Flying at 14,000 feet, the ground seems a lifetime away. The plane door opens. Cars crowding busy streets below are now tiny specks on a canvas painted green by the fields and forests. The wind is swirling so violently, it's difficult to hear anything besides the constant whir of the propellers. A full-body harness squeezes just enough to feel uncomfortably safe while falling to Earth at 120 miles per hour.
With an intense
jerk, the parachute deploys. Suddenly, there is a sudden drop in velocity.
Matthew Dooley slowly falls to Earth and lands without a care in the world.
Dooley, 19, doesn’t have time to worry about fear. Since birth, he has coped with a circumstance that takes courage to deal with. Dooley has cerebral palsy; a physical condition that occurs as a result of brain injury before neurological development is complete.
Cerebral palsy is rather common, unfortunately, affecting about 764,000 people in the U.S. according to CerebralPalsy.org. Studies show that roughly 8,000-10,000 infants are diagnosed each year.
For Dooley, his condition greatly hinders motor functions and body movement. Every day, common tasks like brushing his teeth, getting dressed and completing schoolwork are a challenge. He understands the limitations of his body and how tough his circumstances may seem, but he couldn’t have a better attitude.
“I’m stuck in
this wheelchair," he said with a smile. "I have to make the best of it!”
And he does. All difficulties and challenges disappear when Dooley jumps into his favorite hobby: skydiving.
“It’s the one opportunity I feel like I don’t have a disability,” he says. “It’s the one thing I can do the same as everybody else, and that’s the best feeling in the world.”
Shannon Dooley, Matthew’s mother, says her son has dreamed of skydiving since a young age.
“Matthew has always wanted to skydive. We told him he had to wait until he was 18,” she says. “When we asked him what he wanted for his 18th birthday, his immediate response was skydiving!”
Since that special birthday, Dooley has made the 14,000-f.t leap seven times.
This daredevil’s love for skydiving is no secret. His bedroom is a testament to that. Pictures, newspaper articles and a giant mural, all dedicated to his diving experiences, fill the walls. He also enjoys toying around with prospective skydivers, describing how scary and dangerous it can be. All in good fun, of course.
The idea of throwing yourself out of an airplane may seem crazy, especially for someone who can’t walk, but it’s a trend seen all over the world. For many disabled people, skydiving is a way to break free. It’s a sport where most disabled people have no disadvantage.
Several organizations like Extra Special People (ESP) raise money to fund life-changing experiences like skydiving. Dooley jumped his first time through one of ESP’s fundraisers called the “Jump, Fly Festival,” a fundraiser built around skydiving. Proceeds from the festival help send disabled kids to summer camp. Dooley describes his memorable experience at camp in an article on the organization's website.
Dooley carries on a family tradition of inspiring others and honoring his family name. Legendary football coach Vince Dooley, who led the University of Georgia to one of two football national titles, is Matthew’s grandfather. It seems greatness runs in the family.
Dooley enrolled at North Georgia College and hopes to transfer to Kennesaw State or the University of Georgia. He is pursuing a degree in public relations. When asked what his goals and dreams look like 10 years down the road, he expressed the desire to lead a normal live.
“I hope I can get married, have a steady job and raise a family,” he says.
As for Matthew’s skydiving career, he hopes to reach 100 jumps in his lifetime.
Josh Hart is