nettenette

Members
  • Content

    19
  • Joined

  • Last visited

  • Feedback

    0%

Community Reputation

1 Neutral

Jump Profile

  • License
    D
  • License Number
    33263
  • Licensing Organization
    USPA
  • Freefall Photographer
    No

Ratings and Rigging

  • USPA Coach
    No
  • Pro Rating
    No
  • Wingsuit Instructor
    No

Recent Profile Visitors

The recent visitors block is disabled and is not being shown to other users.

  1. nettenette

    Skydiving + a New Baby? Sure Thing

    Catherine Bernier of Skydive Vibes Shares Her Strategies There are as many different kinds of skydiving women as there are women, of course, but -- at least, for me -- there’s something extra-compelling about someone who balances quite as many pursuits as Catherine Bernier, best known for her skydiving information channel on YouTube, does. Of course, she produces all the content for Skydive Vibes as one of Canada’s 14% of female skydivers. She’s also a mechanical engineer, specializing in robots. She’s been a farmer’s partner for 14 years -- they were married in 2016 -- and so lives deep in rural Canada, working on a dairy farm. And, as of May 2018, Catherine is the new mother to a very little tiny peanut. (Her video series about being a skydiving mom is worth a watch.) At the time of our interview, Catherine had decided to use Canada’s “hide inside” season to train for the next Canadian indoor skydiving championships. She’ll be logging an hour of tunnel time per week until the comp in March for the “10-in-10 challenge,” as she calls it. Overachiever. much? Maaaaybe. I interviewed Catherine for a Dropzone Marketing blog piece. I didn’t know a single damn thing about her beforehand, but before that conversation was over I was already asking her for another interview. "All my life, I have been pushing my limits,” she explains, “and never stop myself from doing what I wanted, even if it was a predominantly male environment.” ... such as, y’know, being a mama. Catherine had been skydiving for six years when she and her now-husband decided to have a baby. Dropping the sport, for her, was never an option -- but she knew she had to frame early motherhood a little differently to make it work. “I never second-guessed myself,” she says. “Not for skydiving, and not for building a family, and not for doing both at the same time. I want to prove that, even when you become a mother, you can still aim for your dreams. That being a women -- even a mother -- should never be a blocker to what you wish to accomplish. I have never stopped myself, but I realize that a lot of women do. So I want to use my experiences to share and empower other women to go for it." “As soon as I knew that I was pregnant, I decided to stop jumping temporarily,” she explains. “It was the end of the season, so I must say the decision was easier. It also gave me the chance to build the content on my YouTube channel.” Catherine kept shooting Skydive Vibes content throughout her belly bump hiatus. Baby Nathan arrived in May, at the beginning of the next skydiving season. While Catherine jumped and shot videos around the dropzone, her mother, her husband or one of her four sisters watched him for her. (Fun note: Her home dropzone has seen so many of its community members become new families that it’s considering adding a child care component.) Catherine plans to use the same general child care strategies for Nathan during the 10-in-10 Challenge, which requires a three-hour drive to and from her closest tunnel. “I won’t start working again until after the challenge,” she notes. “During the weekdays I can go up and spend the day there, so I have some breaks between tunnel sessions to make it doable. Right now, it looks like the plan for each day is to fly for 20 minutes, take a half-hour break, fly for another 20, take a half-hour, then fly for a final 20, to make it doable.” “Doable,” as it turns out, is the key word. Catherine proves that “doable” is a matter of collaboration, focus and flat-out hard work. So far, she’s managing to pull it off: Balancing helping out on the farm, taking care of a less-than-one-year-old, a challenging career and a progression-focused passion for skydiving. “It is so rewarding to be a skydiving mom, for all the aspects of it,” she smiles, “so why would someone stop themselves? Just go forward. That’s all.” --- To follow Catherine Bernier, check out her channel, Skydive Vibes, on YouTube.
  2. New skydiver? Not-so-new skydiver? Rusty skydiver? Supple, current little tiger of a skydiver? Doesn’t matter. If there’s only going to be one skydiving item on your list of New Years’ resolutions, better make it this one: Get coaching. Real coaching. Pro coaching. Regularly. Getting coaching to “be a better skydiver” is like going to the gym to “be a hotter human.” Done properly, it’s gonna work--but it’s worth much more than that shiny face value. Which is to say: There are off-label benefits. Professional, reasonably regular coaching is bound to brush up your skills, advance you into new disciplines and polish your performance--and it’ll have some other benefits you might not even see coming. It might just keep you in the sport. If there’s a jumper who’s immune to recurrency nerves, I haven’t met them. (...Just watch the comments below fill up with bluster. Just watch.) Anyone who’s spent a tall stack of weeks hiding on the ground from the lapse rate is likely to find themselves at least a little at a loss. The USPA defines recurrency by its own criteria, sure--but personal recurrency is often a different beast altogether. No joke: it’s rough to head out for that first jump after your own personal currency threshold has passed, whether yours is two weeks or two months. The most reliable way to avoid the recurrency jitters is by never getting recurrent, and lots of ex-skydivers have done just that. The hack: Spend that whole recurrency day--not just the first jump--with a coach. Don’t do it because you have to. Do it because you know that, with a coach alongside you, you’ll feel professionally supported in your effort. Do it because you’ll be able to rebuild your skills much faster than if you were just out there on your own, trying to remember what goes where and how and when. It’ll help you to better manage your time. Managing the limited time you have available on any given skydive doesn’t come naturally to most people. Evidence: What happens when most jumpers fail to nail the first part of the skydive? They end up confused. Do they go back and work on the first part, or move on to the next part regardless? Everybody usually ends up just making cow faces at each other for a few precious seconds, then rushes to make something happen before *ping!* break-off. Working with a coach helps with that. Their job is to help you to pick one thing to work on, polish it up and move on with confidence. (There’s a financial factor here, too: Because you’ll learn more on fewer jumps, you might just end up breaking even, despite adding the cost of coaching into the equation.) It’ll help you get into that elusive zone. Jumping buddies are wonderful. Obviously. That said: Great coaches are actually magic, and that magic is focus. When you’re working with a coach, you’ll brief the jump beforehand, visualize it together, dirt dive it together, review it in the plane on the way up, jump that h*ckin jump and brief it again in the afterglow. Because you’re paying for the privilege, you’re highly unlikely to be scrolling, winking at manifest or doing acro yoga when you’re supposed to be paying attention to the dive flow. The careful, procedural work you do with a coach often defines the difference between a skydive that feels rushed and out-of-control and one in which a lot of learning and growth has taken place. Bonus: Your ability to focus is likely to get a bit more muscular as your flying skills develop. Freefly coach Joel Strickland jumps with Zack Line at the Oklahoma Skydiving Center. It’ll boost (and/or perhaps change the flavor of) your confidence. Just like you, your insecurity loves to prance around in costume. Insecurity can look like fear; like nervousness; like indifference. It can also look like a vaudeville performance of its opposite, true confidence. The still, deep waters of true confidence are the source of all the fun skydiving has to offer. Problem: Those waters are well-guarded. Working with a competent, professional skydiving coach often provides the key: because suddenly s/he realizes that they not only can indeed improve but that they are indeed improving on every jump. It’s kinda a fireworks show from there. Once a student believes in their ability to make positive changes in their skydiving performance--that everything, from their physical reactions to their fears, can and will be modified and updated when they get guidance and put in the work--it suddenly becomes possible for that student to make mad progress on a shorter timeline than they imagined. It’s a more scalable, check-offable resolution than you might think. The more coached jumps you do, the better. (Obviously.) Equally obviously, doing loads of coached jumps isn’t financially feasible for most rank-and-file skydivers. Instead of discarding the idea altogether, make it feasible. Saddling up for a pile of coached jumps every weekend would be spectacular, but making the commitment to yourself to make a couple of coached jumps per month is better than not committing to any at all. Getting regular, professional advice and feedback will contribute mightily to your life in the sky. You’ll be able to pass the knowledge on to the folks you jump with on the regular. And 2019 might just be the year you bust through that next skydiving goal! Bonne chance.
  3. nettenette

