By Bailey Robbins and Noel Heath
The wind roared past Haley McKinney, a nursing major and self-expressed adrenaline seeker, as she prepared to jump from a plane into the blue sky for the first time.
“You scream, and then you realize you can’t hear yourself,” McKinney beamed, recalling that recent inaugural parachuting experience.
McKinney lives for moments like this.
“I don’t get scared very easily,” she said, noting that she recently climbed a 100-foot cliff.
At 20, McKinney has jumped from planes and hiked the Alps. She’s explored the ocean floor scuba diving, and hopes one day to dive to even deeper depths. She has skied down steep slopes and, attached to a hang glider, has sailed off other high points. She’s into trail biking and has also run a half marathon.
“I basically want to do everything [and] see everything I possibly can,” she emphasized with an honest grin.
Growing up near Martin, Tenn., McKinney channeled most of her childhood energy outdoors. She favored the highest tree branch over watching television and longed for wings rather than things.
“I was on a tree, and I was like, ‘I’m just going to act like I’m a bird,’” she said as she recalled the moments before she jumped. “I think I said, ‘I believe I can fly!’”
McKinney’s tree jumping days prepared her for the sneaker-squeaking, dirt-kicking sport seasons ahead. In middle school, she played basketball. After that, she left the courts and ran to the fields for softball and soccer. She never wasted an opportunity to get up, go play and get her hands dirty.
“I was a crazy kid – really hyper,” McKinney said. “I still have a lot of energy all the time. I don’t watch TV; I always want to do something.”
Breathe, don’t panic under pressure
McKinney’s latest kick is underwater.
In a building tucked between Floyd Stadium and Murphy Center, McKinney plopped into a pool wearing the scuba diving equipment that she acquired last semester. Her long brown hair spread evenly as she floated toward the bottom.
“When I signed up for that scuba diving class, it was the Saturday before classes started,” she said calmly. “I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to do this.’”
On a whim, McKinney found herself in MTSU’s scuba diving program. She said the class was challenging, with instructors testing students with some of the unpredictable and life threatening challenges a diver may encounter.
“They did it on purpose,” McKinney said. “They told us later it was so that we would be stressed out, because when you’re in the water and something goes wrong, you need to know what to do.”
McKinney lay on the ground and demonstrated how to drain a divers’ mask if it were to flood while exploring. She did an inverted backbend, raised her hands to her face and slightly tilted the bottom of the mask up and out. Surprisingly, the technique worked with ease on a number of occasions, while diving on a faculty-led trip to Florida December.
“The best thing to do is don’t panic because if you panic underwater it’s not going to be good at all,” she said softly.
Quick, adrenaline-inspired, yet calm responses have the best results for students learning to swim with the fish and explore an underwater world.
Pursuing her nursing degree on the way being a nurse anesthetist requires a similar demeanor, she said.
“[I do it for] the adrenaline of it, I guess,” she said about her chosen profession. “They say that 90 percent of the time you don’t do much, but that 10 percent of the time you better know what you’re doing. If something goes wrong, you have to know what’s going wrong and what drug you need to use.”
Leaping into the unknown
From the depths of the ocean to the shore of another country, McKinney always includes thrills in her travels.
When she was 10-years-old, she could say that she had visited both Italy and Greece. Today, she can add 20 states, plus Germany, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Canada, Belgium, Denmark and Austria to the list.
“I want to go to every country, so I plan at least to go to a country every year,” she said. “I save all of my money to travel.”
However, not all of her trips go according to plan. On her trip to Austria last summer, everything that could go wrong, did. Yet, she told the story with a smile on her face.
“All my flights got changed,” she laughed. “I got on my plane to Vienna in New York 10 minutes before it took off. I literally took a security guard with me and ran through the airport!”
Over the course of the trip, her luggage was misplaced twice and her wallet was stolen. Then, when she thought it was over, she locked herself inside a room on the second story, and people had to climb a ladder to recover her.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is an adventure,’ ” she said. “But, it was fun. I didn’t care.”
Adventures to come
In her bedroom, McKinney pointed to a map cluttered with thumbtacks. She plans to add a tack for each new destination. Next up on her list: MTSU’s study abroad trip to Fiji this summer.
With all that she does, from rock climbing to scuba diving, she sometimes finds herself questioning the pursuit of her degree.
“I realized that nursing school is really hard,” she said, while letting out a short laugh. “I get really jealous, because I love to workout. I’m so jealous of all these people who do physical therapy and get to be around that.”
She paused for a moment, then her face lit up.
“I think I really like what I’m going to do, eventually,” she said remembering that school is only temporary. “Then, it’ll give me time and money to do other things I want. One day when I retire, I can be a backpacking leader. You got to work hard for things.”
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