There is something you should know about UConn’s junior center Stefanie Dolson. And that is, whether talking or dancing or just breathing in the air, she does it with a sense of excitement and adventure much larger than her 6-foot-5 frame.
So on Sunday, with her two sisters by her side, Dolson got into a prop plane that took off from The Blue Sky Ranch in Gardner, N.Y. And when the plane reached about 14,000 feet, Dolson, with her guide, Steve Webb, harnessed securely to her, crossed off another line item on her bucket list by jumping out of the plane and taking the 6-minute ride of her life, the first 60 seconds of which was in free fall.
And you thought playing in the Final Four was a rush?
“My only thought about her skydiving, besides please don’t let my girls die, was please don’t let Stefanie get hurt,” said her mother, Kristal. “That’s because, how in God’s name would she explain this.”
Before setting the plane into motion, Dolson spoke about her quest with both UConn associate head coach, Chris Dailey, and assistant Marisa Moseley. Not only did both sign off, but Dailey, who has skydived before, offered her prized post some tips on what to do – and not to do – when elevated for the ultimate sky hook.
“When she asked Chris and I if she could do it, I was the one that was nervous about it,” Moseley said. “I said, ‘are you sure you want to do this?’ But Chris has done and once she found of that was the case, it was fine and we were fine with it.”
Stefanie Dolson said the opportunity to do it was prime.
“This has been in the works for about a year,” Dolson said Wednesday. “We planned on doing it this summer because I didn’t have a lot going on. For the first time in so many years there was no USA Basketball for me to play. This was the summer that I could just come home and plan it with [my sisters]. I didn’t want to wait any longer. We probably could have done it in July [after summer school], but I just wanted to do it as soon as possible. I feel like I’ve been waiting forever to do this.”
Stefanie Dolson is 20; apparently forever for some.
Dolson’s father was going to jump, too, but he’d recently injured a meniscus and was advised against it by his physicians.
“We didn’t get as much training as I thought we’d get,” Stefanie Dolson said. “It was basically just watching videos. I didn’t really get nervous until I started filling out the [waiver] forms and you saw the small print about how you could possibly suffer a fatal injury. Then when you watch the video, you see there’s a lot more to do than you may have originally planned. You don’t just jump out of the plane and ride. You actually pull the cord [on the parachute]. You have directions to follow. That’s when I started to get nervous.
“I was so excited. When you are in the plane, you determined; you know you have decided to do it. And the guides were the coolest guys ever. My guide was hilarious. He kept me laughing the whole time. When we finally got ready to jump, I can’t tell you what was going through my mind, although he [the guide] told me not to look down and just keep my eyes on my sisters to my right. We just smiled at each other, he yelled ‘go, go, go’ and we all kind of just fell out. It happens so fast.”
Stefanie Dolson said she considered the possibility of injury – or worse – because her mom naturally shared her concerns.
“She said, ‘Stef, what if you get hurt.’ It could have happened, but the guide saw I was wearing my UConn basketball shirt. My mother also told him about her reservations about me [getting injured]. So he made sure that I didn’t even touch the ground on the land. My legs were straight out in front of me. He was the same height as me, so it all worked well.”
Webb, is 6-7 and has jumped 10,000 time in his career. He said Dolson’s athletic ability was clear and helped make the experience memorable.
“Some people are just born with amazing athletic ability,” Webb said. “She has the perfect makeup to dominate whether she was eating potato chips or being a world class Division I center. She showed talent and focus.
“But I will tell you; I know enough about UConn women’s basketball to understand that there was no way in the world I was ever going to let anything bad to happen to Stefanie. Those fans would have cooked me.”