    Lessons Learned with Amy Chmelecki

    Images by Amy Chmelecki When we catch up with Amy Chmelecki, she’s getting ready for what is, for her, a pretty normal travel schedule. From her Eloy home base, she’s heading out for one week on the coast of Barcelona, and then two weeks in Portugal’s Algarve, and then one week at a pop-up drop zone in Sicily. “I’m not sure of the details of where I’m going to be off the top of my head,” she laughs, “mostly because I couldn’t pronounce any of the names.” At this stage of the game, Amy’s own legendary last name is the one that needs the most emphatic pronunciation. She’s at the top of her game, after all: a flagship athlete with Red Bull, and certainly one of the most sought-after skydivers in the world. With head-to-toe branding, of course, comes great responsibility. Amy is no stranger to high-profile skydiving--she’s been a leading athlete in the sport for many years. Even so, her career’s constant up-level trajectory wouldn’t be a great fit for just anyone. “I’ve debated the ‘sacrifice’ question on a philosophical level with some of my friends,” Amy muses. “Sure, there’s a level of financial insecurity involved in this kind of career, but I don’t mind it. You have to be comfortable with the constant unknowns and have faith that it is going to work out. I get it that some people wouldn’t be comfortable with that, but speaking for myself, I don’t feel like I’ve sacrificed anything. Like having children, for instance. A lifestyle like this would be difficult with children, but I’ve never really wanted them--so it just fit.” It doesn’t hurt that Amy has had some pretty awesome female mentors along the way. “I actually talked to [Rigging Innovations Co-Owner] Brenda [Reid] quite a bit about this,” she continues. “I don’t know if she remembers those conversations, but they meant a lot to me when I was starting off in my career. The ‘kids’ question was something that I was nervous about, because there was this fear in the back of my head, like, am I going to regret my choice? Brenda has never had children, and I sat her down and talked to her about it extensively. She really filled me with a calm that I needed. Here was this extremely successful woman in the sport of skydiving. Since then, she has been put in the Skydiving Hall of Fame. She and [husband and Rigging Innovations Co-Owner] Sandy [Reid] have this beautiful marriage; life; career. And she has zero regrets about not having children. It was nice to hear that from someone that I admire so much.” “People still tell me I’m going to change my mind,” she laughs. “It’s happening less and less, but it still happens. The other day in Atlanta, a taxi cab driver told me I’d want kids one day, just wait and see. I’m like, dude, I’m 41. I’ve been all around the world this month. He had no idea what he was talking about. It was funny.” As any woman in airsports knows all too well, that cab driver’s oafish mansplain certainly doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Even for us girls in the rank-and-file, misconceptions abound. Amy, however, gets the rarified opportunity to blow them to bits. For instance: recently, Amy was hearing a murmur in the press bemoaning the fact that Red Bull only hires teenage girls to be its star athletes. “So then Red Bull puts out this video on Women’s Day,” she grins. “And I was, like, hey! Guess what! I’m in that video, and I’m 40. I like representing this new part of me, being a woman in her 40s and still an extreme sport athlete and still getting better, and evolving, and doing more and radder things. Sometimes, like everybody, I get a little bit of an impostor syndrome--but I’m really proud of that video and what it meant for females. This is really still happening. I’m still doing this. This is possible.” The idea of “possibility” is one that Amy gets to play with quite a lot in her daily life as a top-shelf airsports performer. If you’ve seen any of the jumps she does in that shiny silver helmet with the bull on it, you know just how far she (and the rest of the team) are able to push possibility on any given day. I’m sure we can all agree that it’s inspiring for a tidy stack of reasons. That said: Not all impossible feats are what they seem. For instance: Most people probably assume that the hardest demo Amy has ever done was the landmark wingsuit flight over the New York City skyline. Surprisingly, Amy insists that it wasn’t. “Honestly, it was relatively easy,” she insists. “There were no obstacles on the entry to the barge, first of all. We had space all around. We could approach from any direction, so we were able to go favorably into the wind.” “There was a moment when I was coming in for the landing,” she adds, “where I thought I was going to go a little long. I just let my wingsuit fall from up on my chest down on my legs. In hindsight, I was okay already, but that little bit of added drag slowed me down just a touch. That was easy to manage. There was lots of room for forgiveness on that one.” It is not, as you might imagine, always that way. “Compare that with some of the other demos we do,” she says, “where the only possible approach is to, for instance, make a right-hand 180, get close to something in the turn, avoid the crowd lined up all along one side and slip in somewhere. Those are a lot harder, even if the landing area might appear to look a lot bigger. Or, of course, a stadium demo.” And what about Amy’s dream demo? If “possibility” didn’t have to figure in anywhere? Her answer comes in record time. “I’d jump off a rocket,” she laughs. “No one has done that, have they? I should do a two-way with Jeffro out of a rocket.” She pauses to think. “I wonder if Elon Musk drinks Red Bull? He must. It says he sleeps only 4 to 5 hours a night. There has to be something keeping him up. I’m sure we could get him involved. Anyway. who doesn’t want to go to Mars?” “Seriously, though,” she leans in, “for me at this point it’s mostly about continuing to do what I’m doing--and taking care of myself more, because as you get into your 40s you have to make changes physically, and you have to work harder at being able to keep up with this type of lifestyle. My goals are to keep this sustainable for as long as I possibly can. To me, that means caring for myself physically and emotionally, and just continuing to do the hard work and evolving as a sponsored athlete.” Wise words, indeed. We wanted to know: From all that wisdom, what would 40-year-old Amy have to say to 20-year-old Amy if 40-year-old Amy walked into the Bent Prop on her kid counterpart’s very first shift? “Buy bitcoin,” she deadpans. “Okay, right. If I could go back with the knowledge and the experience and the brain that I have now, I would nurture a plan B along the way more. I would save money earlier; budget a little bit more wisely; invest. Now: The reason I say ‘with the mind I have now’ is that, honestly, I wasn’t capable of that kind of thing in my early 20s. Living this lifestyle, that’s one thing. Harnessing and nurturing a Plan B as well as saving money along the way? That’s something else entirely. When you’re younger, you’re thinking, ‘what if I die tomorrow?’ Then you get to a point where you’re, like, ‘what I live until my 90s?’ Living is way harder.” Anyway, with this kinda life--why would Amy want to do anything differently? In all honesty: she doesn’t. “Even with my own advice,” she chuckles, “I would probably do everything the same.” Good choice, Amy.
  4. Get Ready: Here Comes the Turbine 206 When Joel Strickland and I jumped in all fifty states this summer for our Down For 50 project, we saw the insides of a lot of 182s. A lot. That’s no surprise, of course--the 182 is the undisputed workhorse of our sport. It could be argued that the valiant little 182 keeps our sport going. But what if there were a better way? As it turns out, there is. I found out about it when Joel and I made our Oklahoma stop. Understandably, we fully expected to see another 182 out there. Instead, when we wandered across the hangar of the (super tidy, spacious and impressive) Oklahoma Skydiving Center to see what was parked outside, we had to double-take. There was a 206 parked out there. A 206 with a very funny face. A turbine. For reals. Our first look at the toothy open grin of that jumpship was to start something of a minor obsession for me. First of all, it became apparent that its presence there had engendered the healthiest sport community of any smaller dropzone I’d ever visited. No wonder: that thing gets six jumpers to 14,000 feet in less than half the time it took the DZ’s old 182 to huff four folks up to 10k. The door is big. And this thing -- for lots of reasons -- puts turbine power within the reach of dropzones that never dreamed they’d be able to get there. I’ll let its champion, Andy Beck, cover all that. (Andy Beck is Co -DZO of the Oklahoma Skydiving Center, a small DZ between Tulsa and Oklahoma City, as well as the co-owner of BAM Aviation, which has been specializing in this conversion since Andy himself discovered its existence.) Pretty cool, right? I’ll leave the explanations to the expert. Below follows the conversation I had with Andy about this beautiful beast. If you’re not as enchanted with this plane as I am by the time we’re done here, I’ll be very surprised. Q: What’s your love story with this plane? Andy: My dropzone [the Oklahoma Skydiving Center] is somewhere between a small and a medium-sized DZ. For years, we were, like, man, we want a turbine airplane, just as instructors and fun jumpers. It’s easy to relate to that. I grew up on a single airplane drop zone. That’s where I started; that’s how I learned to skydive: A single airplane 182 drop zone. When you’re in a situation like that, you spend your whole life sitting around, watching people skydive, doing tandems and AFFs, just praying that there’s an airplane load that has empty slots. And that’s okay, because that’s all you know. But then you go somewhere and you suddenly realize there’s a different model that means you can skydive more than once or twice a day. you see how much more time you have for the fun part of the sport in a turbine, compared to what you can get out of the 182 that’s waiting for you back home. Since my wife Alyssa and I bought this dropzone four years ago, we wanted to bring that other model to our own DZ. The first thing we did -- immediately -- was to bring in a second 182, so we could have one for tandems and AFF and one for fun jumpers. I understand why people don’t want to mess with fun jumpers, but to me the reason that I think that you need the experienced-skydiver scene is because -- if you don’t -- then how do you convince anybody to do more than one jump? If all they ever watch is tandems, they’re one-and-done. They think that’s all there is. If they have to go somewhere else to jump after AFF, that’s not good either. People want to stay where they learned. They know the people. They want to travel and visit, but they love their home. That’s where they want to be. That’s their home base -- their friends -- the people they like to jump with. To teach people to jump and then tell them to go somewhere else just seemed dumb to me. So you have to grow to support your experienced skydiver community. Q: Why not just get an old King Air like everybody else? Andy: Long story. As a DZO, when you start looking at turbine airplanes, yeah, you think, maybe I can afford a King Air, but the only ones that anybody sells that any small-to-medium DZ can afford are about worn out, and worn out King Airs are a huge maintenance situation. Then, you think: I really love the Caravan. And that’s a cool plane. It is one of the starter-type turbine investments. But most of the Caravans worth having cost between $1.2 and $1.8 million dollars, and you’ve got 16 to 20 slots to fill. At a smaller DZ, you just can’t reliably fill it. That’s just not a very doable business model. And before, there really wasn’t anything that was, basically, half of a caravan. So I kept looking. The 206 has been around forever as a skydiving plane, but it really has a bad reputation because -- with the standard configuration -- it’s super slow. In the Oklahoma summer, you can hardly get to 10,000 in one, even if you’ve got the turbo version. For our purposes, it’s just not much of a plane. Then, one day, I heard about the new Pratt Whitney PT6 turbine 206 