Aeronautrixx Literally Has Your Back
Life in the sky just keeps getting better for the 13% of us who fly under the influence of two X chromosomes. The latest development? Aeronautrixx -- a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, founded by skydiver//adventurist Karen Woolem. The org’s goal, as Karen puts it, is “providing education, guidance, sponsorship and resources to help women pursue their aeronautical dreams in a fun and safe manner.” Those are lofty goals, indeed, but Karen -- who is as well-organized as she is dynamic -- isn’t the type to shoot low.
To understand where Aeronautrixx is coming from, of course, you first have to understand a little bit about its founder. Karen started jumping 28 years ago, led by the example of her skydiver father. She was 15, and they’d make the long trek down to Skydive Paso Robles from the Monterey Bay Area because Paso was the only driveable DZ that would let such a young pup jump. She made a few less than 100 jumps in that first phase and stopped jumping in 1993, when her rig was grounded.
“The question was,” she remembers, “Do I buy new gear, or do I go to college?’
Objectively speaking, it wasn’t really a question. Karen was the first in her family to go to college, and she wanted to place her focus there. As it turns out, a full 15 years passed before she got back into the sport, though she made a few feints in that direction. Finally, in 2009, she got recurrent -- at Hollister, where her dad learned to skydive back in 1988 -- and she’s been jumping ever since. Mostly, Karen describes herself as an RW kinda chick. (Fun fact: When I talk to her, she has just returned from skydiving over the Egyptian pyramids.)
Aeronautrixx, interestingly enough, was born of that other major step forward in female-focused skydiving: the Women’s Skydiving Leadership Network. Back in 2016 (when the WSLN was first officially formed), Karen was selected for the first WSLN leadership symposium. She spent a week at Raeford with the event, soaking up the skills, the vibes and the connections. As part of that program, Karen designed a logo for a WSLN t-shirt. The image was strong, feminine, colorful and balls-out bold. She loved it.
While a different logo was selected for that original purpose, Karen couldn’t help but realize that she’d created the logo for an effort that was gathering steam in her own imagination. Specifically, she was pondering a personal challenge she’d faced as a female, coming back into the sport: Finding a used container that fit both her and the canopy size she was comfortable with. She’d found it damned near impossible.
“Finding a used container that fit me was no problem,” she mueses, “but they were all made for sub-100s; for super-swoopers. When I first came back, was under a 170. I ended up having to rent for what seemed like forever. It was so expensive.”
She realized that there was a solution -- and that she could catalyze it.
“I knew there were plenty of people out there that have gear to donate,” she adds, “And I thought -- hey! -- if I set up a non-profit, it can be a win-win. People can donate gear that fits smaller people jumping larger canopies -- or any gear they have gathering dust in a closet. Then I can give those guys a tax write-off and get that gear out to women who need it. Now [the recipient is] paying $25 a jump instead of $50 and can take her time to either wait for a long delivery on custom gear or piece together a used setup that fits.”
“It’s so expensive getting started in this sport,” Karen adds. “Aeronautrixx aims to make the potential financial burden less of a deterrent for women.”
So far, it’s a home run. Aeronautrixx just got a complete setup donated and matched it with a woman who just graduated AFF. Boom.
It’s not just containers, either. Karen has partnered up with a craftsman who completely refurbishes and repaints helmets with airplane-grade paint, and those helmets have been gracing the sky in larger numbers with each passing season. In addition to that, Karen is currently working on getting a few complete demo systems co-sponsored with manufacturers.
Of course, it’s not just gear that makes a skydiver — so Aeronautrixx covers the skills bases, too. These days, Karen is a WSLN mobile mentor, dually based at Skydive Sebastian (near her current home) and Skydive California (near her west-coast roots). For the past three years, she’s been using Aeronautrixx as a platform to host female-focused skills camps and boogies on both coasts. In October, there’s the Unicorn Boogie at Skydive California; in April, there’s the Mermaid Boogie at Skydive Sebastian; this February (coming right up!) there’s going to be a gold-lamé-festooned disco party at Z-hills.
The boogies’ shared core value? Bring women together -- from all over -- and encourage growth and fun in equal measure. The response so far has been phenomenal.
“I try to get an all-female roster of organizers,” Karen adds, “to show the newer jumpers that it’s not only men that are leading the pack. And I always try to bring in non-local organizers to give the ladies the chance to jump with other females in the sport that they might not get a chance to jump with.”
The formula is certainly working. At the first Mermaid Boogie, Karen was standing in a packed hangar. Stopping in the middle and looking around, she suddenly realized something amusing.
“I looked around and it occurred to me, there were no men. We’re turning the Otter with all chicks.” They turned 22 loads that day.
At the end of the day, Karen insists that Aeronautrixx is about inclusion. Men are welcomed at Aeronautrixx events -- even issued cheeky “man cards” -- and the sea of costume onesies now includes a fair number of male humans. That’s not at all surprising, considering the unequivocal language of the Aeronautrixx mission statement: “We believe that women can be just as, if not more, badass as our male counterparts.” Well-put and well-proven, no?
To donate to Aeronautrixx (or get involved with an event or two), visit the org’s website or Facebook page: