have met in my life.  When he gets his mind-set to something there is absolutely no way to get him to change it.  Except now his wife can get inside his head. She gets inside his head and he’ll listen to her.  My youngest baby brother is pretty stubborn, but not as bad as me.

Cynthia: So what you’re telling me is if one of your siblings said they were going to jump off a bridge, they meant they were going to jump off a bridge.

Lonnie: Absolutely.

Cynthia
: Do you think of yourself as an inspiration for BASE jumpers?

Lonnie: No, I hate that fucking word.  Hate it.  I am nobody to be looking up too.

Cynthia: When I mention your name to other jumpers, the word “inspiration” comes up constantly from their mouths so there must be something to it.

Lonnie: You know I don’t know why.

Cynthia
: How is it you keep from viewing yourself as an inspirational person with all the challenges you faced?

Lonnie: To me inspiration is a word that is used for someone special and not me.  I am just a dumb fuck that refused to quit.

Cynthia: Don’t you think that makes you special?

Lonnie
: No, no.  I think it just makes me stupid.  I am really uncomfortable when people use that word.  I am not an inspiration.  I’m a fuck up.

Cynthia: Do you say that because you don’t think you are an inspiration because you overcame the disability or because you are not an inspiration in general?

Lonnie: I am not an inspiration. I’m not. I’m nobody. I fuck up and I don’t mean that I fucked up one BASE jump and screwed myself up.  I mean, I fuck up in life, everyday.

Cynthia: Don’t you think everybody does, make mistakes, but not everyone keeps getting up and moving forward.

Lonnie: Yeah, but there are some special people in this world that don’t fuck up and I’m not one of them.  That word is reserved for them.

Cynthia: I don’t know, I think that the people who are special are the ones who make mistakes and continue to get back up when knocked down.

Lonnie: Nah, their just stubborn or they’re stupid, one or the other.  Pick and choose, it doesn’t matter.  An idiot who gets knocked out in the ring and keeps standing back up to get knocked down again. At some point people are like, “Hey dummy why don’t you lay down and stay there.”

Cynthia: Where is the fun in that for all the people watching?

Lonnie: Exactly.

Cynthia: As Jon Bon Jovi sang, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”, so the way I see it, you may as well get back up.

He concedes to my argument for the moment.

Lonnie: That’s going to be a long time laying there for some people. Ha, that was my motto, he says laughing.  When Douggs was visiting and spent the week with me, he was like, “Man you are fucked.  You are just fucked up”. The reason being I hit the gym at 5:30am, then go to work all day slugging tile, while him and Nick would just be getting out of bed or starting to pack.  I worked all day, so I would slam a pack job together and hop in the shower quick.  I would then be back in an hour and half after I went to watch my kid play baseball or ball hockey game or running around, come back and then go jump and then do it all again the next day.

Cynthia: You had a great deal of energy to burn.

Lonnie: Yeah that was me.

Cynthia: For sake of not arguing, you don’t want to be called an inspiration, but you definitely have a love and passion for the sport that must transfer over when you are mentoring new jumpers.

Lonnie: I hope they get what BASE jumping is really to me.  I hope everyone I have taught is doing it because they love it and not because they think it’s cool.

Cynthia: You truly are investing your life if you decide to take up Base jumping are you not?

Lonnie: Exactly.  It’s your life on the line.  And if you are doing it because you think it’s cool, you are doing it for the wrong reasons. You really need to possess a passion and love for it.  It’s not about being cool, because it really isn’t.  I have met guys out there where BASE jumping is a cool card to them and not a passion.  It gets them laid at the bar. They come back to the bar and brag how they just did a BASE jump and chicks really dig that and blah, blah and whatever.  “You know what man? You are really missing it, you don’t get it.”  That is not what BASE jumping is, sure it’s a great perk, but it’s not what it is bout.  I tried to convey that to everybody that I taught.

Cynthia: What was it about BASE that attracted you, if not the chicks and being cool?

Lonnie: Pure flight. As long as I can remember, as far back I can remember, I was jumping off shit.  I just loved that feeling of stepping off into nothing.  Skydiving, when I first got into it I thought “Yeah this is what I dreamt about.” Then after a few years of skydiving you think “this is really cool, but I don’t know if it’s it?”