conversion from a fun jumper. It sounded like a myth, but I was intrigued, so I called the aircraft conversion inventor, Van Pray, who was partnering with Turbine Conversions on the Turbine 206 concept. Van has been around dropzones, skydiving, and airplanes all his life and turbine conversions has been modifying agricultural aircraft to turbines for decades. I asked Van to bring his plane down for a weekend so I could see if maybe this was going to be the answer to my problem. Turns out, it was better than I could have ever imagined. Anyway, Van and Emiko Pray brought their plane down, and we basically rented it like a boogie for two different weekends to try it out. I wanted to see how it cash flowed; how much fuel it used. There is no way anybody could tell you that information without seeing it for yourself. Since I paid all the bills, I could really see how economical it was. After that, I just knew that’s what I had to do. We had to build one. Q: What do the numbers look like? What does the turbine 206 specifically bring to the table here? Andy: Well, you can get a 182 for about $60,000 dollars. The Turbine 206 goes for around $600,000 depending on airframe, engine, etc... So of course it’s expensive when you look at it like that. But you have to remember that what you’re actually getting for that is half of a Caravan. Depending on your airframe -- engines and all that -- the fuel burn is half of a caravan or less too. Before I got the turbine 206, we had an average of three planes at OSC. We would always fly two, but on a lot of really busy days we would fly all three. In the summer, with a 520, or a PPonk, or a higher-horsepower 182 that actually can go to 10,000 feet in a reasonable time, you burn 7 to 8.5 gallons of fuel alone. Obviously, when they’re full, heavy and hot, it’s more like 8 to 8.5 gallons, but when you’re flying cool, light loads you could do a little over 7 gallons. That’s what my average was, at least. The turbine 206, on the other hand, will average ten gallons consistently to 14,000 feet AGL. The other big thing is that AV gas is getting a little bit harder to find in the first place, and the price of it is consistently higher than jet fuel pretty much anywhere you go, especially in more remote areas -- but if there’s a commercial airport anywhere around, no question, you can get jet fuel. So: When you look at expenses, the turbine 206 doesn’t burn very much more fuel per load, and the fuel it burns costs less. You also get the industry standard Pratt Whitney PT6 dependability and reliability. With the high-horsepower 182, I could count on two loads an hour: four people per load, to 10,000 feet. With the turbine 206, you get six people per load and you can do three loads per hour -- to 14,000 feet -- with one plane. Every hour throughout the day, you just keep getting farther ahead, because the plane doesn’t slow down with the heat. The density altitude doesn’t affect it the same way. It just goes and goes. On a good Saturday we do 30 loads in the 206 -- three loads an hour for 10-plus hours. We just fly and fly and fly. Q: The fun jumper community here seems to be seeing some real benefits. These guys have crazy healthy jump numbers for being based at a small dropzone. Andy: Yeah, we’re proud of that. The quality of every skydive is better, and that makes a difference to the bottom line, too. We wanted to offer the best possible experience to all of our jumpers! In the last two years, we’ve finished way more A licenses and created way more fun jumpers, because on each skydive they’re not getting 25 to 30 seconds of freefall, they’re getting from 50 to 60 seconds on every jump. It’s like trying to ride a bike. If your parents let you ride a bike for 10 to 20 seconds, take your bike away, then give you another 10 to 20 seconds on it the following weekend, it is going to take a long time to learn how to ride a bike. Skydiving is way harder to learn than riding a bike. If you give them more time on task and more jump availability, people are going to learn and be better and safer skydivers. They’re more current. They’re more excited. They make more jumps. It just gets better in every direction. Fun fact: We do 18,000-foot jumps occasionally, and we could even go higher than that if we wanted to. This plane climbs just as good at 18,000 feet as it does at 10,000 feet. It’s just a whole different beast. We have a lot of fun here. Q: So when did BAM Aviation start doing the conversions? Andy: That’s a funny story. When we built the first one, we had absolutely no intention of building more airplanes. That wasn’t why we did it in the first place. We did it for our dropzone. But, in the process of figuring out how to do it, we partnered up with Turbine Conversions and they made us an authorized installation center. They came and took a tour of our facilities, saw what we had and asked if we wanted to take on some more. This conversion is not crazy-hard, but it’s not just a straight, bolt-on modification and it takes real skill to do. It is a lot of sheet metal work. And I was lucky enough to have access to some real talent with Mike Palmer and Brian Wattenberger. I myself am learning, but the two guys that work with me really are master mechanics. They’re very unassuming, but when you get in the shop and watch their creativity, it’s incredible. They are true masters of the trade; true craftsmen. There would be no airplane business if it wasn’t for Mike and Brian. That’s a fact. I mean: I’m the skydiving business owner, and the guy that came up with the idea to convert the first plane, but without the mechanics, there would be no BAM Aviation (which stands for Brian, Andy, Mike). That’s for sure. At this point, it’s busy here. We have another one that we’re more than halfway through and several others in the works. We’re prepared to scale up, depending on need. I’m sure that the more people that know about it, the more people are going to be interested in it, because it the turbine 206 is a real option for that small/medium drop zone to be able to expand without going a million and a half dollars in debt. I do it because it’s good for my dropzone and it’s good for the sport.
  5. nettenette

