I've always considered myself to be an average recreational skydiver. Although I've been throwing myself out of airplanes for twelve years now for various reasons I've never been able to afford to jump as hard as is needed to be really good at this. A year ago while I was lying around recovering from back surgery I decided that 2002 is my year; this is the year that I'm going to go from being average to being one of the best female big way RW jumpers in the world. I'm going to be a world record holder!
My employers, Kate Cooper and Tony Domenico, are the dive organizers and two of the principals in Jump For The Cause. They were responsible for organizing the current Women's World Record skydive, a 118 way which was achieved in September, 1999 at Perris Valley Skydiving in California. The 1999 event was also a benefit for breast cancer research, raising almost a half million dollars for the Susan B. Komen Foundation. I was involved in fundraising for the '99 event, but my skydiving skills were not up to the level required to be a part of such a big dive.
JFTC is doing it again in 2002 and this time it's going to be bigger and better. Plans are to not just break the old records (both skydiving and fundraising) but to shatter them! The dive will be a 141-way, and the fundraising goal is to raise over one million dollars in donations. The beneficiary this time is the City of Hope, a hospital just outside Los Angeles, California. JFTC's focus is again breast cancer as this form of cancer hits far too many women, including several survivors who were on the '99 dives and will be a part of the '02 dives also. The City of Hope treats patients suffering from all forms of cancer without regard to the patient's ability to pay.
Coming back from 15 months stuck on the ground due to a back injury to being a part of the next women's world record skydive in only ten months is a huge goal. Getting there is going to require not only a lot of jumps, but also a large financial, mental, physical and emotional commitment. Over the next months I'm going to keep you up to date on my progress toward this goal through monthly "dispatches" as I go about chasing that world record.
Getting back in the air slowly so I would not re-injure myself was important to me. Since jumping safely is one of my primary goals I sold my old gear and upsized both my main and reserve. Once I had my new rig complete it was time to start jumping again. I did one solo on January 5th just to see how it felt. That jump went well, and it felt so good to be back home in freefall that I did another the next day.
The following weekend it was time to do an RW jump and see how the back held up. Saturday the 12th I showed up at the Perris DZ and hooked up with RW organizer Mark Brown. He had a 9 way group already on a twenty minute call so I joined them to make it a 10 way. We dirt dived a few points, geared up and got on the Otter. I was diving out of the plane right behind the base, which was a great test for the back. Very happy with my flying on that dive; even though we never built the first point I was in my slot and flying pretty well. My back muscles were a bit sore after that dive so for the second dive of the day I did another freefly solo and worked on my sit.
Kate and Tony were organizing some larger dives for the Jack Off To Perris boogie the next weekend. They were asking for a full day commitment from those who wanted to join them; this meant five RW dives in one day. While I was unsure of my physical ability to make five hard RW jumps I committed to doing it for one day anyway.
Showing up at the dz at 8 am on a chilly Saturday morning was the first challenge! Thanks to a pot of coffee and thermal underwear I managed to get there a few minutes early. A group of 26 jumpers met up in the Bombshelter for the briefing. Looking around I saw jumpers with a wide range of experience, from 200-ish jumps on up to several who were part of the world record skydive done in Thailand in 1999. After a briefing from Kate and Tony emphasizing safety we adjourned to the creeper pad to dirt dive the first load.
Much more time is spent on dirt diving a larger formation load than on any freefly or smaller belly fly jump. First the organizer places the jumpers in their slots, then everyone shifts around for the second point, then back to the first. After running through the dive several times the organizers put it in the plane, with half or less of the jumpers directed to the trail plane and the rest to the lead plane. After a few run-throughs of the entire dive, from exit to breakoff, it's usually just about time to load the plane. Everyone runs off to grab their gear and meet up in the loading area for another dirt dive or two in full gear. This is the time you focus on memorizing your keys - the four to six different things that will let you know you're in the right quadrant, docking on the right person and setting your body up at the correct angles - and being sure that you know what you need to do to make the second point happen.
The sun was starting to do it's job as we loaded the planes for the first load but my feet were still semi-numb despite the two pairs of socks I had on. I'd be floating the trail plane on the first jump so I was one of the last to climb on the Otter. We were a happy little group; manifest had given us the plane to ourselves so we had a comfortable and fast ride to altitude.
The ability to predetermine what the fall rate will be on a larger dive and to "dress for success" accordingly, whether by using different suits or by adding or subtracting lead, is a primary skill for the big way jumper. I'd just purchased a slightly looser RW suit, this one with booties, as a replacement for my aging, skin-tight Pit Special (bootie-less) and was wearing it for the first dive of the day. As I approached my slot I was fighting to stay down with the formation; it took me several tries to get into my slot and make the smooth soft dock that was my personal goal for that dive. Unfortunately for me, I didn't realize what my problem was right away.
