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Journey to the Bigways

From Student to the 100th Jump

Making it to my first Nine-way and then suddenly being welcome into RW jumps

During early 2005, I became interested in big ways while I was still a student skydiver.  As a deaf person, I discovered the deafskydivers.org website, and they were planning an upcoming Deaf World Record event.  They required 100 jumps and a B license to participate in the event.  A daunting goal, this gave me the incentive to jump as often as I could at my home dropzone.  At jump #99, the largest formation I had ever jumped in was a three-way.  For my next jump, I set forth trying to get the biggest RW formation the drop zone would let me build.   This became a nine-way, made mostly of Skydive Gananoque's instructors.  For my 100th jump, we created a successful 9-way jump even though I funneled the exit!   Before this jump, I had a hard time finding willing RW buddies.  Word went out I'd accomplished a two-point nine-way.  Now I was suddenly being invited into four-ways, five-ways, and six-ways, jump after jump!  As a result, my learning experience experienced a big bang after this milestone jump. 

 

 

photo by Dave "Fuzzy" Hatherly
 

 

Deaf World Record 2005

First experience being “cut” from a bigway event

November 2005 was my first skydiving vacation.  I flew  to Florida to participate in Deaf World Record.  It was like a deaf boogie, organized by the infamous Billy Vance and John Woo.  Before the event, I went to Skyventure Orlando for the first time.  I was floored to learn that John Woo had 20 hours of tunnel time, and is a World Team member having completed the 357-way World Record the previous year.  He told me he had about 700 jumps.  His story was an inspiration, even if it was an impossible dream at this time.  Over the next few days, 20 of us jumped several attempts to break the 14-way2003 record.   I learned a lot, and docked on several formations that exceeded the size of my 100th jump formation. 

Eventually, they had to give “the speech” to four jumpers to reduce subsequent attempts to 16.  

I was one of the people to be “cut” from the final formation. 

My feelings of disappointment disappeared as I witnessed the Deaf World Record from the ground, the subsequent first night jump, and giving my glowsticks away.  The photo with the goofy smile tells the whole story of Deaf World Record 2005 experience.

 

 

 

 

 

Attending Canada Big Way 2006

Failing to get to the 59-way level, but managing to get to the 30-way level

I learned about the Canada Record during late 2005, and wanted to see if I could possibly qualify for this event.  It seemed far fetched that I might participate in an 80-way but I kept my mind open.  During 2006, I completed my first 20-ways during boogies when the Twin Otter visited my Cessna home dropzone.  The dropzone told me to go and attend the Canada Record anyway, to 'try out' and see if I was good enough.  At this event I had my first taste of big way education, such as stadiums, radials, sheep dogging, red zone.   Alas, I was cut before I went past a 21-way.  The event proceeded to complete a 59-way while I jumped a side 20-way camp for people who were cut from the main formation.  I learned many valuable lessons, including from Guy Wright: Never look up when I fall low.  After that advice, despite still being a sloppy flyer, I consistently recovered from falling low during these jumps.  I made many bad impressions with Guy Wright, however, TK Hayes invited me to participate in a 20-way.   Later, it became apparent there was too many jumpers, and it became two separate 30-ways instead.  This became the consolation prize: My first multiple-plane formation load, and my first 30-way, that I completed, docking 14th.  

 

 

 

Guy Wright's Big Way Camp 2007

Struggle trying to stay current

During 2007, I had a major downturn in my jumping frequency due to job and love life situation.  Nonetheless, I attended a Guy Wright big way camp at the same dropzone as the Canada Big Way 2006 event.  However, I got cut very early during the first day as I was very uncurrent and my previous impression at Canada Big Way 2006.   In addition to my lack of currency, I had also gained weight, so I had much more difficulty falling slow, so I kept falling low too often!   Discouraged, I gave up on big ways for the remainder of 2007 except for the easy 20-ways that occurred at Gananoque's Twin Otter boogies.

 

Perris P3 Big Way Camp May 2008: Finally Persistence Wins!

Finally reaching the 50-way level

In the previous two years, I kept hearing about the famous “Perris Big Way Camps” as being the best camp to learn about big ways.    I was getting current again and I worked a little over an hour of tunnel time and 20-way jumps previous to the camp.   Finally having the prerequisite jumps, I attended the Perris big way camp for May 2008.    They require 250 jumps with 50 jumps in the preceding 6 months.  It was to become the best skydiving vacation ever.  As a deaf jumper, I was very challenging to the Perris P3 team, because I often required a little more maintenance than everybody.   Load organizers dislike high-maintenance jumpers, and it was always a challenge to make myself as low maintenance as possible. I was struggling trying to learn as much as possible, with the help of other jumper writing notes for me!   I persisted and climbed my way through ever-bigger formations, and the final jumps on the final day, I was to become part of an outer weed whacker (“weed whacker of last resort”).   On the third last jump, I fell low.  On the second last jump, I successfully docked but others in my whacker did not make it.  I approached a discouraged-looking guy and encouraged him, good job, you can still do it.  He was a guy, very much like me, who was trying so hard.  I gave him a good pat on the back and gave him the encouragement.  The thrill of diving fast from a trail plane, and slowing down on time for a dock.  I almost fell low on this jump, but I docked – DOCKED!   Then I committed the sin of looking away from the center and to other jumpers docking on me.  He was struggling, going to fall 1 foot low below me – but I made a last minute decision to drop my level slightly below, while still docked, and help catch him.  We docked in a mutual grunt of effort.  Right in the nick of time, the final person, about to go low too, caught the very end of the weed whacker and promptly pulled our entire whacker low again, a whole 2 feet below the formation level, with the chain becoming almost diagonal!  However, we quickly leveled out without funneling.  We DID IT.  

I was sloppy, the video showed my instability as I caught the other skydiver, but I felt I played “hero” on this jump – helping other new big way jumpers like myself complete the formation.  While I was not ready to truly play the role of hero, I had so badly wanted the formation to be complete – and it was my job in the weed whacker of last resort to try to make it succeed.  On the other hand, skydivers are supposed to look towards the center of formation.  Despite this succeess, I still had lots to learn.   But it was time to celebrate – I was so happy I was part of a complete 49-way formation!

 

photo by T.C. Weatherford

 

 

Perris P3 100-Way Camp September 2008

Now reaching the 100-way level

By now, I was starting to think I might make it into the next World Team if I tried hard enough.  I started to hear that the next World Record might be happening in year 2010.   I then made a decision to gamble and “go for broke” for the Perris P3 September camps, and try to bring myself to the 100-way level.  The Perris camps were organized as a 50-way camp the weekend prior and a 100-way camp the weekend after.   I had only gotten a conditional invite for the 100-way camp based on the performance of my 50-way camp, but planned my vacation as if I was going to possibly be accepted into the 100-way.   As a deaf skydiver, I hunted down interpreter help to try and decrease my maintenance level even further.  Jan Meyer stepped up to the plate and offered to be my debrief-room interpreter and to double as a dedicated big way coach.   I surpassed the performance of my previous Perris May 2008 visit.  It worked – I qualified for the 100-way camp.  The next week, I finally did my first 100-way as I had dreamed of doing someday. 

 

 

The Future...

Even though I am still very much a relative newbie to bigways still yet to be part of an invitational big way event, I now have a new goal: Be part of The World Team within my lifetime, whether in 2010 or later!  Although I now have enough experience to be invited to the smaller invitationals listed at the bigways.com site, I still have a long way to go, and lots yet to learn!




By Mark Rejhon on 2009-02-16 | Last Modified on 2009-03-10

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