When I did my first BASE jump, standing on the edge, I thought, “Yeah, no, no, I was wrong, this is it. This is what I have lived for and dreaming about for as long as I can remember.”  There is nothing like that moment when, as we joke, “entering the twilight zone”.  That’s where you are at that point where you lean out far enough that you can’t go back.  There is that point of no return, where you have leaned out far enough where there is absolutely nothing you can to stop yourself from going and there is nothing else that anyone can do to help you. You are on your own, it’s pure, and it’s that stepping into the twilight zone.  I can only think to describe to you as “pure”.

Cynthia: So for you personally, it’s that much different from skydiving?

Lonnie: Yeah, completely different feeling.  Skydiving is noisy with the engine sound and then you step outside the plane and there is 80 mph winds blowing in your face and you’re so high (in the air) that it’s almost surreal.  It’s so unrealistic, you can make stuff out, but it’s almost as though it’s a picture and not real.

In BASE jumping, it’s pure, it’s raw.  It’s full color, high-definition 65″ plasma with your face up against it.  You can see people walking, it’s amazing. You can hear their voices or if someone flashes you the thumbs up or peace sign you can see it, at least with most of the objects around here. The lower objects we jump in the 300-400 foot range, it’s in your face and total opposite of skydiving.

Cynthia: Do you have a favorite object of the four classifications in BASE that you enjoy jumping more?

Lonnie: I can’t really say that I have one that I enjoy more than the other, I enjoy jumping them all.  The bridges, I am not really keen on the New River Gorge Bridge for Bridge Day, we have a saying that it’s more of about seeing old friends than the jumping. The jump itself (from New River Gorge) is rather anti-climatic really.  We have some bridges around here that are much lower and hard-core.

Niagara Falls River, which is just below Niagara Falls that is super badass where if you land in the water you can kiss your ass goodbye, you’re not coming out of that.  Then we have some sub 200′ stuff that we jump and antenna’s that I love.  If I dug out my logbook, I would bet that out of my 1100 BASE jumps, 700 of them are antenna jumps.  There are a lot of antennas available in our area so it was easy for me to get so many jumps off them.

Cynthia: What is your greatest strength in BASE jumping?

Lonnie: You know I look at it as my weakness is also my strength.  It would be that I was never satisfied.  I was always striving to do more and do better for myself.   That’s a two-sided coin I think because, if you do nothing and you’re happy with just doing stable jumps or you do nothing and your jumps become boring.  But if you are always pushing to do something different, better and harder, lower, higher, faster than that’s a good thing too.  It’s just… it can bite you in the ass also.

Cynthia: Chris McDougall said in an interview we did last week that BASE jumping can become boring and for someone like me who doesn’t even jump out of a plane, I have to ask how BASE becomes boring.

Lonnie: Yeah it’s hard to believe isn’t it?

Cynthia: I mean the fear is still going to be there no matter what object you are jumping, if that’s what the challenge of jumping is for you.  If you eliminate the environment you’re still jumping against your own fear, correct?

Lonnie: Right, right, but… For instance if you are doing 400′ feet, flat and stable, 2 second delay and you do that a hundred times, believe it or not it becomes monotonous.  And then it becomes like predictable and as soon as something becomes predictable then it becomes boring.  Or it loses that appeal, that rush.  You’ll still get a little of it, but for lack of a better word, it starts to become boring, it gets predictable.

Cynthia: So then, it’s like doing heroin?  You start out only needing a small amount to get high and then as the addiction grows, a little soon becomes more and more.  The high you get isn’t as strong as the first time, so you take more or add another component to the mix.

Lonnie: Yep, not that I have ever done heroin. I think it’s placing yourself in uncomfortable positions that gives you the rush and challenge, or in situations where say, you are unfamiliar.  Whereas say if you’re doing the same 400′ jumps, it becomes predictable and it starts to feel very safe.  Therefore you aren’t getting the same rush, the same challenge and I love to challenge myself.  You know, I love to do things that people thought couldn’t be done or that people had said, “No you can’t do that”.  That is one of the best things people could say to me, because I in turn say, “Oh yeah, fuckin’ watch me”.  But then again, there are good sides and bad sides to everything. I would never accept what somebody said, I was always testing and finding things out for myself.  Tell me it can’t be done and give me a few weeks to figure it out and watch me. This also can get you into shit sometimes too.

