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A sliver of blue hope • Chicagoland Skydiving Center helps a dying woman fulfill her dream

Posted: Friday, Oct 25th, 2013


Staff Writer

ROCHELLE –– An opening in the clouds and an area of blue sky was what Katrina Shelby, of Bourbonnais, waited for on Wednesday so she could fulfill her life-long dream before it was to late. Shelby had been told by doctors she has roughly six months to live and wanted to cross skydiving off her bucket list before it was too late.

Shelby who described herself as “usually a pretty sane person” had a deeper connection to skydiving than wanting an adrenalin rush as she free fell out of an airplane. Shelby and her mom made plans to go skydiving when Shelby was 15 but the mother daughter duo had to wait until her 18th birthday. Her mom passed away from Lou Gehrig’s disease shortly after Shelby’s birthday and they never had the opportunity to fulfill their dream.

Shelby was diagnosed with the same disease three years ago and had been battling breast, ovarian and throat cancer on and off for eight years. Earlier this month doctors informed Shelby her breast cancer has returned and is “pretty much untreatable at this time.”

“I live every day as if it is my last and I make the moments like this the memories with my kids. I don’t sit around and do nothing. Oh I have tomorrow, I don’t have tomorrow,” said Shelby.

Shelby’s sister-in-law Stephanie Schwartz contacted Shelby’s former doctor Rich Browne and together they worked to fulfill Shelby’s dream of skydiving.

“I wanted to fulfill her last dream, I try to give her everything she wants, she is pretty much a sister to me,” explained Schwartz.

Schwartz added, Shelby had been asking on Facebook for someone to pay for her to skydive as any extra income has been spent on medical bills and her three children.

Browne contacted Chicagoland Skydiving Center asking what they could do to help Shelby experience her dream of human flight while she was still healthy enough. Customer Service Manager at CSC Jason Kane received the request from the doctor and knew CSC had to help grant Shelby’s wish.

Kane stated, “It is important for everyone to experience something they never thought they would be able to. This is worth more than the money amount. We are fortunate to be able to show what we do on a daily basis.”

CSC president and CEO Doug Smith agreed to cover the costs for Shelby to skydive and asked volunteers to jump with her. Instructor Steve Jackson and multimedia services manager Javier Ortiz normally get paid per jump but volunteered their time to help Shelby fulfill her dream and capture the experience.

“Our team knew we wanted to help, and the generosity of our staff made it happen. We’re humbled that we can give an extraordinary experience to someone who’s been through so much,” added Kane.

Plans were quickly made and Shelby was scheduled to skydive Wednesday, Oct. 23 at 11 a.m., two days before her 31st birthday.

Schwartz told Shelby on Sunday night once plans were finalized and she had to wait three days for her dream to become a reality.

After hearing the news Shelby said she “was super excited, thrilled and shocked, we don’t typically get things done for us.”

Shebly explained the opportunity to skydive would provide her an opportunity to “let it all go while jumping out of a perfectly good airplane.”

Cloudy skies postponed her jump and she spent the day waiting for a chance the clouds would move and her wish would come a reality.

“I wanted to do this while I was still healthy enough. I’m so excited it’s really happening,” added Shelby.

Around 3 p.m. a section in the clouds opened revealing a sliver of blue sky, CSC staff informed Shelby and her family that her jump could happen but she was left rotating up in the airplane waiting for the small opening to move a few miles closer to the landing area.

Waiting on the ground and watching to see Shelby fall from the sky were her two daughters Jessica Bailey and Selest Shelby and Schwartz all wearing pink to support Shelby’s diagnosis with breast cancer.

Just before 4 p.m. Shelby and Jackson were given the go ahead up at 14,000 feet and she gave her husband one final kiss before jumping out of the plane. She was able to experience human flight for one minute before opening her parachute and drifting down for roughly another five minutes.

“It was awesome, that was absolutely amazing!” exclaimed Shelby after landing and being greeted with hugs from her family members. “It was so pretty, defiantly worth the wait.”

“I really can’t believe they did this for me. I’m so thankful to everyone who was part of this. It was so much fun!” said Shelby.

While Shelby and her mom did not have the opportunity to experience their dream together she knew her mom was up there with her and felt at peace during the jump.

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