Before I Was A Pro Part 4
Through the years of finally committing to the DZ life, I lived in a tiny apartment in town with my bro, then decided it was too expensive. So we moved into a bus on the DZ. I decided I needed my own space and my then boyfriend and I bought a 28’ trailer for me to live in. I bought some funky material and made my own curtains and painted the fridge with a character from a movie. It was a perfect, simple space where I could feel far away from the DZ, but be close enough to make a 10 minute call.
At the 2000 World Freefall Convention, once my father’s, now in the hands of other event organizers, something life changing happened. My dad humbled himself to go and flew down with one of his jump planes – it didn’t matter whether it was used, but if the event needed it, he would not only take advantage of the opportunity but help the event run efficiently.
The event at the time was still relative work heavy even though freeflying was gaining popularity. My brother and I noticed this lacked at the convention, and the overall organization just sucked. One night my dad was on stage, being the charismatic leader he was and was interrupted by Jerry Bird. People booed and hissed and joked that my dad’s plane should be used for nothing more than a mock up.
My late father, Roger Nelson was convicted in 1988 of Continuing Criminal Enterprises and tax evasion and served his sentence. He was also a pioneering skydiver, improving skydiving techniques published in, Body Pilot; and not only training methods, but using modern equipment for students. Because of this, my father was a very controversial figure in the sport. I’ve published a 2-part series book called, Sugar Alpha that details his life as a smuggler, pioneering skydiver, and family man.
BACK to 2000
We had come back to Skydive Chicago after the World Freefall Convention and together, my dad, brother and I came up with a concept that would include both belly and freeflying with a few nightly entertainment bands. Our intent: to make an efficiently run event that was better than the World Freefall Convention for the following year. We called it, Summerfest.
I got current November 2000, just in time for the season in Florida where I employed myself as an AFF Instructor. Little did I know, but 2001 was about to be a big year.
Skydiving was such an awesome life for my young self. It was exciting to travel and support myself as a skydiver and not just in manifest. It was everything I hoped for, even the parties. Oh, I loved the parties! The late night conversations, feeling loved, the emotional traumas of my past disappeared… but the hangovers were awful. And so were the emotional hangovers – those would last a long longer, leaving me feeling depressed and self-loathing.
Somehow I would make it through the fog, wake up and do the next thing. In fact, I got my first Load Organizer job at the Mardi Gras boogie at a DZ in Mississippi. It was SO awesome and validating! I had so much freaking fun and often reflected, “this is my life!” And we’re not even going to discuss the Mardi Gras party! Let’s just say, too much to drink and I can’t remember how we all got home!
Throughout my now official skydiving life, I wasn’t into dating. But the previous year I found myself head over heels over a skydiving pilot. He was fun, charming, smart and importantly, was a skydiver. However, our relationship was getting rocky. He only saw my life at Skydive Chicago and at the time I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. We finally called it quits after a year plus dating. And it was one of the hardest things I’d ever done, walk away from someone who I still dearly loved. So I consumed myself into the world of skydiving 110% to run away from my feelings.
I worked hard that year – doing a lot of AFF jumps, going on more load organizing gigs around the country, freeflying as much as I could, training freestyle… I even put together a freefly and freestyle team to go to Nationals.
During Summerfest, my brother had put together some big way freefly jumps. One of the things that immediately attracted me to freeflying was it’s well, freedom. So when we got down from a jump that I thought was epic, my brother, Rook Nelson, cut me. I was devastated. I only thought you got cut on belly big ways, not freeflying!
When the group debriefed the jump, I was the only one out. It looked like I was a cat batting a ball of yarn trying to take the dock. I was embarrassed. I quietly snuck away and went to my trailer on the DZ and cried my heart out. And then cried some more.
When I was done and had no more tears left, I thought that I would look more dumb crying in my trailer, than sucking it up and just hanging with my friends. Then I had an idea – I’ll shoot video! I ran back up to the hangar and offered to fly video. Going up for the jump changed my attitude – I was more happy to be in the plane than crying in my trailer. On that jump, the boys nailed it and completed an official record. If it weren’t for my video (mind you, this is the days before everyone had a GoPro), it wouldn’t have been captured.
My dad agreed to hold a big birthday party for my 24th birthday party. My dear friend, Ada was on point organizing the event. On a road trip earlier in the year for a skydiving event, she and a few girls jammed packed my Chevy Blazer with all our gear and headed south. When a certain song came on my playlist came on, I hushed the girls and told them I had a clear vision every time I’d hear the song….
It was a smoky room with red table cloths on round tables, set in the 1920s….
I had a long red dress and danced….
To my surprise, Ada transformed the Skydive Chicago auditorium into a 1920s setting, managed to tell everyone to dress up for the party, and got a red dress for me to wear. When I walked into the auditorium and saw the setup, I was so in shock that my vision was real life. It took me a few overwhelming minutes to realize what was going on. By the time it hit me, I just started hugging everyone around me and cried. Ada hired a photographer and the epic night was well-documented!
Later that year I made it to Nationals having made over 900 jumps for the season. I also won the USPA Freestyle Nationals and Intermediate Freefly (as a guest team). Things were looking up despite the lingering decision if I wanted to take over my father’s business with my bro. Then, I met two women that were about to change my life forever: Jen Key & Amy Chmelecki.