The Scene

Take the leap at Skydive Chicago in Ottawa

Frequent skydiver Ariel Beverly jumps from a plane at Skydive Chicago in rural Ottawa.

Looking for a rush? Here’s one: jumping out of a plane almost 2.5 miles in the air and plummeting 120 mph toward earth.

Skydive Chicago in Ottawa specializes in that thrill.

It begins with a freefall from 13,000 feet in the sky. There’s a short-lived, stomach-lurching moment of acceleration when you transition from the 80 mph plane to the 120 mph fall. Next comes the wind, roaring in your ears and whipping at fabric, akin to leaning your head out the window of a fast-moving car.

Sixty seconds tick by. The rip cord is pulled. The parachute blooms overhead. Then the wind noise is quieted. The next five to seven minutes are spent drifting with a bird’s-eye view of the landscape – a quiltwork of farm fields, a grid of city buildings and streets, the winding path of rivers.

That’s a view Ariel Beverly knows well. Beverly, a high school art teacher from St. Charles, is a frequent flier at Skydive Chicago’s facility northeast of Ottawa.

“I’m actually a third-generation skydiver,” Beverly said. “Both of my parents were skydivers – they met skydiving – so I really grew up around the sport. My grandpa was actually a skydiver as well, which was pretty cool because he’s one of the pioneers of the sport.”

Beverly made her first jump at 18 years old, but her commitment to the sport solidified in her mid-20s. Since 2021, she has completed about 170 jumps.

Despite the growing tally, she easily remembers her first skydive.

“It was just pure excitement and adrenaline,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve had that same level of excitement since that first jump. The unknown of it amped it up a lot.”

Anthony Ebel, general manager of Skydive Chicago, is eager to welcome new jumpers. No experience is required – the Skydive Chicago team will instruct first-timers about safety and explain each step of the skydive. For inaugural jumps, guests are harnessed to an instructor in a method known as a tandem skydive.

Ebel said guests can be as active or as passive as they want during a tandem skydive. They can participate by pulling the ripcord to deploy the parachute and steering the parachute.

“There are two strings we call toggles. [If] you pull the right one down, you’ll corkscrew to the right. If you pull the left one down, you’ll corkscrew to the left,” Ebel said. “We can make the ride as calm or as crazy as you want it.”

If a guest forgets any details about the process, not to worry – that’s what the tandem instructor is there for.

“It’s a lot of information. We always tell you if you forget any of this stuff, that’s totally fine,” Ebel said. “If you want to be part of the skydive, you can be part of it. Otherwise you just enjoy yourself, enjoy the scenery.”

Some people come to Skydive Chicago for a one-time jump to scratch off their bucket list. The facility hosts between 4,000 and 5,000 new jumpers a year. Others are hooked after their first experience and return for more. Skydive Chicago is home to the Advanced Freefall Program, which enrolls about 100 students annually to train them in solo skydives and help them become licensed skydivers.

Tracey Holman, event manager at Skydive Chicago, has witnessed many bucket list jumpers convert into return customers.

“People will land and they’ll be like, ‘I’m doing this forever!’” Holman laughed.

Holman’s uncle introduced her to the sport. She was eager to try it, although nervous about her fear of heights. After her first jump, she discovered fear of heights has little impact on skydiving. Anyone who is comfortable riding in a plane and enjoying the view from the window will be comfortable skydiving, she said.

“It’s so high up that you don’t get scared. You think, ‘Oh it’s really pretty.’ It’s a beautiful view,” Holman said. “You don’t get that sensation of fear of heights.”

As a teacher, Beverly has guided several of her graduating students into skydiving and helped assuage nerves.

“I am constantly asked questions from people who are nervous or skeptical. It’s usually fear-based, or being nervous about stomach drop or failure of the gear,” she said. “It’s so, so rare for anything bad to happen skydiving, especially if you are doing a tandem.”

After putting fears to rest by explaining the sport’s safety precautions, Beverly said she focuses on the positives.

“I like to focus on how cool it is to fall and fly through the sky,” she said. “The experience of flying and of skydiving in general is so worth that little bit of risk, just like everything in life. Everything has its own risk, and you just have to weigh if it’s worth it or not for the experience.”

Skydive Chicago

3215 E. 1969th Road, Ottawa


Open seven days a week through September; reduced hours beginning in October.

Reservations are recommended at least 24 hours in advance. Discounts are available for online registration. Walk-ins are welcome but subject to a higher fee and may encounter limited availability. Registrants must be 18 years old and weigh less than 250 pounds to skydive.

Julie Barichello

Julie Barichello

Julie Barichello is the editor of Starved Rock Country Magazine and a graphic designer for Shaw Media niche publications.