Two days before her 31st birthday, Katrina Shelby saw the Chicago area from a parachute, 14,000 feet from the ground. It might have been one of the last big experiences of her life.
"I told everyone, 'I really want to do this before I can't,'" she said Wednesday afternoon.
It's a long time coming. Shelby dreamed of skydiving as a teenager and had planned to make her first leap when she turned 18 alongside her mom.
Tragedy struck before they got the chance. Her mom passed away of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) in January of 2001. "We were supposed to go together," she explained, and since then unthinkable struggles have stood in her way.
Shelby, who lives in Bradley, Ill., with her husband and three kids, has battled cancer on-and-off for the past seven years, and three years ago she was diagnosed with ALS. Facing numerous surgeries, doctor's visits and hospital bills, skydiving was a low priority.
She never forgot it, though.
Two weeks ago, Shelby's doctor broke the news that she has less than a year to live. "I may not make it through the holidays this year, is what we're looking at," she said.
So her sister-in-law and Shelby's former doctor took her wish into their own hands and emailed Chicagoland Skydiving Center.
It was a request that Jason Kane, a guest services manager at the company, said they couldn't refuse.
"It's just one of those things," Kane said. "Anytime something like this comes up, it really hits you."
"We were touched by Katrina's story," company spokeswoman Becky Johns said, "and we knew we could help her achieve one of her dreams."
The skydiving center found an instructor and videographer willing to guide Shelby through her tandem jump for free. They scrambled to find a date -- with decent weather -- before the season ended.
Shelby's time in the sky happened just before 4 p.m. as the skydiving team waited for clouds to thin. Though it was a chilly free-fall, she couldn't have been more thrilled.
"It's amazing! I'm so excited," she said. "Really I can't believe they did this."
Her husband was allowed on the plane to see the jump firsthand, and her sister-in-law and two daughters were waiting on the ground.
"I'm not even going to realize it's cold," she said. "The weather will be the last thing on my mind."
A benefit fund has been set up for Shelby at HomeStar Bank in Bourbonnais.