    Why and How to Stop Believing in Talent

    Your Mindset Matters, In the Sky and On the Ground Usually, when someone tells you that there are “two kinds of people in the world,” you’re either in for a bad joke or a cringeworthy platitude. That said, here you have it: Illustration by Nigel Holmes So: Are you blue, or are you green? If you’re a skydiver, there’s a good chance you’re green--and that’s a good thing. (We’ll get into that later.) The above graphic, and the decades-long body of research behind it, derives from the work of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, Ph.D. In Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol goes into some depth regarding how the belief in our ability to change over the belief that we just kinda *are* one thing or another conspire to create us. Here’s her TED talk summarizing the work: https://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve#t-106915 While Carol’s TED talk revolves around this mindset dichotomy in the context of childhood development, make no mistake: This is by far not a kid thing. This is an everybody thing. According to Dweck’s research, a “fixed mindset” insists that our character, our intelligence and our abilities are carved in stone from the start. They’re static. We can’t change them in any meaningful way. If a fixed mindset person enjoys a success, it’s because they are successful and talented. The flipside is that fixed mindset people feel like they must avoid failure, no matter what the cost, because if they fail they are a failure, and that they’ve proven wrong the people who praised them for being smart and being good at things. Every challenge, then, is a gladiatorial trial whereby they’ve gotta prove themselves or wear the cone of shame. When the pressure is on, fixed mindset would much rather lie and cheat than ask for help. A “growth mindset,” on the other hand, doesn’t look at it that way. A growth mindset sees failure as a heavier weight to lift so it can develop a heretofore weaker muscle. Failure isn’t failure. Failure is simply the state of not having succeeded yet. And, instead of running from challenge (academic, interpersonal, developmental, athletic, and onward), growth mindset runs toward the empty spaces. When growth mindset meets success, it says “Okay, then. What else ya got?” Growth mindset wants to be better where fixed mindset wants to look better. Ironically, growth mindset has an uncanny knack for scoring on both counts. Growth mindset, as Dweck puts it, “luxuriat[es] in the power of ‘yet.’” Fixed mindset is “gripped in the tyranny of ‘now.’” There’s more. Disquietingly, whichever mindset looms predominant tends to act as the motor for our entire lives. It drives not only our functional relationship with success and failure, it drives our behavior, our choices, our relationships and, in the endgame, our happiness. So, now, to the sky. Look around you for the good news. The lion’s share of skydivers, most of the time, are growth-mindset people. Y’know that graphic that pops up on Carol’s talk at about 07:40? The one that shows electrical activity in the brain when subject students encountered an error? I’m willing to bet that’s every skydiver’s brain on pretty much every jump. As a group, we just love to build out our neural networks, and our culture helps us along that delightfully meandering uphill path. First off, we see and we honor the work. We watch the hard-charging learning process of the athletes we acknowledge to be good at what they do. We share the workshop where they make their refinements. The exact measurements are up for debate, but we still rattle off jump numbers and tunnel hours and years in the sport when we calculate our expectations. Our licensing system, even, reflects that deference to workmanship and walking the long path over showmanship and cutting corners. Secondly, our sport has a pretty stark way of showing us the danger of operating out of a clearly deterministic mindset. Generally speaking, jumpers who consider themselves talented tend to behave more recklessly than jumpers who consider themselves lifelong learners. Right? Finally, our sport’s podiums are consistently graced with teams who bootstrapped themselves into shiny medals. We inherently know that, if we put the time and effort in, we can get there too. Here’s the cool part: For all that focus on growth, we can still get better. There aren’t “two kinds of people in the world,” after all--and Western culture has doused us in such a steady stream of fixed-mindset malarkey for so long that it’s really hard to get the stains out. First, we can rinse the idea of “talent” out of our collective hair. “Talent” is a fixed-mindset classic. It describes an ingrained quality, not a hard-won achievement. “Talent” is limiting, and it tends to keep the athletes under its banner from trying anything that might leave its fingerprints on their carefully burnished shine. Secondly, we can use every available opportunity to praise more wisely in situations where we’re called upon to give feedback. Instead of praising talent (“You’re a natural!”), we can praise process (“I saw you working to control that spin. It was much better this time.”). Finally, we ourselves can learn to love “not yet.” We can stop laughing off forged logbooks, pay-to-play ratings and the practice of egging ourselves (and other jumpers) on into extralimital skill situations. We can continue the tradition of our forebears in the sport, who carved out enough deep space for growth that we can sink our roots in deep before repotting. The space they created for us is a cherishable gift. As Dr. Dweck puts it: “Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.“ ---------
  6. “Misty” Kim Kanat Talks About the Team Guess what? There’s been an all-female demo team kicking ass and taking names since the 1980s. Maybe you’re as surprised to learn about them as I was--or maybe you’re squinting at your screen and wondering what rock I’ve been hiding under--but y’know what? I think we can both agree that that’s pretty damn great. The basics are pretty straightforward: The team of 13 women calls Skydive Tecumseh home, jumps hot-pink-and-navy kit and specializes in jumping big honkin’ flags. The details are the cool part: Each one of “the Mistys” can do anything the demo requires, from packing the flags to setting up the smoke--and each is a highly successful professional with a full-time career outside of skydiving. When I visited Skydive Tecumseh to check off Michigan for Down for 50, I jumped at the chance to corner Misty member Kim Kanat and pick her brain about the team. During the week, Kim is a mild-mannered (and high-powered) Facility Manager for a real estate company; but, when the call comes, she slips into her pink-and-navy supersuit and smiles for the adoring crowd. Kim’s been at it for four years now, and she shows no signs of slowing. Annette: Tell me about your person intro to the sport. How’d you became a skydiver in the first place? Kim: It’s a love story, really. My husband and I were on vacation in Hawaii in 2001 and ended up doing a tandem. It was a life-changing moment for both of us. About a year later, for our 10th wedding anniversary, we took the first jump course. The rest is history. We’ve been jumping ever since. Fifteen years later, here we are. A: How’d you get a slot on the Mistys? K: I’ve known the current owner of the Misty Blues, Amanda Scheffler, for my whole skydiving career, and known about the team since I started jumping -- Amanda bought [the team] about five years ago from Cindy Irish. We were at the dropzone one day and she asked me if I would be interested in doing some demo jumps. I said yes. The next thing I knew, I was jumping at an air show in Maine, so close to the Canadian border that our phones were roaming. It took two flights to get to Maine, plus some driving because there isn’t a commercial flight that goes that far up. It was a very, very small show; we just had a 182. I still remember the scariness of that jump. I started on static line; not AFF. So that first demo with the team was a very visceral reminder of being a static line student. I ended up having a minor malfunction with my banner on that jump; luckily, it cleared itself, but it still gives me butterflies to think about it now. Honestly, every time I do a demo, it feels just like that first time, because in skydiving anything can go wrong. You just hope that it doesn’t. There’s extra pressure on a demo with the team because the clients are paying for that jump; paying for you to be there as a performer. Sometimes there are