Before I was A Pro, Part 3
Here I am, 21 years old. To this point, I’ve battled whether or not I wanted to be a skydiver and the idea of taking over my dad’s business, Skydive Chicago weighed heavily on my shoulders. Looking back at my so-called skydiving career, I have stripped on the World Freefall Convention stage, broken my back and wrist, and hated working in manifest. I went through phases of not jumping much, to binge jumping. It wasn’t until my accident until I realized that things needed to change.
My dad told me four years ago that in order “to get out of manifest” to go get my AFF rating. Four years ago! As I jumped more, I couldn’t stand the idea of “training” to be an instructor because freeflying and freestyle were so much more fun and free. In fact, there weren’t many people doing it and those of us who were, called us “lawn darts” and told us we were wasting our time.
In fact, at that time, the freefly pioneers were the Flyboyz made up of Eli Thompson, Mike Ortiz and Fritz Pfnur; and the Freefly Clowns made up of Olav Zipzer, Mike Vail, Charles Bryan, Stefania Martinego, and Omar Alhegelan. Their names were synonymous with freeflying and as a young skydiver, totally looked up to them.
In the summer of 1999, after I returned from my accident, I was highly motivated to get serious and decided to do a freestyle team for Nationals. I decided to go back to Quincy that following year, in hopes to show off my transformation of being a ‘more serious’ skydiver and helped at the Birdman tent in between jumping.
My then teammate, Colon Berry and myself made it to Skydive Sebastian for Nationals. This was my first competitive experience and I was so excited to register. When the staff told me I was the only freestyle competitor, my stoke faded. In the last four months I did 140 jumps, with 80 dedicated freestyle training jumps. It was SO hard to train when I’d see everyone else going on other fun jumps. It almost felt like the rug was pulled from me and that I wasted my summer.
I got a gold medal, but I didn’t feel like I earned it. However, the journey to Nationals opened a door for me. I made another 60 jumps before the close of the year, focusing on freeflying with my friends, and signed up for an AFF course in Florida.
The Year 2000
I failed that January AFF course. Still conflicted with focus, I then switched to train for my AD License (a freefly license created by Olav Zipser which proved you could do certain, precise and relative maneuvers). I failed that, too. I signed up for an April AFF Course. And failed it again.
During this time I was fascinated with swooping. It wasn’t an actual discipline nor werethere canopy coaches, but I would sit outside and watch landings over and over and over. I studied how the canopy would arc, the smoothness or roughness in control inputs, and started to embed what I wanted to emulate. I would practice a front riser turn up high, then in the pattern until I figured out the altitude that worked best and most safe to perform. As I started to figure this out, I started to love my time under the parachute much more.
Something was changing in me. That foggy, heavy feeling was disappearing. Skydiving seemed to fulfill me deep within,
especially making these goals, even though I kept having multiple failures. I had also added a new element to my life. I’d fallen in love. Although I didn’t recognize it at the time, he helped keep me focused and stable. He was also the first to see through my struggles and call me out on my bullshit.
I continued to freestyle train and picked up a new teammate, Dave Brown. I also continued to train to earn that damn AFF Instructor rating. And of course, fun jump as much as I could. On June 2nd, 2000, I FINALLY earned my AFF rating!
That summer I used the heck out of that AFF rating and did 100 student jumps, continued to Freestyle train with Dave Brown. Dave and I became proficient in team swooping and would land together, pleasing the crowd. I finally broke 1000 jumps and was finally spending less time in the office and more time in the sky. I was happy and started to feel unstoppable. Next mission – 2000 Nationals at Skydive Perris.
On a humid summer day, Dave and I were coming in for our team swoop. My dad was out in the landing area practicing with a 200+ way world record skydive. I signaled to Dave that we were ‘on’ to do our landing. All was smooth as we planned out side-by-side. Dave started to overtake me and merged into my ‘lane’ and we, then our canopies collided.
As I felt this forward momentum I dove forward into a high-performance PLF, but my ankle took the brunt of the impact. As we came to a stop in front of hundreds of jumpers, I felt like the awkward, insecure newbie again as my dad surged out of the crowd to make sure I was ok. He was beyond mad, and I was sent off in an ambulance against my will. I had broken my ankle. There was no Nationals for us that year. I was embarrassed, heartbroken and the weight of the world returned.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Catch up on the entire ‘Before I Was a Pro’ series.