Cynthia: Chris McDougall discussed his desire to travel around the world and in a sense, check off exit points along with places visited.  How much of the environment you are jumping in a part of BASE jumping for you personally?

Lonnie: Huge, it’s a huge part of it for me.

Cynthia: Do you feel that is the primary attraction to BASE jumping, opposed to the image of being “crazy cool”?

Lonnie: For me BASE jumping is more about the experience than “I’m cool”.  I mean, I don’t think BASE jumping makes you cool, it doesn’t, and it really doesn’t.  If you are a guy like ‘douggs’ (Chris McDougall), ‘douggs’ is cool; in fact he is super cool.  If he never did a BASE jump in his life, that guy would still be super cool; he is just that type of person.

Cynthia
: He does have the “rock star” persona going for him.

Lonnie: Yes he does, it’s just who he is.  He is the coolest cat around and if you just sit down with him and shoot the shit face to face and really spend time hanging out with him; you know, it doesn’t matter what he does in life, he is just a super cool guy.

Just because you BASE jump that doesn’t give you a cool card, it doesn’t mean shit.  Could mean you’re just an idiot or you’re just dumb.  I don’t like the idea of anyone trying to get into the sport because they think the sport is really cool.  Again, if you are in the sport for that reason, you’re in it for the wrong reason.  You’re either going to die or you’re going to be in it for a short time because you’re going to realize it isn’t cool, it’s just not.  If you’re not in it for the pure love, the experiences you get and the people you meet, you won’t be around BASE for very long; you’ll become bored of it or die.

Cynthia: It does seem that there is an influx of new people into BASE, because it does look cool on the videos.  You watch Espen Fadness wingsuit flying on 20/20 and that’s every kid’s dream come true, you can’t help but think “that looks cool” and I think unfortunately in the videos, it also looks “easy”.

Lonnie: Yep.  I think the sport is in for a real big spike in fatalities, because of the “cool factor”.  You see all these videos on You Tube now and you see the results of it on the BASE boards.  All these people want to get into it with all their beginner questions, “I don’t know jack shit, I’ve never done a jump before, I can buy a set a gear off E-bay or something and it’s… I think to myself, “Oh my God”. With people having that type of mentality, they are going to die; they just don’t understand what it takes to get to the point of jumping.

I equate it to the same as someone saying, “Wow, a Formula 1 car is super, that’s really cool, you watch them race through the streets at 150mph and you think it’s cool, you want to do that, can I buy one?  Well, the car costs 10 million dollars which weeds out a lot of guys pretty fast, but if they were as cheap as BASE jumping, the same thing would be happening. You end up with people who don’t do the due diligence and go through the learning process to get to that point.  They don’t gain the experience or knowledge needed and because it’s cheaper to get into, I think we are going to see an increase in fatalities. This really sucks for the sport overall.

Cynthia: Unfortunately because it reflects on the sport as the number of people who jump to their deaths increases and gives the appearance that people who a part of the sport are reckless

 

Lonnie: Yep and the black death, you guys have a death wish crap that we have fought for years…since forever.  The rise in senseless deaths is only going to give them (critics) more firepower to ostracize us and you know, condemn us.

Cynthia
: When I have chatted with Paul Fortun of the World BASE Race, he talks with great pride about safety in the sport of BASE and pointing out that the participants at the race are athletes. Not everyone can hike the mountain and jump under the pressure of racing another person in front of spectators.  It appears to me, that those people who are looking to “watch a video today and start jumping tomorrow” really are missing the big picture.  BASE jumping is more than standing on the edge, jumping and reviewing your “ta-da” moment on video minutes later.  There appears to be a great deal of focusing on one moment than the experience as a whole from newbie’s and whuffos.

Lonnie: True. I was hesitant to say they are missing out on the best part, because I’m not going to bullshit and say the jump isn’t the best part, because it is, but only by a small margin.  But you have to look at the big picture and experience of being there with your friends and taking in the environment and everything that comes with and leading up to the jump itself.  The jump is really the climax part of it, but without everything else that you go through to reach that climax, you’re missing out.

Cynthia: I know from my own conversations with some of the Cincinnati Crew that a portion of their jumps require more than casual planning and execution.  You see the video of the “ta-da” moment, but you don’t see the hiking two miles in the cold weather, frozen ground, up the hill to crawl out under a bridge to get a jump.  It’s not as though they are using a helicopter to reach their exit point, jump and then helicopter back to their cars. There aren’t packers waiting to pack their chutes either like at the drop zone.

