Before I Was A Pro – Chapter 8


New to this series? Follow here: (Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7)

Spring 2004

2004 was a blur. Time just seemingly passed. My new life as a DZO made the Sugar Gliderz future look bleak and unsure. Our camera flyer, Jen had left the team and Amy started freestyle training, forging her new path in the sport. My heart was heavy.

Even in hindsight, I can’t even tell you why or how I kept showing up to run Skydive Chicago. I don’t even know how I’d get myself in the sky – but I knew that being in the sky was my new freedom where I felt whole. I loved sitting by the open door of the Otter, letting the wind encapsulate my face and tangle my hair. I loved letting go of the plane, and swooping my parachute safely to the ground. I embraced those quiet moments, where my mind was circling.

The Flyboyz (Mike Ortiz, Fritz Pfnur, and Eli Thompson) and my brother along with Jon Devore and Mike Swanson held the next co-ed Head Down World Record in Perris Valley, California that spring. When I showed up to the event, it had no special meaning. All I knew is I wanted to be a part of – feel included, feel accomplished, and just feel good. I struggled as a late diver and last stinger. I’m sure my thoughts and focus were all over and it showed in my flying.

I remember my brother taking me aside and said, can you stick it? I instantly thought, Oh my god, I’m going to get cut again. “YES! I can stick it,” I replied but still unsure. He gave his humble Rook laugh, squinted his eyes and said, “Ok. You have to.”

I was docking on Omar – a legend in our sport, who was incredibly supportive. He told me to relax and that I can do it. The pressure was on. There was no room to fuck up. It was the best fire-under-my-ass and that challenge resonated in my soul.



In 2004, at Skydive Perris, I stuck it and completed my second skydiving world record!

42-Way WR at Perris


Fall 2004

Amy and I did as much training as a duo and picked up Steve Curtis to be our fill in camera flyer. I flew out to Skydive Arizona where we got in our last training jumps, then we, as a team, drove out to Nationals – also at Perris, California. It didn’t take long before we opened up a bottle of wine, and I poured my heart out to Amy and Curtis about my dad. I don’t remember much of it, but Amy said I talked about when we used to visit my dad in prison all the way to the day he died. I woke up with a massive hangover.


On our way to the DZ, I saw a guy who I knew didn’t drink alcohol. I knew he didn’t drink because in the past year or so, a friend shared a video of him having a celebratory drink with mutual friends with water. I made note because who celebrates without alcohol. Baffling. I hadn’t seen this guy for over five years. Amy and Curtis headed to registration while I said hello, and all I said was, “I know you don’t drink. I need to know how you do that.”

This wasn’t our best Nationals, it was obvious things were changing. More than I could have ever imagined or even accepted at that time.

I flew home from that event and started reading a book that sober friend gave me. Something shifted very uneasily within me. My eyes were wide open, my heart felt like it was beating, but my very being was exhausted and I felt like I couldn’t keep up anymore.

I went to the DZ bar that weekend and ordered a glass of red wine – a staple, a favorite. I took a few sips and for the first time ever in my life, I didn’t finish it and walked out of the bar. I went back to my trailer on the DZ, made sure alScreen Shot 2017-10-17 at 12.55.40 PMl the blinds were closed and the lights were low. I covered myself in bed and picked up that book and started crying my heart out.

I don’t know why I was crying at the time. I didn’t set out to be upset. I just needed to change and didn’t even know where to begin. My life was falling apart before my very eyes. Today, I understand that moment was mourning my life with alcohol. I knew I had to stop. That was October 18th, 2004.

The next day I went to a 12-step meeting with a friend who was also in the program. I felt dumb but open to at least check it out. I had no idea what I had just done, but it was the beginning of the change I so desperately needed. I thought you had to be in the gutter, broke, with a bottle in a paper bag to qualify as an alcoholic. Turns out – you don’t.

I admitted, in that smoky room, with about 8 others, that I was an alcoholic. I went home and cried some more.

I didn’t drink that next 24 hours. I didn’t drink the next 24 hours after that. I became restless. My brother was headed to Mexico with the planes and I decided to stay and man-the-fort at home to manage the other day-to-day business of the DZ. I was stir-crazy so I started working on making Vertical Formation Skydiving a competitive event.


I went to Chick’s Rock that year and had NO IDEA how to be around anyone because my world evolved around skydiving and drinking. At the big Saturday night party, I stood in the food line and talked to everyone about VFS (back then we called it VRW – vertical relative work). I got jumpers to sign my petition to present the dive pool and rules to the USPA.

Turns out, when I wasn’t drinking, I had a lot more time on my hands. I started cleaning out my trailer, I cleaned out my fridge, my car, my office and organized the shit out of everything. I started answering my calls, my emails and showing up to these 12-step meetings on my own.

Within the first thirty days of not drinking, I lost 10 pounds, started showering on a daily basis, and started to physically feel better. But mentally…  my dad’s clandestine life still haunted me, my life filled with secrets, my dad’s death, did I really still want to do the business, my brother, my best friend will hate me, WTF do I want in my life, is this the best it’s going to get? The past started bubbling up and I was legit starting to feel crazy.


New to this series? Follow here: (Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7)


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2 thoughts on “Before I Was A Pro – Chapter 8”

  1. Thanks Melissa for sharing an important part of your journey. Doing things we love, like skydiving, can be instrumental in our recovery.
    Life does not end with our last drink. It begins.

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