Before I Was A Pro | Part 2

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This is part 2 of an ongoing series entitled ‘Before I Was a Pro’ written by Melissa Nelson Lowe. To follow the story, read part 1 here.

Flashback to 1996

I worked at the DZ on and off through my teenage years. My dad and I never really got along, and I was sick and tired of going to the DZ and the jumpers telling me I should skydive more like my brother and jump my ass off. So I went to a community college when I was 19 years old (1996) in the suburbs of Chicago trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Truth was, I just wanted to figure things out on my own and wasn’t interested in anything than just being away from my dad and wanting to go explore the world.

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Manifest at the old Skydive Chicago location.

I hit some hard times during college. My life seemed to happen around me without permission: I operated in somewhat of a fog, I didn’t know how not to drink, I wasn’t paying my bills, I was lying a lot to get out of trouble (totaled a car, was arrested for underage drinking, ditching classes), and I lost ways to try to mask my demons. I gave in to trying life on my own and moved back with my parents and helped in manifest at the dropzone.

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I clearly recall that fully committing to choosing this life was giving in and choosing the “easy way out.” I guess I called it that because then I didn’t have to go figure out what I wanted to do with my life. My dad would often compliment how good I was in the office and that jumpers would comment how professional I sounded on the phone. It made me happy, but I wasn’t sure that this is what I wanted to do, especially when everyone was comparing me to my brother.

One day it hit me like a ton of bricks. I DID want to jump more. I wanted to be outside in the sunshine, smiling from a good jump and not be stuck inside answering phones about how much skydiving costs and getting questions about how safe skydiving is.

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From manifest to behind another desk. Behind the scenes at the new SDC location. Circa 2000

My dad told me the only way I could get out of the office was to become an AFF Instructor. I was like, “Hot damn! A way out!” I started jumping every opportunity that came my way. I took more time off from the office, would jump after work, and would travel during the winters on my humble manifest pay. I went to Skydive Arizona in the winter of 1997 living out of my Chevy Blazer. I made skydiving jewelry to make money for jump tickets.

Manifesting the 1998 246-Way World Record with my mom at the new SDC location.

Manifesting the 1998 246-Way World Record with my mom at the new SDC location.

I was so excited when a bunch of locals asked me to do a raft jump. Jump #234, out of the Skyvan on a clear blue sky day. The launch was chaotic out the door and people were flying off on wacky levels. I was originally holding onto the raft and decided to let go of the madness. I stayed in place but with the chaos the raft drifted underneath me and I caught a mega burble. Don’t hit anyone! I screamed in my head. I aimed for the biggest cushiest part of the raft and tucked into a cannon ball thinking I was going to kill myself or someone else. Luckily, I actually only hit the big cushy part and I bounced off the raft unscathed but shaken up. Many drinks were had that night.

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Packing circa 1999.

I visited a few other California DZ’s that winter and headed back home. My dad was holding a Static Line Jumpmaster (before the term Instructor, we were Jumpmaster’s) Course and with my dad’s encouragement, I decided to do it.

I was super hungover the day of the course and the clouds were about 2,300’. My dad was a bit, oh, determined to get the course underway. So we jumped. I, on a Stilletto 120. I was so scared, but there I was, proving to my dad that I belonged in the sky and I had the guts and whatever else you needed to be a skydiver. My canopy sniveled so long that my AAD fired and popped my reserve into my blossoming main canopy.

There I was with 2 canopies out. What the fuck! Was my mantra. I had a biplane. I had NO IDEA WHAT TO DO!! I didn’t freeze, and took immediate action. I cutaway. As I cutaway, my reserve surged forward as my main’s forward movement decreased, lifting the risers up into my perfect yellow reserve. My risers  flung back and almost tied my reserve together with my main, but thankfully the main was inflated enough to lift itself out of my reserve and I was free!

Entry in my logbook:

Dare I say that I’m scared? Or do I try to overcome my fear of the unknown? Please tell me again why am I doing this? And what I’m trying to prove? I don’t know why I do the things I do and how I can convince myself to be safe. I don’t have peace of mind. Cutaway #3.

I had a buddy in the course that was super cute so I stayed and finished the course. I was now a Static Line Instructor at 20 years old.

I continued jumping with no formal direction or goal but to eventually get my AFF Jumpmaster rating. I did a handful of belly jumps, but I really gravitated towards freeflying and freestyle.

Freestyle and freeflying fit my personality. There were so many young people that were attracted to it and completely obsessed with perfecting it. It also had a different element of freedom compared to belly flying. Belly flying seemed to linger with its generational skygodliness: rigid, tough as nails, take no prisoners.

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Finally getting in some much needed jumps being tired of working in the office (that is the pink rig I imagined in my vision laying on the hospital bed), Circa fall 1999

On jump #335 I did my first night jump with Orly King. On jump 337 I jumped a camera for the first time, and then I went to the World Freefall Convention in Quincy.

This was a strange event to go for me. My dad created this event starting with the Freak Brothers convention in 1979. It grew so much they needed a big airport and he found this gem of a place that could fit an entire, mega boogie in Quincy, IL. My dad had gone to prison in 1989 and his dream event was taken over by other organizers. It hurt my dad so much. It was his gig, his vision, hard work, and all he could do was read letters about it in prison.

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Quincy, the day before the ‘stage incident'; Circa 1998

My dad was released in the winter of 1992 and opened up Skydive Chicago (old location) in April 1993. So it was just weird to go to this event feeling my dad’s resentments towards it. But, it was the place to be and I had the opportunity to go.

Well, as any young skydiver going to their first boogie without their parents would do, I partied and was having the time of my life. Now I’m not proud of this moment and I’m super embarrassed to share, but I decided to do a strip tease on the main stage and danced around topless. All my friends became front row bouncers reaching out to pull me off stage. In short order, they pulled me off stage, dressed me, and played bodyguard for the rest of the night. I was like, what’s wrong?! We’re having fun, right?

The next day at the convention I was so embarrassed. So many guys were whistling at me, cat calling, and asking me to take my clothes off again. I was surprised the drunks remembered who was even on stage because there were a bunch of girls up there. Now I was worried. What was my dad going to think, he’s going to kill me! And I certainly didn’t want to start my skydiving career as being ‘that girl’. But there I was, ashamed. I didn’t want to come home.

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I had some serious conversations with myself about what the hell I was doing with my life. I was having fun skydiving, but moreso, I was happy to find people that I connected with. I had an awesome little community of friends that got to know me for me. In just one night I felt like I had jeopardized it all. To my surprise, my dad didn’t ever mention one word of that night. It felt like a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. I knew what I had to do.

I jumped as much as I could the following years, still working in manifest. I found an AFF course I wanted to participate in but in January 1999 I broke my back and wrist filming a stunt with my dad and brother.  [See Part 1.]

Was I ever going to make it to this AFF course? What kept me motivated to keep jumping?

CONTINUE TO PART 3


NEW TO THE ‘BEFORE I WAS A PRO’ SERIES? 

Start at the beginning with PART 1


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One thought on “Before I Was A Pro | Part 2”

  1. Exactly right… if you only hire people who are below your level, your business will never be better than you. If you want it to be the best it can be, hire as high a talent as you can and create a culture that keeps people happy so they stay. :)

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