Photos courtesy of Debbie Jankowski (L), Rachel Patton (R)

How Motherhood Changed The Way These Adrenaline Junkies Get Their Thrills

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“Once you leave the plane it’s you, God, and the sky. You’re the most free you will ever experience,” said Rachel Patton, mother to 4-year-old Wyatt. “The wind isn’t loud like people would think and the scenery from 10,000 ft. is absolutely breathtaking. It’s the closest thing to heaven you’ll be without the commitment.” For the mother of one and adrenaline junkie, the feeling of skydiving thousands of feet above the air is irreplaceable.

“It’s therapeutic to me. A lot of people wonder how plummeting to the earth at approximately 120 miles per hour is therapeutic, but it is. Your worries or any challenges you have going on in your life disappear that 60-90 seconds you are in free-fall,” Patton tells Romper.

Whether it’s skydiving, BASE jumping, free climbing, or another life-risking adventure, there’s a reason adrenaline junkies like Patton can’t turn away from their craft: They live for the thrill of it all. But what happens when — sometimes unexpectedly — they discover that they’re pregnant? For these three mothers, the joy of raising children couldn’t completely halt them from taking in the rush of the jump, even if they’ve had to take a small step back.

“I really loved it from the very first jump,” says Debbie Jankowski, a mother of four. “It was something I had always wanted to do. It was kind of like one of those bucket-list items and then I had the opportunity to go with some friends one day and went. We did a tandem skydive and by the time we landed I wanted to go right back up again.”

It took one jump for her addiction to kick in.

“I literally wanted to do again right then. It’s not cheap to do a tandem skydive so I had to make sure I had the money. I had taken the day off of work and when I went back to work the next day, I was in a small office and that’s all I talked about. I had all these pictures and my boss was like, ‘Alright, I know that you’re not going to rest until you do this again. If you want to take a couple days off next weekend and go spend all the time you want, no problem. Do it.’ Within a week, I had gone back and finished my tandems. Within a couple months, I had done my assisted freefall and gone through all of that. And then I did my first one on my own,” Jankowski said.

At the time of her first jump, Jankowski was already a mother to two young children: a 10-year-old and 12-year-old. Along with her husband, she began taking trips each weekend to skydive. Soon enough, Jankowski received her skydiving license and her whole life was changed. “We’d bring the tent and the dog and be at the airport every weekend just about. I jumped out of helicopters and military planes where the back opens and you just run and jump out.”

Prior to her first jump, Jankowski certainly didn’t consider herself to be an adrenaline junkie, per se. Skydiving was always a bucket-list item but never one that she thought she would instantly fall in love with. Within a few months time, it was more than just a hobby: skydiving was a deep-rooted passion that she and her husband shared together, as well as one that her two children found intriguing from the sidelines. But after a skydiving convention in Illinois, things were thrown a bit off course.

“That convention, I must have jumped out of 10 or 12 different airplanes. It was after that, after we came back and we were just jumping in the drop zone, we get in the plane and as we gain altitude I was getting nauseous. I ended up riding the plane back down because I was afraid I was actually going to be sick when we got out of the plane which would not have been good. One day, one of the guys... said, ‘I think you’re pregnant’ and I said “No, no! I’m not.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I bet you are.’”

My husband and I wouldn’t get on the same plane. That was kind of my rule. It was more a fear of what if the plane goes down?

Positive that she wasn’t expecting another child, Jankowski and her husband headed out to Iowa soon after for another skydiving convention. But as the plane reached the desired altitude for each jump, nausea kicked in. Jankowski rode the plane back down each time, concerned about what was going on with her body. Could she actually be pregnant? It was time to find out.

Jankowski headed to a local Walgreens to buy a pregnancy test and, “sure enough, I was [pregnant].”

Photo courtesy of Eva Clarke

“I did do a couple more jumps while I was pregnant but I wasn’t comfortable, I didn’t think I was experienced enough. I know women who have jumped until their seventh month or so but they have thousands of jumps under their belt, whereas I had hundreds.”

Nine months later, she and her husband welcomed a beautiful baby girl into the world. They named her Skylar, inspired by their love of skydiving. Post-birth, the couple took a step back from the skydiving game, especially when Jankowski found out that she’d be having a fourth child soon after.

“Once [my daughter] came along, I went back to it when I was ready. But then my husband and I wouldn’t get on the same plane. That was kind of my rule. It was more a fear of what if the plane goes down? It kind of took some of the fun out of it, but we still did it. Then, I actually got pregnant right away with my now 19-year-old, so we really didn’t do much after that. I just wasn’t comfortable because — not [uncomfortable] in my abilities —but because I had two babies literally 14 months apart. Who’s going to take care of them if something happens to me or him or us together?”

