Lately, my mantra has been, “It’s about the journey, not the destination.” It reminds me that I miss the best things when I’m in a hurry. It reminds me to feel the wind on my face and enjoy the company I’m surrounded in. The destination is just a bonus, because when you get there, a new journey begins.
In 2003, Amy Chmelecki and I set out to gather the best women freefliers to set a Women’s Vertical World Record (WVWR) at Skydive Arizona. We spent a few months putting together our first big-way camps, and taught ourselves all the ‘behind-the-scenes’ work to put on such a feat.
In those days, there weren’t very many lady freefliers. We had no idea what outcome to expect, but we walked away breaking several records during that event, ending up with a 16-way.
Now, ten years later, October 24-26, 2013, Chemeleki and Sara Curtis hosted the last official WVWR camp before the official attempts on November 27th – December 1st – again at Skydive Arizona. Thirty girls in total came out from all over the country to sharpen their skills, build their endurance, and train for a goal.
Chmelecki and Curtis lead the team beginning with 2-plane shots from the get-go. The plan was to launch a 6-way base with 2 breaking in. I helped as plane captain in the trail plane and we worked out our exit order, sight picture, dive and break off. It was a beautiful day and the nerves were setting in.
The large base proved to be a challenge, but once it built it was solid and the formation would grow. A few jumps later the base peaked and had a hard time holding. At the end of the day, Chmelecki and Curtis were at the drawing board reengineering the dive.
The second day had better hopes. The girls were riding the wave of energy, being happy for success on one jump, and not on another. The reengineered skydive wasn’t working as best thought. Some dives were clean, others were not. Slots were being switched around. New plane, new exit, new sight picture. The stress and fatigue was settling in.
Not every dive goes to plan, so being able to cope with the base turning, planes not being tight enough in formation, over floating or breaking off too early, was a great platform of learning. It provided a real perspective on how world record jumps flow. The 138-way co-ed Vertical World Record took 3 days and 15 jumps to achieve. No matter what happened on the last dive, you still had to do your best on the next one.
The organizers decided to go with a 6-way base on the last day, and use the same formation as the current 41-way WVWR. This seemed to work out a few kinks and the group improved. The last 3 jumps we went to 16,500’ and used oxygen – another great experience prior the record attempts.
The group consistently built several successful 20+ ways throughout the camp. As I think back about the journey, although we didn’t build 30+ ways, in 2007 the current WVWR record was only 20! We’ve come such a long way and are still growing!
The desert was turning cool as the sun met the horizon. We went up for our last jump right before sunset. The lead plane was silhouetted as they flew in formation up to altitude. In the trail plane, we put our hands into the center and I said, “this is the last camp before the record. You should be really proud of how far you’ve come to get here. Keep it simple: level, slot, dock. And be safe!” The energy lifted and we went out and had the best jump of the camp!
It’s been a year and a half of training women getting ready for the upcoming record. It takes a lot of time and money to get to this point in your skydiving career, and the journey isn’t always easy. In August we lost a comrade, Stephanie Eggum, and I think of her often. I think about our journey that has gotten us all together for this common goal. Skydiving has taken away so much from me, but it has also given me so much. Meeting new women in skydiving has inspired me to keep progressing in the sport, the World Record is just a bonus.