Lonnie: There are a lot of new jumpers or people who want to come out and they say “Hey I want to BASE jump…can I come out and watch what you guys do”. Then we invite them on a jump and they come back with “Holy fuck man you guys go through a lot!”  We are talking about hours for one lousy jump; it’s, “Yeah buddy welcome to BASE!”

It’s not like skydiving where you run out to the airplane, it takes you up to an altitude in 15 minutes and then you’re back down in two minutes.  Nah, there is a lot of work involved, a lot more to it then stepping off the edge. Really if you think that stepping off the edge is the only good thing about it, you’re sadly mistaken, there is so much more.  You know, fuck now I’m starting to sound like my old man.  The younger generation is missing out on that, right. They do just not comprehend it; they’re not getting the big picture, their only getting that little part of it.

Cynthia: The “ta-da moment?”

Lonnie: Yeah, the videos don’t show the big picture, there is no glory in comradeship, the climb up or the hike up and the bullshit that goes along with it.  There is no glory in it, so you don’t see that stuff in video; no one wants to watch that, it’s boring. However, when you’re there that’s such an integral part of what really happens.

Cynthia: Isn’t  it evident to anyone who spends time researching BASE jumping that if you have intentions of hiking out into the desert and jumping from a cliff it takes a little more preparation and know-how then what is revealed in a 2 minute You Tube video?  The times that you can pull up to a site in your car, hop out, make a jump and hop back in the car and drive off are farther between those that you have to work for those few seconds of free fall.

Lonnie: Yeah there are jumps like that and those are cool, but for the most part it’s a lot of work.  Sometimes a jump encompasses an insane amount of work.  I drove 8 hours one way to do a BASE jump from a dam in Northern Quebec.  I did the jump, turned around and drove 8 hours back to where I was and I had already traveled 9 hours to get to that point. We spent 17 hours on the road to make one jump from a 500′ foot dam and it’s in the top of the most magical jumps I have done in my life.

It was freaky and unbelievable.  It was pitch black, we are talking… way northern Quebec and this dam had all these floodlights lit up on the face of it, but at the exit point you couldn’t see them, because they were basically lighting up the wall itself.  And once you leapt off the ledge which was at a 45 degree angle or maybe a little bit more than 45′ because it was so steep that I was not comfortable with running down the thing and then jumping.  So what we did was leaped over the ledge which was a good 10′ foot clearance and it was 10′ foot down.

We did a coin toss to see who goes first, but I told Martin to go first as it was his area in Quebec. That’s a special thing in BASE, to be the first to jump from an object.  So we hemmed and hawed until finally he decided he was going to go.  I have never seen anyone before push as hard as this guy did in my whole life; he dug as deep as he could and pulled everything out of his ass to leap as far over as he could and he cleared that ledge by 4-6 inches.  That freaked me out and now I’m on the top going, “Holy fuck”.  I had never seen anyone jump that hard and I was like, I hope I can clear that ledge, because if you don’t clear that ledge you’re going to clip your ankles and start tumbling, ya know.  When I launched, it was into this pitch blackness, you couldn’t see anything, but once you cleared that bottom ledge you were in the floodlights.  You went from total darkness into massive lights.

Cynthia: Ha, sort of like “crossing over” in the Biblical sense, but still being alive.

Lonnie: Exactly, it was amazing!  There was so much room that once I opened up I actually flew around, the dam is in the shape of a half bowl and I deliberately turned toward the wall. I flew in the half circle, it was so gorgeous and I was in awe.  It was like, “I can’t believe this, this is fucking awesome” and then “Oh yeah I’ve gotta land… I better think of landing.”  Then we hopped in the car and drove the 8, 8 and half hours back to Quebec City.  There are people who can’t comprehend that, but to me it was worth every minute of driving, that jump was worth every minute and still is for me to this day.  There is so much more to it all that they (newbie’s and whuffos) just don’t realize.

Cynthia: I guess it comes down to, if you want to do your couple jumps at Bridge Day or travel out to the Perrine Bridge and do your “safe” jump then that’s an option, but if you want a wider array of experiences then you have to work for it.

