Before I Was a Pro
by Melissa Nelson Lowe
Most people would say I was born with a silver otter in my mouth. It’s seriously not far from the truth, but did you know I almost quit skydiving – forever?
My dad took me hang gliding when I was three, rode motorcycles ever since I could remember, shot guns, and he took me for my first jump when I was nearing my 6th birthday. I made about 11 tandem jumps before the age of 11, then I made my first solo at the age of 16.
My first few jumps in AFF were off the charts awesome. Yes, I had the classic wide legs that were 90 degrees every student does, but I had impeccable balance with this strange position. I gained this balance from my time in the indoor skydiving facility in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. My dad used to take us there a bunch when my brother and I were kids.
So there I was, rocking out my AFF with my dad as my instructor. I had no formal training, he just said to do something and I would do it. By jump seven or eight, he grabbed a couple of buddies to do a 4-Way with me. They packed on about 15 pounds of lead because remember, I was 16 and barely 100 pounds versus their mature weights. They wanted to make sure I wouldn’t float to Never Never Land.
The exit and first point went great. After that, my 90-degree leg position and stretched out arms (see picture above right) cursed me into a backslide. However in my head I thought, “I thought they were good, why are they floating away from me?” I was so frustrated. I flailed, kicked, semi-moved forward then back away from the formation. By the end of the skydive they flew over to me, built a round, then broke off. I was devastated. I thought I was so badass since I graduated my dad’s 14-jump program in half the jumps.
I did eventually get over it. I made many sporadic jumps, watching my brother on the sidelines while he busted his ass to do as many as he could in a day. So many jumpers would look at me and say, “Why don’t you jump as much as your brother?” “If I were you, I’d jump all the time.”
I didn’t always get along with my dad. In fact, through much of my teen years, I would only go to the DZ when I was grounded. My dad would encourage me to get on 20-Ways and take the last diver glory slot. Yes, I’d get to the formation, but I hated it. I hated all of it. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be a skydiver.
In 1999 my dad invited my brother and I to do a stunt to reenact a woman getting knocked out in freefall (me), someone saving said woman (brother), being filmed (by dad) in Cal City, CA. I thought that this was finally the moment that I could prove that I was more than just a flighty girl, more than just “Roger’s daughter,” or “Rook’s sister.” I was going to prove something, I just wasn’t sure what.
See the landing in question at the 10:40 mark.
On about the fifth or sixth jump of the day, I decided to reenact the woman being unconscious for landing (not part of the plan). I had unstowed the brakes after opening, and was lying limp under canopy so they could get a shot under canopy for the show. I hadn’t paid attention to the winds and was jumping a Stilletto 107. I decided not to flare to make the scene believable. I bounced so hard on that California desert ground and broke my right wrist and my lower back.
I laid in the hospital bed doped up on morphine and conflicted with trying to prove I was a skydiver and battling that I should just quit and figure out what to do for the rest of my life. I don’t skydive enough. I don’t want to be like the girls who come and go on the DZ. I’m not good enough. If I do this, I have to fully commit. I want to be known for more than just Roger’s daughter and Rook’s sister. But I don’t know how to do it. I was 22, the weight of the world was on my shoulders, and the impending decision of whether or not I wanted to take over the family business was just more emotional weight.
In one of my doped up stupors I was somewhere in between dream and reality. I had a clear image of watching myself decide to forever walk away skydiving and another vision clearly watching myself be a badass skydiver. In the vision of me being badass, I was wearing a bright pink container with my name embroidered on it. The vision made me excited. It felt good.
When I woke from the dream, I felt renewed. My mom could see the spark in my eye and I asked her, “Mom, will you order me a new all pink container. I’m going to need a rig to get current in.”
Little did I know, that dream blossomed into being on an all-girls Freefly team competing at Nationals and Load Organizing around the world, becoming an AFF Instructor; and more. However in 2003, just a few short years after that moment, the tragic skydiving accident that claimed my father’s life shook my world and made me look at skydiving through a new lens.