issues with the plane; sometimes it’s too windy, or the weather isn’t great, which puts a damper on our part of the show. When everything is conducive to letting us do what we are there to do and it works, it’s magical. A: You haven’t slowed down in four whole years. What was it about that jump that hooked you? K: Well, the Misty Blues are very crowd-oriented, and that gets me going. It’s so much fun to be a crowd-pleaser with a message. Before and after our jumps, we walk amongst the crowd, pass out stickers and take photos with all these excited kids. We interact a lot. I think that sets us apart a little bit from some of the other demo teams that are out there, and it never fails to inspire me, because we spend a lot of that “crowd time” working the message of empowering women and girls to let them know they can do pretty much anything they set their minds to. We’re all working women, and a few of the Mistys have kids, too, so we’re walking the walk. A: What are your signature moves? K: When we’re booked for a show, we’re almost always the opener. We open up the show with a very large American flag. The jumper with the flag usually carries a microphone and has a little conversation with the MC of the airshow as they’re descending, which is a reliable crowd-pleaser. When we’re jumping in an airshow context, we’ll often have some of the stunt pilots circle us with smoke while we are jumping in with the flag. We have another signature flag with an enormous smiley face. I love that one. A: Do you have a favorite of the jumps you have done so far with the Mistys? K: Just last year we had a local businessman book us for a private party. He’s a construction owner that is local, and he throws this huge annual theme party. He got our name and asked us if we could do a demo into it. The theme that year was “America,” and it had a mechanical bull; volleyball courts; a fireworks show at the end. The setup was unbelievable. It was a tight landing area, but everything worked out. Best of all, we got to attend the party after we landed. The guests just thought it was fantastic--so much so that he asked us to come back and do it again this year. A: Do you feel like you face additional pressure because you’re an all-female team? K: Personally, I would have to say yes. I know there are a lot of other demo teams out there that do more than we do, and some of those guys have more experience than we do, so I do personally feel obligated to put on a better show. I don’t know if that’s necessarily because we are women, but being a woman, I like to be able to nail it. On the other hand, some people want to coddle you more when you’re a female jumper, and I just want to be treated like everybody else. The landscape for women in skydiving is changing, though, and it’s changing fast. A lot of the AFF classes at Skydive Tecumseh have a good number of women in them. Case in point: There are two female Tis at our dropzone. I think that’s awesome. It doesn’t happen everywhere, yet, but I am certain that it will. A: The Misty Blues have been around for more than 30 years. What’s the secret to that longevity? K: Inclusion. Some people have better skill sets at certain things, but we strive to include everyone in a meaningful way. Over the years, we’ve discovered that inclusion can bring shy and hesitant people out of their shell and end up in them becoming an integral part of the team. The owner of our team, Amanda Scheffler, is fantastic. She is willing to show anybody anything, anytime. She does it all. And she’s a great example of inclusion. I don’t know if I would have [joined the team] had they not approached me. I would have never asked. I’ve learned from Amanda that you never know what including someone will open up for them. A lot of times those people in the shadows are the ones who are jumping conservatively, thoughtfully and procedurally and have a tendency to look and observe before they act, which is the kind of person you want on a team. I think having other women to show you the ropes helps, too. We have a couple of guys who help us out as ground crew, but we really do it all. For example: If we’re doing smoke and all that stuff, we try to get in there and make sure all the people are informed and all the girls know how to do it. We can all pack the banners, rigs, and flags. Getting everyone’s hands on all of the skill sets is really what makes our team. Everybody can jump in and fill in for each other. A: What’s your personal skydiving philosophy? K: Feel the fear and do it anyway. That’s what I’ve always said about skydiving. Even to this day, I still get butterflies on a demo. In skydiving and in life, I really live by that--to feel the fear and do it anyway--because you never know what will come out of it. Sometimes it is good. Sometimes it is bad. Always, it is a learning process. “Doing it anyway” can only ever propel you forward. ---- For more info on the Misty Blues, visit the team website at mistyblues.net.
  7. Dr. Randy Brown of the UW STOMP Study Talks Us In If you huck yourself out of aircraft for fun, you already know that it doesn’t always go according to plan. It follows that there are a couple of facts of which you should probably be aware: Victims of traumatic injury are at greater than normal risk for opioid addiction. Initiates of opioid misuse who progress to injection frequently cite prescription of an opioid for an injury as their first exposure to opioid, and the event that led to their eventual addiction. If you’ve been in this sport for a while, you almost certainly know someone who ended up battling opioid addiction for precisely that reason. And, if you’re in a hospital bed with a ‘fun button’ under your thumb the first time you think about opioids, you might be in for a rough ride. It was next to just such a hospital bed, after a very bad couple of days, that I first heard about the STOMP study. (“STOMP” stands for the Screening in Trauma for Opioid Misuse Prevention.) The three-year study, based at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, draws on expertise in Addiction Medicine, Trauma Surgery, Public Health, Systems Engineering, Social Work, Pain Medicine, and Primary Care. The goal: to improve medicine’s understanding of opioid misuse and the development of addiction specifically in the context of traumatic injury (Ding! Ding! Ding!) and pain management. Ultimately, its goal is to develop protocols which will intervene early in the process to prevent opioid misuse, addiction and related complications. The STOMP program is hope on the horizon. I reached out to the program’s Principal Investigator, Randall Brown, MD, PhD, FASAM, to get a little wisdom for those of us tossing ourselves into harm’s way. Annette: How’d you become interested in pain medicine? Dr. Brown: I did my initial training in family medicine in California’s central valley, in a town called Modesto. At the time I was doing my training, the area was producing 90% of North America’s methamphetamines -- and consuming a fair chunk of it, as well. In hospital, we saw a ton of complications resulting from injections, methamphetamine use, and the struggles in that population -- where, despite having a horrifically painful surgeries and hospital stays, would reliably leave the hospital and resume their use. It made a deep impression on me. For someone to go through the pain these patients went through and return to the use so immediately, this addiction thing must be a pretty compelling state of affairs, and I don’t think the health care system, in general terms and settings, is adequately prepared to facilitate recovery from addiction. I found that troubling and fascinating, and so I pursued further training and gradually moved my focus from broader family medicine to substance use issues, prevention and treatment. I came to Madison in 2001 to do a research fellowship. I have been here involved in that sort of work to some extent for 17 years now. A: What changes have you seen in the field over that 17-year period? Dr.: In brief, the opioid crisis the biggest thing that has emerged since I’ve been doing this. Opioids are a much bigger deal than they were when I started on this path. Substance use issues have always been a major problem -- and, currently, substance misuse is the most common root cause of preventable death and morbidity in the US. It shifts from time to time, but it is always there: whether it is alcohol, which is always there, or methamphetamines, or opioids, which picked up steam in the 90s. Opioids have really skyrocketed over the last 15 years. A: How did opioids rise to