Lonnie: “Yep, if that’s what you’re looking for, then go for it.  If you want to do Bridge Day, the Potato Bridge or spend your money and go to Norway to the legal walls or if you have more money you can go over to Malaysia and do the legal buildings there.

For me, I never went to Norway nor did I want to go to Norway back in the day, because to me I didn’t consider them real BASE jumps.  I thought of Norway as “that’s where the skydivers go.”  I want to go to Europe and I want to go jump Switzerland, I want to go jump Italy, I want to go jump the Eiger.  I want to jump the stuff that truly hard-core guys will do, not the guys who have lots of money to take their course in Norway, do their jump, or go to Bridge Day because anyone can do that if you work your way to that point.

I wanted to jump off objects that you started weeding guys out of, you know.  If your average BASE jumper wasn’t able or willing to do those jumps, those are the ones I wanted to do.  Those are the jumps that appealed to me, the challenges.  Other than Angel Falls which for whatever reason just called to me. The only reason I’m going to Norway now is that it’s the only place I can realistically jump from today.  I can’t do the World BASE Race, it’s not feasible that I hike up the mountain, but I would love to be able to jump from there.

Cynthia: What makes you unique to BASE jumping?

Lonnie: I don’t know. I tried to think of something (while previewing the questions) without going to the easy card which is the disability, but I don’t know.  I think that’s the only thing that’s unique about me, cause I really don’t think I’m any different than most of the BASE jumpers out there. You know, I think we are all very similar and I really don’t do anything different, other than the fact that I need a wheelchair to get around most of the time.  I just know that there isn’t anything unique about me.”

Since Lonnie isn’t able to answer, I turned to Chris McDougall for his thoughts on the question at hand. 

I always used to call him the hardest cunt in base jumping and he also preserved his local sites better than anyone I know. His comeback video made me cry. He is a fucking legend. Anyone else who had his accident would be dead for sure. Lonnie is so fucking humble. He is whom I look up to in BASE and have since the day I met him. ~Chris ‘douggs’ McDougall


Lonnie, displaying his usual humility when discussing himself, pauses when asked what he has contributed to the sport of BASE jumping as he feels he really hasn’t given anything back to the sport. After moments of silence, which is a rarity for this man, he tells me, “I hope that I have made some people smile.   I have taught a bunch of people in Canada and hopefully I have taught them right.  I taught to respect the sport, respect the objects, and to respect people.  Hopefully they have had fun and enjoyed being a part of the sport.  I don’t think that I’m a big contributor to BASE jumping as a whole, but hopefully I have contributed to some people personally.

Cynthia: I have to ask, you would say the most boneheaded thing you have done in life is…

Lonnie: Once crawled out the back window of an SUV while we were doing  80 mph, then slid face first down the windshield onto the hood. Hung my head over the front and did the Titanic arms spread out thing!! (Laughing) The driver had no idea what was going on till I slid down in front of him! Good thing he didn’t hit the brakes or I would’ve been pizza.

When I was 16, I had to go to court for a mischief charge. It was winter and I didn’t have a ride so I stole a car and drove it to the courthouse. Thought I had hid it well enough and tried to drive it back home or close to home. I turned the corner, and they had a road block set up. Went right through it and it all ended miles down the road in a twisted mess!

As for a boneheaded move in Lonnie’s BASE career that would be something he preaches against today.  During one year he completed 70 jumps from an antenna located close to his apartment making it easy for him to sneak out at night for a jump while the family slept.  The bonehead part was that no one knew his whereabouts; he didn’t even bother to use a telephone ground crew.  If a jump had gone wrong, his family would have been clueless about what had happened or where to look for him.  The only person at the time that would have a clue was his partner in crime, Steve “Sparky” Baich, but as Sparky was traveling most of that year, it would have been awhile before the authorities found his body if he had gone in or suffered an accident.

Cynthia: What advice do you offer to new jumpers?

Lonnie: Slow down.  It just reminds me of a joke my uncle had told me once about two bulls.  “A young bull and his dad are looking down into a valley of cows.  The young bull says, “Hey dad let’s run down there and we can fuck a cow.”  The dad says, “Slow down son, if we walk down we can fuck them all.”

So my advice would be to just slow down.  I think the new jumpers rush too much.  They want to go from A to Z.  With all the videos out there, they want to go from point A which is a new jumper with a few BASE jumps and a basic concept of what he/she wants to do, but they want to get to Q or Z where guys like ‘douggs’ are and all the top-level jumpers.

