Published: July 10, 2014
Making a skydive is a big deal. In fact, for many people it's a life-changing event. However, the path that leads to 10,000 feet is different for everyone. For many, it marks the end of one life chapter and the beginning of a new one. For others, it's the culmination of a very long trek towards self-empowerment. And for some, it's simply a thrilling adventure. Whatever the motivation, here at LISC we are always honored to play a small role in helping each of our students achieve their goals and live their adventure.
Last week, Long Island Skydiving Center had the privilege of taking former NYPD police officer Ben Srulevich up for a tandem skydive. We use the word "privilege" because Ben's journey to 10,000 feet is one of the most challenging, courageous and inspiring we've had the honor to be a part of.
A little over ten years ago, Ben was riding his Suzuki GXR at Jones Beach when a car cut across the highway and broadsided him. Upon impact, Ben was thrown over his handlebars and into two metal poles 100' away. As a result of hitting the poles, Ben's left arm and leg were severed and later amputated. After 6 weeks on life support and many months in the hospital, Ben was discharged a day before his 24th birthday.
Despite the incredible challenges he has faced, Ben has not let the accident, nor the loss of his limbs define him or keep him from living the life he dreams of. Ben's strength and passion for life are so inspiring that we felt his story had to be shared. We sat down with Ben to ask him a few questions about himself, his journey, his love of skydiving and his future goals. Be prepared to be inspired!
You can view photos from Ben's skydive here on our Flickr page.
1. Who is Ben Srulevich?
BS: I am 34 years old and I am currently a medical fraud investigator after having served 6 years as an NYPD police officer/criminal intelligence analyst on a terrorism/narcotics task force. I am passionate about many things in life, but here are some of the most relevant: having been lucky enough to set my feet down on 4 continents, seeing the world in its entirety is a major part of my life, living life to its fullest without any regrets, never letting an obstacle prevent me from making forward progress in life and most of all, raising my children (alongside my phenomenal wife) to be upstanding, compassionate and plain old "good" people throughout their lives. On a Friday night you will find me spending time with my wife and daughter until we put her to sleep and then actually getting a couple hours to be together with some quiet in the house, lol.
2. What are some of the most difficult challenges you've had to overcome since your accident?
BS: Some of the hardest things to overcome were the obvious physical healing, learning how to walk each time they had to cut more and more of my leg off (due to infection and trauma), learning how to live life with one arm, fighting to keep my dream career only to have it taken away from me (but still making a decent living to support my family) and multiple other physical challenges. But, the single hardest thing to overcome was, and continues to be, handling the mental anguish of being disabled, being looked at as different from the rest of the people around me, being 'labeled' (although I feel that labels don't belong attached to people), fighting my mind when it lets in negative thoughts and turning that negativity into productive, positive and meaningful experiences in life.
3. Who / What motivates and inspires you to push forward with your goals despite the added adversity you face?
BS: I have always been my best motivator; however, my wife (who I met after my accident) has changed me and become my rock, my better half, the one who brings me back from the negativity when it creeps into my thoughts and the one who I fight to be strong for. She is my motivation. And now, crawling and standing beside her is my daughter who has become an even stronger force in my life and the best reason to fight for what I believe in and want.
4. What attracted you to skydiving?
BS: I have always been an adrenaline junkie looking to push the limits of what life has to offer...why else would I choose to put on the shield just to get shot at, chased with knives and bottles by drunk and belligerent strangers and endure all the dangers of being a cop, right?!?! In the midst of all this though, I wanted to feel what it was like to fly so I got a motorcycle and eventually felt it, sort of... Unfortunately, that experience was short lived and I yearned for something to replace it. I wanted to go skydiving but there was always something that stopped me: my weight, different skydiving companies that wouldn't take the risk of letting me jump or just refused to let me jump for any number of ridiculous reasons. The main attraction for me to skydive was to prove all the haters wrong and maybe, just maybe, to feel like nothing else mattered as I floated down towards the earth at terminal velocity!
5. Was this your first skydive? What motivated you to actually make the phone call to schedule your skydive?
BS: My first dive happened in Las Vegas during my best friend's bachelor party weekend. I had to beg them, literally beg them, to allow me to go and it was only for the saving grace of a senior instructor that I was able to jump. I was hooked from the get go, but I ended up ballooning up to 300lbs and as a result was no longer able to skydive. I made a promise to myself, like I had done so many other times in my life, that if I got back to an acceptable jump weight, I'd go again and continue to go until I was unable to do so. I fought very hard to lose the weight and I now weigh 201 lbs.! So, it was time to uphold that promise to myself!
6. You told us that skydiving brought you a sense of 'peace and serenity.' Those aren't words that most people associate with skydiving, can you tell us a little bit more about that experience?
BS: Peace and serenity, huh? All those who have been in freefall can understand what it's like to hear nothing but the air rushing past and around them, can understand what it's like to have 30 or so seconds where life just stops and nothing else matters, can understand that this may be the closest one can get to the stars in the most basic form. For all those who haven't jumped yet, in that split second as you fall from the plane and you come to terms with your actions and understand that you can't turn back, the fear itself turns into "peace". In those 30 seconds, I feel a sense of "serenity" that helps me to accept the things I can not change (the struggles of everyday life) and allows me to enjoy life just a little bit more.
7. Why did you choose LISC for your tandem?
BS: LISC has a great reputation and the word of mouth referrals speak for themselves. But the real answer to your question is that LISC (more specifically Brian Erler, the owner) took that chance and allowed me to jump. The experience itself was just what I hoped it would be and it left me with the desire to come back and do it again as soon as possible!!!
8. What would you say to someone who has always wanted to skydive, but keeps finding a reason to put it off?
BS: Don't put it off for too long...whatever your reasons may be for not going, the feeling of pride and the sense of accomplishment you feel after making a skydive are unmatched. Putting aside the thrill and excitement, the fact that you have overcome the obstacles preventing you from going in the first place is, in and of itself, reason enough to do it.
9. What's next on your bucket-list?
BS: Simple: my next immediate goal is to become certified to jump by myself. I enjoyed working with Wizard so much that I am looking into going to Florida to have him personally train me. A "tandem" goal (skydiving humor, lol) is to go base-jumping. But the ultimate goal is to get my wife to be ok with all this...let's consider that a work in progress.