Before I Was a Pro 7


New to this series? Follow here: (Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6)

Summer / Winter 2003

My dad died. A controversial leader, charismatic pioneer, and the most invincible man on earth – my dad! His death was like a soul punch to the gut. I felt like I was floating within an inner ring of my being, eyes like a deer in headlights, heart throbbing, eyes red from tears. In an instant my life was over, yet beginning all at the same time.

An automatic and unexpected response happened. Was I NOW going to take over the business with my brother? Without a doubt, I was! My father passed away on a beautiful Saturday. We mourned on Sunday, and were in the office at 9am on Monday to sort out what was to be the next chapter of our lives – DZO’s.

Through the heaviness of realizing my life: my father is dead, I now just became a DZO of one of the largest skydiving centers in the world, I just took over a business where I was younger than many of the staff of the company, and took over a business from one of the most influential skydivers in our time. How was I even supposed to fit in those shoes?

Somehow, each day, I’d show up to work. Somehow, each day, I’d get work done. I felt like I was waking up in a fog, things would just happen around me, and I’d navigate my day to do the only thing I really knew how to do – I managed the office, ran events, did bookkeeping, jumped when I could, and held on to the dream of the Sugar Gliderz – which was falling apart.

On the weekends, I would watch waves of students come in. My dad – would welcome them, give them a tour, make them feel like family and perhaps would throw on a tandem rig and take one of them on a jump. Me – I hid in couches, hoping no one would pick me out of a crowd. I didn’t want to face them. I didn’t want to admit the owner of Skydive Chicago was dead and yes, he was my dad.

My brother and I encountered so much love and respect from the skydiving community. But boy did we have to deal with the relentless and ruthless media. As if it weren’t hard enough to process the fact my dad was gone, they had to unearth pain I’ve never felt before with their misguided, half-truths, and assumptions.

Sunpath Products

This blog is proudly sponsored by Sun Path Products.

Each night I would make my way to the trailer I had made home in the past year on the drop zone. I had shut every curtain, made sure the windows were locked and no one could see in, or get in. I would open a bottle of red wine and start drinking. Some nights I would stay up late cleaning my kitchen floor with an old toothbrush, detailing my refrigerator and vacuuming the living room floors.

Some nights I would drunk text friends as I wanted to be alone, but didn’t want anyone near me. Some nights I would just drink as fast as I could just to not think, and pass out before I did anything I didn’t want to do. I was falling apart, but the fact I had a new responsibility on my shoulders gave me a purpose. I had to show up.

One day my brother and I were putting together ads for Parachutist. We had so much fun brainstorming and giggling like kids putting these together. Amongst the laughter was great sadness. We missed dad.

My brother and I were learning so much on the fly. I would show up to work and meetings in cut-off shorts, a tank top, and sandals. I thought about dressing nicer, but in the end, I thought I’d rather just be myself. We’d also discover things dad had been working on by getting a late notice, or an email to follow up about things. There was a lot suddenly on our plate and we were only scratching the surface. We’d often joke around that we weren’t DZO’s but DZ-uh oh’s!

I stay committed to the team [Sugar Gliderz] to compete at Nationals, keep the load organizing gigs (except one as it happened a week after my dad passed), and commit to co-organizing the Women’s Vertical World Record – all while being a new DZO.

Freedom Jam, Oregon 2003

Freedom Jam, Oregon 2003

I was floating in life, letting all my previous engagements and work fill my time. The events were so good for my soul – so many people got to give their condolences and love, plus I got to let loose a bit. Nationals seem to come and go. I was getting tired – emotionally and physically.

Photo from

Photo from

There was a baseline mission that helped me focus my attention away from the DZ, and the reality that my dad died. The mission of building a Women’s Vertical World Record with Amy and Jen later this year at Skydive Arizona. I daydreamed of hanging out during all my dad’s records and thought it would be such an honor to organize like my dad, and how proud he would be of me. But I had no idea how magical and healing it would actually be.


I remember at Nationals that year, Nancy Koreen handed me a gift that is every skydiver’s dream: to be on the cover of the industry magazine! It was an elating feeling and was such a perfect gift!

Parachutist Magazine Cover with Melissa Nelson and Amy Chmelecki

Photo by Jason Peters

November 2003

When the Sugar Gliderz first set out to assemble a team of bad ass women together, we had no idea what to expect when the actual day to attempt the record would be like. To our surprise, over 20 women had come out for the event from several different countries. The record to beat was 4.

On the first attempt, we broke the previous record with a 6-Way. On the very next attempt, we broke THAT record with an 8-Way. On the 3rd attempt, we broke THAT record with a 10-Way. On the 4th attempt we broke THAT record with a 12-Way. On the 4th attempt, we broke THAT record with a 14-Way!! Five records, all women, in ONE day!

16-Way Head Down Formation at Skydive Arizona

2003, 16-Way WVWR,
Photo by Jason Peters

We ended the day attempting a 16-way but we unsuccessful and banded together the next day where we DID break our 14-way with an official 16-Way Women’s Vertical World Record. All the women were supportive, stoked and made the event more magical. For me, it was a dream to be outside of all my trauma from losing my dad, falling into my pre-destined life I wasn’t sure I wanted to live, and my battle with alcohol. The success was incredibly sweet.

To be continued…

  • 2018 DZ Marketing Conference - February 6-7, 2018

Eventbrite - 2018 DZ Marketing Conference

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