They see the video and that’s what they want and they try to go there without going through the entire alphabet, they try to skip pieces of the process.  They want to get there and they want to get there now!  I think the biggest mistake is they don’t put the time, effort, energy and jumps into it to get to each stage of BASE.  They rush too quickly and I think that’s just human nature, we all do.  When I started off I was like, “Fuck I want to do this and I want to do that.”

Cynthia: How much of it do you attribute to today’s generation, the 19, 20, 21 year olds growing up in a world of easy access?  You have text messaging, web surfing, high-tech phones, if want information, bam its right there.  Everything is now; patience is a lost virtue in today’s world.

Lonnie: I think part of it is that and I think the other part is my generation and guys who came up before me there wasn’t all this video to show what other guys were doing.  Unless you heard it by word of mouth, you didn’t know. So you didn’t know how badass Buddy was down in Cincinnati or Tracy back when he was down in Florida or Mark Hewitt, you didn’t know, you didn’t see it.  You would hear stories about it, but you didn’t actually visually see it.  So, part of it is the younger generation and they do seem to want it now and don’t want to wait and I think the other part is all the video that is out there now.  There is so much video that people can see and its tempting people.

Cynthia: The longer you live, the more objects and opportunities to jump, right?

Lonnie: Yep, just slow down, take your time, walk down like the old bull and fuck them all. (Laughing)

Cynthia: What steps do you take to mentally prepare for a jump?

Lonnie: Not many. There’s not many, you know when you don’t have much of a brain, (Laughing) there’s not much you can do mentally to prepare, right.  I got a small brain; I’m not so smart so there is not a lot I have to do.  I don’t know, I just try to visualize the jump and what I wanna do basically, and then I visualize the “what if’s?”

What I’m going to do, what if? What if? What if?  Then I’ll visualize what I want to do again, as I like to finish off on a positive in my brain.  As far as the “what if’s?” a lot of times I’ll just close my eyes and visualize.  Kind of picture what I would do or think I would do.  You can talk shit all you want about you are going to do this or do that, but until it actually happens you don’t know what you’ll do.  It’s like Bert Cloutier one of my teammates from Quebec uses a saying, “That’s easy to say… put your toes on the edge and your rig on and then say that”.  Guys talk shit, “I’m going to do this and do that, oh yeah, put your toes on the edge and then say it”.

Cynthia: “Smack”, reality hits them.

Lonnie: Yeah exactly, “smack”.

Cynthia: What has Base jumping contributed to your personal growth?

Lonnie: I think it’s probably, cemented or, I’m not sure of the word I’m looking for, solidified, what I already knew… that life is precious.  You only get one shot at this and you can’t put things off in life.  You really need to live life to the fullest because you never know when it’s going to end.

I think I knew that, but I can’t think of the word, but it cemented it, sounds cliché but life really is short and BASE jumping solidified that thought for me. Like BASE, where you need to respect others, “leave only footprints, take only pictures”, you also need to grab life and take it for a ride, live life to the best of your ability.

Cynthia: Is there a jumper you admire?

Lonnie: I have lots of jumpers I admire.  Well, of course I admire ‘douggs’, that’s an easy one, a safe one.  One of the other guys I admire is my teammate Bert Cloutier who’s a very spiritual person. You know he isn’t a religious person, but he is a very spiritual one.  Everyone who meets him thinks how cool he is;  has a brilliant mind and has done it all.  There is something very special about that guy.  He is a bush pilot, a skydiver, he’s a paraglider and hangliding pilot, a BASE jumper, a Tai Chi instructor, and the guy is just an amazing, amazing, amazing person all around.

Cynthia: One of the issues that stand out for me is the technical aspects in jumping.  For example, in knowing your object, landing area and the “what if’s?”  I often envision some guy being zapped because he decided to give it a go by climbing a tower that was live and he is clueless. This type of knowledge would fall under “the big picture”.

Lonnie: Part of the reason I designed my course was I thought the big manufacturer courses that were being held out at Perrine were just too vague.  They weren’t teaching people enough about the sport, it was so basic that when I started in the sport there wasn’t any such thing as a FJC (First Jump Course).  You either found somebody who did BASE jump or you went out and did it on your own figuring it all out as you went.

