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.