power, would you say? Dr.: The literature guiding pain treatment in the 90s evolved over a landscape of imperfect science. The message that experts in pain management were putting out there back then -- with fair frequency -- was that “we are not treating pain adequately.” They specifically meant chronic, non-cancer pain. The literature out there in the 90s insisted that we should be using opioids more liberally to alleviate that suffering. The literature insisted that addiction was rare; that complications were rare. Honestly, we didn’t really know otherwise. There really weren’t data out there to tell us that wasn’t the right thing to do, and it seemed like the right thing to do -- to alleviate pain and suffering. The other thing that was put out there via the literature was that opioids don’t really cause any organ damage, so there wasn’t a clear ceiling to the daily dose. Again, we didn’t really have data in the literature to tell us otherwise. Around 2009 and 2010, the state of science started changing a little bit. We did have studies appearing in the literature indicating that these higher doses were associated with greater risks, particularly for overdose and death. That’s where there really started to be a sea change around prescribing patterns; trying to rein in those daily doses; trying to bring them down to less risky levels. On the flipside of that, from the public health standpoint, while it’s a smart move to reduce the absolute supply of opioids out there, the tricky piece is doing that in a reasonable and compassionate way, not cutting people off or assuming that these dosage recommendations are a hard ceiling for everybody. Opioids are still really important medications. They aren’t going to -- and they shouldn’t -- go away. We just need to be more mindful about monitoring their use, and educating patients about how to handle of them, to dispose of them appropriately if they aren’t using them. A: Can you summarize the STOMP study for me? Dr: STOMP recruits UW hospital patients who have been admitted for a traumatic injury. We collect information from them about their medical history, their personal history and their mental health. We then follow them forward for six months after discharge to collect further information that measures around mental health symptoms, anxiety, post-traumatic symptoms that may have developed as a result of the injury, information around their current opioid and other substance use patterns. We are trying to tease the data apart to see if there is some way that, all the way back to the time of injury, we can identify some factors that are strongly predictive of someone developing difficulty controlling their use of opioids. A: Let’s talk about my community: the “skyfamily” of airsports athletes. A lot of us are highly mobile, without an established healthcare provider, and a lot of us get injured when we’re traveling. Oftentimes, we’ll find ourselves inured far from home, where there the standards of medical care may be very different than we’re used to. Where would you suggest that folks go if they’re in that position and they need good information? Dr: That’s a really great question. Honestly, when we were putting this study together, STOMP, Screening in Trauma for Opioid Misuse Prevention, I was not finding much of anything out there, to tell the truth, and this was only a couple years ago. The stuff that is out there in prominence and taken up widely really is more targeting chronic pain -- like long-term stuff. The CDC has released a good set of guidelines regarding the reasonable taper rates for opioids and a patient information packet. The most common situation that folks struggle with after a more serious injury is that taper, and that information is good to have as soon as possible. These can certainly apply in situations with injuries which have resulted in severe pain that needs to be managed for a few or even several months. The other information contained in those guidelines that I think is really important for folks to know regards the safe and responsible handling of opioids: storing them appropriately, not advertising to the world that you have them (because of the potential for being victimized) and the safe disposal of unused medication to protect public health. In the setting of traumatic injury, I honestly have not been able to find a lot more out there. That’s why we’re doing this study. A: Is there any additional wisdom you want to offer an athlete who suffers an injury and realizes that they may be facing the reality of a long-term course of opioid medication? Dr: Recognize early that successfully navigating this process will take a collaborative effort with an established provider that can track your progress over time. Even if you’re lucky enough to be living in a stable residence geographically, know that, in this clinical setting, you’re likely to be moving between specialists and other care providers. Sometimes, monitoring -- and appropriate care in coming off of higher-dose opioids -- can fall between the cracks. Establish a relationship with a provider and stick with it for a period of months. That’s a challenge anywhere, but particularly for folks who are highly mobile. A: What are a couple questions that folks can ask of a potential provider to establish whether or not the provider they’re with has an appropriate functional understanding of opioids, so that we know that the experts we’re trusting really understand what they’re prescribing? Are there flags that can indicate if you are dealing with a savvy and empathic prescriber? Dr: My instinct would be to ask that provider the fairly open-ended question around their philosophy regarding the use of opioids for managing pain after an injury. Warning signs would be, for example, a provider who tells you that they “hate prescribing opioids, ever,” or, conversely, someone who says, “No problem! We’ll keep you on opioids as long and as much as you need them!” The provider should have a thorough, thoughtful answer to that question that incorporates a balance. That answer should involve informing you that there is some risk for physical dependence, but giving assurances that s/he will be here to work closely with you as you’re coming off of them when it becomes appropriate. You’re looking for a provider who demonstrates mindfulness of what physical dependence and opioid withdrawal is like, but isn’t someone who is just going to write the opioid prescription because it is the easy thing to do. A: Tell me about what the future of pain management might look like. Dr.: It’s pretty exciting, actually. We have been doing work here at UW to investigate the therapeutic potential of psychedelic substances, primarily Psilocybin, but also MDMA. We are going to be launching another study to see about the therapeutic potential of Psilocybin in the setting of opioid addiction or opioid use disorder. We are excited about that. Then we also have a study upcoming on therapeutic potential of MDMA for PTSD, which bears a relationship to substance use risk. It’s important to differentiate between clinical and recreational use. One of the really important components of the studies on the therapeutic potential of Psilocybin and MDMA involves the pieces of the intervention referred to as “set and setting.” Set refers to a number of things, including a relationship that is built up with a guide, the development of trust, orientation to the experience, exploration of current symptoms of mental health issues or underlying issues and preparing the participants for the therapeutic session itself. The setting can also be quite important. These supervised administrations tend to happen in an environment that is comfortable, homey, and not your typical clinical research, hospital-ish looking room, but the variables are still all under strict control, and the patient is being monitored by medical personnel. Both set and setting are understood to be really important to the potential therapeutic outcome. Recreational use takes all those controls away, so the extent to which those experiences can be therapeutic is a lot more unpredictable. Luckily, we’re getting closer and closer. When these treatments will be approved is a little unpredictable, but both are moving toward FDA approval. We’re participating in the studies that will hopefully lead to that, but it’s probably a couple years down the road. It’s an optimistic future, for sure. To learn more about Dr. Brown and the STOMP study, visit the study’s landing page at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine website.
  8. nettenette