Cynthia: And if you were lucky and smart enough, you lived through it?

Lonnie: Yeah, right. (Laughing)  So when they first came out with these BASE jumping courses by the manufacturers I sent a couple of guys there thinking it was a great idea. When they came back with the little that they knew, I was so disappointed.  That’s when I decided I was going to design my course and teach them the shit I thought they should know.  And yeah, it might be more intense, longer, and more involved but at least they’re going to know how to do a freakin’ pilot chute assist.  They had come back from the manufacturer’s course and hadn’t learned how to do a pilot chute assist or a static line.  I thought, “How can they teach a fuckin’ a BASE course and not include that?”

Cynthia: From the research I have done, from the conversations with jumpers, there is no doubt an overwhelming amount of information to learn and then to execute if you choose to jump. Every jumper has different opinions about how many skydives are necessary before BASE jumping, wing suiting, ect, but no one disputes there is a great deal of research needed if you are going to take on objects outside of jumping New River Gorge or Perrine.  Details that are left out when viewing videos, i.e., wind changes between buildings, AM towers being live, lock picking, map reading, calculating heights versus free fall time, first aid and contingency plans if the “what if” happens.  It really goes beyond the general advice comment of “get canopy time” or someone making a jump at Bridge Day, calling yourself a BASE jumper and having your “ta-da” moment on film.

Lonnie: Yep. (His sarcasm is clear) “You’re good, don’t die. Next!”

Cynthia: Highly unrealistic.

Lonnie: Completely.  I am a fan of Tom Aiello’s Death Camp training that runs a week. Tom and I had some points that we disagreed on back in the day, many, many years ago when he started and I believe we decided to agree to disagree back then.

Cynthia: BASE jumpers who don’t agree? (My turn for sarcasm)

Lonnie: Yeah go figure. (Laughing)  I respect what he is doing; his courses are more involved then the manufacturers’ courses were back in the beginning.  I can’t say what they are doing now in their course, but back then they were so full of holes and just terrible.  I do respect Tom for stepping up and doing the week-long Death Camp which encompasses teaching the details of BASE.  Having taught people and I know how much  is involved in doing that and it’s huge.

Cynthia: Did you have a mentor?

Lonnie: No.  I had a guy who had a couple jumps who said he would take me out.  I packed my own skydiving rig and did everything you could do wrong in doing so, with the exception that I did borrow a larger chute from him.  He stayed on the ground and I climbed the antenna.  There were also two guys who had each done a jump at Bridge Day on my first jump.

Cynthia: Oh…so you went with pro’s? (Me again with the sarcasm)

Lonnie
: Yep, I couldn’t go to Bridge Day because I had to work.  They came back and were all pumped that they were going to do some more BASE jumps and get their BASE numbers.  They were talking about doing this antenna and I told, “Well I’m fuckin’ going.”

So I left them while climbing, they climbed about 20 feet and stopped, they said they didn’t know about the winds up top.  I asked them how we would know unless we climbed it, so I told them get out-of-the-way and I would climb it and then yell down how the winds were because I didn’t fuckin’ come there to climb 20 feet.  I took off climbing on adrenaline and was buzzing along, I don’t know how high I climbed, and I yelled down for them to come up.

What I got back was, (makes sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher). I had no clue what they were saying to me because it was reverberating through the antenna, so I kept climbing.  I’m guessing I got to around 750 feet and at one point I heard someone climbing over the fence, so I figured they had climbed down and gone back over the fence.

The one guy hadn’t and kept climbing behind me but could never catch up to me, I knew he was down there because I kept hearing (again makes sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher) and I was answering him.  He said he couldn’t see me, but he heard me say “3-2-1-fuck you” and watched me free fall past him.

I had found an ice shield sat down, thought to myself “This looks good, feels good right here”.  I knew how high they had said they jumped on Bridge Day and had lots of canopy time, so I figured that was a good spot.  I did my safety check, all they had told me was to hold my pilot chute, jump and toss it in the air, so that’s what I did.

Lonnie doesn’t speak out against new jumpers “doing it on their own” because he deems himself superior, but rather because he has seen the outcome of taking unnecessary risks and suffered the losses that go along with the “rush”.  Years of being seasoned by the sport and personal maturity comes from his mouth today, much like a parent who laments his children, “do as I say, not as I do.” Or in his case “did”.