We landed from the first one and I dropped my gear off with the packers. Hiring a packer is highly recommended when you're doing a big way camp; often there is barely enough time between landing and the video debrief to get packed up. Using a packer gives you time to hit the bathroom, grab a bite to eat or just to relax for a few minutes instead of rushing to pack and make the debrief. I found it well worth the $5 each pack job cost me.
The second dive was going to be a repeat of the first so the dirt dive went much quicker. I didn't "dress for success"; instead I did the second dive in the same baggier suit because it allowed me to wear a sweatshirt to combat the cold. This was a mistake, as I learned when I was once again fighting to fall fast enough and still make a smooth controlled dock.
For the third jump I debated between adding a weight vest or switching to my other, tighter suit. I decided to go with the other suit since I'd done enough jumps in it to be comfortable flying it; I've done so few jumps with weights that I am not yet confident in my flying skills wearing them. This turned out to be a good decision; although the third jump went to shit around me I was in my slot, falling fast, and had achieved my personal goals for that dive of a clean approach and a smooth and soft dock. The fourth jump was a repeat of the third, both in my flying and the fact that the other side of the formation was having all kinds of problems.
For the last jump of the day Kate and Tony gathered three more really good jumpers to make it a 29 way, and they invited freeflier Brandon Park to play around and under us. For this dive I got to exit as a floater from the SkyVan. Floating the Van meant that I'd be exiting just ahead of the base; my job was to hang off the rope handle mounted on the wall of the inside of the Van and leave on the "G" of "Go." What a fun exit! The visuals of watching the base and then the divers leaving the tail is one of those things a whuffo will just never understand.
The first point was to be much like the first two dives; a six way star with 5 and 6 way loops built off of them. We built that to 28 with one jumper going low and unable to get back up to join the formation. Kate keyed the second point anyway and we broke to a three way donut surrounded by "whackers" - the completed formation would look much like the business end of a weedwhacker. Even thought only one of the three whackers completed it was a fantastic jump for me - my whacker was complete and it was so cool to see Brandon carving around and under us! Even better for me… that was my 799th skydive.
I was surprised to find that even after doing five hard and fast RW dives on Saturday I was not as sore as I'd expected to be that night or the next morning. I was strongly tempted to join the group for five more on Sunday, but I had to reserve Sunday for my son David's first skydive, an AFF Level I; this would be one skydive that I did not want to miss!
My 800th jump was another freefly solo, bombing out the door just prior to David, his instructors and cameraman. I landed in the student landing area and met up with him as soon as he landed. A new skydiver had been born!
The next day at work I again thanked Kate for letting me play on the great skydives we did on Saturday. I was very pleased when she told me that I'd done pretty well; as long as I continue jumping and getting really current I'd likely have a slot on the record dives come October.
Going from where I'm at today to being a world record holder involves a huge financial, emotional, physical and mental commitment for me. The financial area is a big one for me, as I'm a single parent who prefers the mental and emotional satisfaction I get from my job instead of the larger paycheck I might be able to get working elsewhere.
I've started my fundraising efforts. US$2250 is a lot of money to raise and I'm not able to donate the entire amount out of my own pocket. Several of the active posters in the Forums here on Dropzone.com have already started me on my way - a big thanks to all of them for your early belief in me and your support of Jump For The Cause. Along with my co-worker and fellow JFTC participant Linda Hardesty, I'm having small pink ribbon decals made up by a local vendor; these will be used as thank you gifts for those donating and will also be available whereever I am for a small donation.
My federal tax refund arrived! Other than a portion set aside for some very needed car repairs, the majority of this year's refund will be going toward skydives, coaching and the deposit required of all of the dive participants.
The application for my FAI sporting license has been faxed to NAA and my license should be in the mail. This license is required of every participant on an aviation sport world record attempt. A copy of the FAI license and a card showing membership in USPA or an equivalent non-US aero club, both showing expiration dates after the dates of the record dives, must be submitted to JFTC to assure a jumpers participation in the dives.
Why am I doing all of this when my slot on the dives is not yet assured? That's where the mental part of my commitment comes in. Dr. John Rosalia, in his book "Mental Training for Skydiving and Life" says to achieve any goal you must first "begin thinking, living and acting as if you already have what you are striving for." Securing my slot on the dives is one of the smaller goals I've set for myself along the way to reaching my ultimate goal of being a world record holder. Working on this theory, the day the money showed up in my checking account I handed dive organizer Kate Cooper a check for $225 to cover the deposit for the WWR event.
By beginning my fundraising, spending the money and taking care of the neccessary paperwork now, I'm living and acting as if I already have my slot on the record dives; in my mind it's already a done deal. Should some unforeseen circumstance keep me from reaching my goals, all moneys I've collected will be applied to the fundraising goals of other women who have their slots but are having problems raising the needed funds.
Stay tuned for the next steps along the way to becoming a world record holder…
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