Skydiving feat bonds family, raises money for Parkinson's research

5:58 AM, Jul 13, 2013   |    comments
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BALDWIN, Wis. -- On a small air field, next to a farm in Baldwin, Wis., the only thing growing is anticipation.

Kevin Burkart is jumping out of a plane -- like so many others do at SkyDive Twin Cities -- except he's going to make that jump as many times as he can in one day.

Burkart is raising money for Parkinson's Disease awareness, an illness that his father, Gary, has struggled with for more than 15 years.

"Our association had a walk and a golf tournament and those are terrific events," Burkart said. "I wanted to do something different and unique."

"I think he gets his mind set on something," Gary said. "He drives for the result."

"And everybody in the sky diving community and my family told me no, you can't do 100 skydives in a day," Kevin recalls.

In June of 2008, he jumped 100 times in one day, two years later 150.

"I had a seven-hour weather delay that really set me back," Kevin remembers.

But before he could attempt his next goal of 300, Kevin was in a snowmobiling accident in March of 2010. He broke numerous bones, four vertebrae and suffered a brachial plexus spinal cord injury. It severed major nerve connections and left him without the use of his left arm.

"I was in shock, really," Kevin remembers.

"I had lost the use. Permanently? Spinal cord injury? I still had a hard time fathoming that," he added.

While he hadn't lost his life, he temporarily lost his dream of skydiving. Depression set in.

"I went through withdrawl three times from narcotic pain killers and I don't wish that on anybody," he said.

Like any good skydiver, Kevin knew when the ground was near one night not long after the accident.

His girlfriend, Laura Dauffenbach, recalls the incident well.

"I had this instinct to give him a call," she said.

"I was just at a low point," says Kevin. "It was 2 o'clock in the morning."

And he'd hit rock bottom.

"He picked up and he was sobbing he couldn't speak," Laura said. "And I knew something was wrong."

"I had my girlfriend take this picture of me and she said, 'Why am I doing this?'" Kevin says.  "I think she thought I was going to eat a shotgun."

But he had no intention of ending his life. Instead he wanted to remember the point when he was taking back control of it.

"I just want to document the low point," Kevin says. "This is going to be it for me. I don't want to go any lower than this. I just had to have the point in time where I could say I am going to come back from that."

To almost no one's surprise, Kevin has made it back. In just over a year, he committed himself to training and found a way to modify his equipment and on June 19, he attempted to finish what he started.

"Doing a one-arm skydive is easier than living with Parkinson's Disease," Kevin insists.

Calling it the imperfect jump for Parkinson's, he didn't want the pressure of a number to reach.

With the help of a crew, who constantly packed chutes and delivered them and switched them out upon landing he passed 100 jumps by 4 p.m.

"I'm surprised we made it to 100. I never expected to," he said.

But as the sun set, he wasn't done. At 9 p.m., that same crew sailed down with him one final time, as he recorded his personal best, jump No. 151.

In the end, Burkart raised more than $120,000 for The National Parkinson's Foundation.

And while the money he raised, doesn't go directly to improve the quality of life for his dad, who is in the advanced stages of the disease, the bond formed through this process will.

"He and I have become a lot closer as a result of this," Kevin said.

And on this night they celebrate together, two lives that have overcome a lot to get to this point.

(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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