We end the interview with “the end”. I ask what his epitaph will read?

He tells me, “Guy was an asshole, glad he is gone” as he bursts out in laughter. He continues, “I don’t have any control over what’s written, that’s for family and friends to decide.  I would hope that they would say “He was a guy who never did anything half-assed and went hard at everything extreme.  Then again, I have no control over that; it’s up to someone else to write that if they write anything.

I suggest the engraving on his tombstone read: “Here Lies One Stubborn Fuck”.

He laughs and says, “Yeah that would work”.

Over the past month of working on this article with Lonnie, we have exchanged hundreds of emails, Facebook pokes and comments. He has a master’s degree in charm and flirting with the women all while maintaining his “man’s man” status.

Have a question, he will have an answer on a wide array of topics from hockey, to parenting, to romantic relationships, to loyalty, family and friends. He can take the topic of BASE jumping and compare it to most anything in life, including making love to a woman.  “You know if you do it right, there’s lots of foreplay leading up to the climax.  Again that’s something young guys don’t understand in BASE or in satisfying a woman. Take it slow.”

He is incorrigible and enlightening, if not inspirational.

When Lonnie’s time comes to pass into the darkness of the unknown, what lies within him will continue to light the way for others regardless of his refusal to stand in the spotlight.  What he is too humble to acknowledge others are all too willing to praise.

He of course will scoff at the words I have written, grumble and tell me how much he hates it. I in turn offer up another quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment”.

Lonnie Bissonnette
Age:
44

Marital Status: Divorced

Location: St. Catharine’s, Ontario

Children: 2 sons

Education: High School

Hometown: St. Catharine’s, Ontario

Year of first jump: 1990

Number of BASE jumps: 1123

Number of Skydives: 1500 approx

Your profession: Retired Tile Contractor

Container: Odyssey FX

Canopy: Ace 280

Quick Questions with Lonnie:

Best moment in your life: The day each of my children were born.

Life’s greatest achievement: My being a parent.

What were your childhood dreams and have you achieved them? My dream was to fly and yes I think I have achieved that or as close as I can get to pure flight.

Who was an influence in your BASE career: Paul McGreevy, because he told me I was going to die.  Seriously, he pulled me aside one night at the bar after he learned I had been BASE jumping.  If he hadn’t pulled me aside, I would’ve continued to jump my skydiving gear, and most likely would’ve died shortly afterwards. He told me to get a BASE rig or stop jumping. I’m pretty sure he saved my life!

How would you like to be remembered: As the guy you could count on and would do whatever he could for those he loved.

Fellow jumper Question: Do you suffer from flashbacks on your accident?
I don’t know about flashbacks, flashbacks sound rather negative.  I wouldn’t call them flashbacks, if I think about the jump or start talking about the jump then the video in my brain starts to go through it and I can replay it as if it was yesterday.  But no it’s not like I wake up from a dead sleep in a cold sweat recalling the jump as say a soldier does suffering from PTSD.

List 5 Random Facts or Habits about yourself that would be classified as weird, strange, or different.

1.  Favorite color is pink.

2.  Favorite mixed drink: Crown Royal and Orange Juice.

3.  He let a new acquaintance shoot him in the right leg with a pellet gun repeatedly while in Norway recently, as he can’t feel pain in that leg.

4.  Since being paralyzed women will boldly ask if he can still have sex.

5.  He will email extensively and yet will not use instant messenger.

Cynthia Lynn would like to thank Lonnie for his patience, friendship and virtual hand holding during the process of producing this article.  Also thank you to my “brother” Alan Lewis, (gauleyguide) for introducing me to Lonnie and “pushing” me to do the interview.  Alan, your constant support is ever appreciated.  To the troublemakers in the Cincinnati Crew that I am proud to call my friends; thanks for all the invaluable information about BASE & LIFE that you teach me.  460, thanks for being there day in and day out, love you for it.

3 responses to “Lonnie Bissonnette Interview: What Lies Within Us

  1. Thanks for putting up with my “grumbling” throughout this Cynthia!

  2. You did a great job Cynthia, many would let Lonnie fool them into thinking he’s just a dumb jerk. He has been an inspiration to me for years. Before and after his accident. Real people don’t come along very often. Lonnie is one.

  3. Pingback: Lonnie Bissonette: In Motion | ~Cynthia Lynn Chronicles~

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