In the summer of 2012, Dan Rodriguez ’00 jumped off a bridge in Twin Falls, Idaho…and deployed his parachute. “The first time you jump out and there’s nothing holding you, you literally drop your arms and extend your legs just like superman,” Rodriguez commented in a recent Grantland documentary.
BASE jumping is a daredevil sport that gets its acronym from the four spots enthusiasts choose to make the jump: buildings, antennas, spans (or bridges), and earth (cliffs, gorges and other natural formations).
Rodriguez is not your typical jumper—he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in April 2012. He decided against invasive surgery and was given six months to live. A couple months later, he took up BASE jumping, a sport that due to its extreme risks is banned in most American cities and national parks except for Twin Falls. To date, more than 225 people have died taking BASE jumps over the last 34 years. Earlier this month, two base jumpers died in Yosemite.
“This isn’t like a videogame, you don’t get a redo…at the same time I have cancer, so how bad could this be?” said Rodriguez. “I could already potentially die.”
Rodriguez has completed 119 BASE jumps and 560 sky dives. He has jumped off cliffs and dived from planes in Norway, Switzerland, Italy, and Greece.
He has worn a wing suit for nearly 400 of his jumps and dives. While sky divers free fall for a minute and then descend for two minutes under a parachute, wearing a wing suit can extend a fall’s time by several minutes before the parachute inflates. And the suit propels jumpers forward by upwards of three feet for every foot of drop, so jumpers feel like they are flying.
Upon returning from his European adventure tour in 2013, Rodriguez completed three months of rigorous medical treatment, which forced him to stay on the ground. So instead, he learned how to play the piano.
Most recently Rodriguez has taken another leap. He’s teamed up with two friends that have founded the startup Admit.me, a company that helps aspiring students attend college. They were accepted by the New York City startup incubator DreamIt Ventures and will spend the next several months growing the business.
Rodriguez’s cancer is now in remission. The whole experience has taught him about timing.
“When you have a goal, a lot of times you think you have to hold back and do it at the right time. The thing is there’s never really a right time,” he said. “Sometimes you just have to take your own little leap.”
What leaps have you taken? Tell us your story in the comments below or tweet us at @mit_alumni.