Soon, the tasks of motherhood became increasingly time-consuming and Jankowski was skydiving less and less. But the need for an adrenaline rush never faded. As her two new daughters grew up and expressed an interest in gymnastics, she and her husband were fully on board. They opened up their own gym and ran it for seven years. And although the world of gymnastics was definitely full of thrill, nothing can compare to Jankowski’s weekly skydiving ventures.

“Something that I’ve taught my kids is to get out of your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Just go do it... You won’t regret it.”

Similar to Jankowski, Patton’s addiction to adrenaline came after the birth of her first child. Prior to her pregnancy, she’d partaken in light thrill-seeking adventures, but nothing as grand as jumping out of a plane 10,000 feet in the air.

“I started skydiving in May of 2018. It was on my bucket list just like most people's list. I went as a tandem my first time which means I was attached to an instructor. After we landed I knew this was about to be one of my favorite hobbies. I fell in love,” she says. “It’s difficult describing but to describe my first skydive I would say majestic, breathtaking, absolutely addictive.”

You can’t stop living your life because you now have a child. Of course, my son is my number one focus in my life but I also am Rachel Patton, too.

In addition to skydiving, Patton is an avid rider of motorcycles and RZRs, as well as a lover of snow skiing, wake surfing, and water skiing.

“Being a mom has impacted my hobbies in two ways, good and bad. The bad: I have thought if I happen to pass away doing one of these activities how would it affect my son and his life. Would he be OK growing up without a mom? How would he remember me? But with being a parent you can’t stop living your life because you now have a child. Of course, my son is my number one focus in my life but I also am Rachel Patton, too. I didn’t lose my identity. The good it did, it made me push harder. Every time I jump out of a plane I practice my emergency procedures the most. When I jump as we are nearing altitude I practice those procedures and all I see in my head is Wyatt.”

When she’s back on the ground, she’s very open with her son about her love of skydiving, hoping that he, too, will find a love for the same hobbies one day.

“I would love for him to enjoy the same hobbies I have when he gets older. I know I probably sound insane saying I would like my now 4-year-old to enjoy skydiving or RZR riding. But I would like it to be a bonding experience for us. Wyatt has watched me skydive before and loved it, loved it so much he cried when I told him he can’t skydive until he is 18. On another hand, if he is interested in doing the activities I do, which I’m sure he will be due to us being ridiculously alike on thrill-seeking, I also want him to know the dangers. None of the sports I do are a walk in the park. He needs to know all of the potential hazards that could happen. If he knows them and respects the sport I would love nothing more than to jump out of an airplane with him.”

Eva Clarke has continued to enter extreme endurance events and ride her motorcycle through motherhood. Photo courtesy of Eva Clarke

Patton and Jankowski’s stories are much similar to that of Eva Clarke as well. But Clarke’s adrenaline addiction isn’t limited to just skydiving. No, whether it’s ultra-marathon running through the mountains, intense endurance events or hardcore workout routines, Clarke is always along for the ride (motorcycles often included).

“My children are my passion and I have always made my love for my lifestyle fit in with motherhood,” Clarke said. In her early 20s, she joined the Australian Army, taking on a vast array of roles. Between the ages of 20 and 32, she gave birth to three children. Her time, clearly, was limited, but there was always a place for the thrill.

“As much as I made sure my kids had everything they needed, I sure as hell wasn’t going to stop following my dreams along the way. If you want it, you’ll make it work. Look at me, I’m nearly 40 and amidst all my passions and adventures I’ve even found time to go back to school. I mean it’s not an adrenaline rush, but it’s another challenge for me. And I think anything that is challenging you is a thrill.”

The thrills and the excitement of life only come if you go searching for it, or if you make it happen.

She adds, “Sometimes you have to put your adventures on the back burner as the kids' activities and lives take center stage. But there are 24 hours in the day and sometimes that means I’ll get up [at 4 a.m.] to get what I need to get done. There has to be a balance.”

In fact, being a mother has only reinforced Clarke’s love of being an adrenaline junkie. Her hobbies have impacted the way she raised her three children and has shown her the kind of lessons and morals she wants to implement in them.

“I just want to show my children that life isn’t about sitting on the sidelines. The thrills and the excitement of life only come if you go searching for it, or if you make it happen. As a mother, I want my kids to be involved in life and not sit on the sidelines and spectate. The thrill of it all is showing them that anytime in life is the right time to live the dream. Do something that makes you happy or life will pass you by.”