    The Secret of Banana Hammock

    A Few Nuggets of Golden Advice from a Winning Self-Funded Skydiving Team It starts like a bad joke: a Californian (Kenny Beach), an Italian (Alessandro “Alex” Struppa) and a Frenchman (Lawrence De Laubadere) walk into a skydiving competition... “Our team name was Banana Hammock,” Kenny grins. “We decided that while we were drunk ice skating.” Yep. Banana Hammock. “Alex made a logo,” he continues. “It’s a banana in a hammock with his hands in the air. His arms are my jumpsuit and his legs are my teammate’s jumpsuit, and the banana is drinking a martini.” The punchline of the joke? Banana Hammock took the 2-way MFS gold at the 2014 Nationals. (*Rimshot*!) It was a damned good result, especially considering where Kenny was at the outset. “When we did our first team jumps,” Kenny remembers, “Alex was already able to fly head down and pick up grips. I would leave on my head and then flop away and fall past. Byyyyyye.” As it turns out, the road from flopping to flying your way to the top of a national podium is paved with very intentionally-executed intentions. Without meticulous planning and open team communication, there’s very little chance you’ll ever make it to the first round. And, for most mere mortals on self-funded teams, you’ll have a very limited number of chances to get it right before the money and/or the wherewithal runs out. The struggle is real. That said: If you’re looking for an example of a skydiving team done right, this is it. Banana Hammock not only walked away with a gold medal but with the teammates’ friendships intact--gold within gold--and Kenny is willing to share the wisdom he gleaned from that epic endeavor. 1. Compete for the right reasons. When Kenny was first looking for teammates, he ran into a lot of friction from people who simply didn’t want to compete without the guarantee of a win. “You have to understand that it isn’t the winning that makes you better,” Kenny observes. “It’s the fact that you are getting in with a like-minded, dedicated group of people and you are doing the same skydives over and over with them. You each learn how the other flies, and then you can focus on the really fine details.” “When you train to compete, as long as you approach it from the mentality I’m not going to win, I’m going to become a better skydiver and I’m going to use this as a tool to buckle down as if I’m trying to win,” he muses, “then you will be giving yourself the opportunity to learn all these particular skills within whatever discipline you’re training, in a really focused environment.” 2. Overstaff. The most deadly contingency for most skydiving teams is that of the suddenly-absent member. Shore up. “If you want to do a 4-way team, find 8 people,” Kenny says. “If you want to do an 8-way team, find 16. People are going to bail on you. I’ve seen teams that have been destroyed a week before Nationals because their outside center flyer decided he couldn’t go to Nationals anymore and the entire team’s training was shot because they didn’t have a backup. Make sure you have more people than you need.” 3. Start talking. Got some people interested? Great. Now it’s open-communication time. “When you get the people, put together the plan for your schedule and the goal of what you want to achieve: to win; to place; to develop; whatever that is. Figure what everyone wants to do and find a general consensus. For example: You might have one person who is, like, I want to win the Worlds this year and somebody else who is, like, I just want to see what a competition is like. Both of those people won’t get what they want. The person who just wants to see what it is like isn’t going to put the energy in to train hard enough to win the Worlds. You are going to have to meet in the middle if it’s going to work. Find people you can work with and who will work together for compatible goals.” At some point along this journey, emotions are bound to escalate. When that happens, be ready. Kenny advocates getting everyone into a quiet room and passing around a talking stick (or a talking altimeter or a talking helmet or a talking rock or whatever ya got). 4. Everybody gets a job. Kenny insists that, once the team is in agreement about the goals, it’s time to give everyone a very specific set of roles to play. “Try to divide up the responsibilities for each member,” he says. “Have one person be responsible for making sure there is coffee in the morning; one person be responsible for making sure the video flyer gets taken care of; one person be responsible for making sure your pack jobs are done. You’ll pool your resources to pay for everything, of course, but have the admin jobs divided up so that everyone is responsible for part of the team so it comes together as a fully functioning unit. You don’t want one person getting stressed because they’re having to do everything. Everyone shares ownership.” 5. Plan down to the minute detail, and do it on paper. “I think the thing that helped us the most was sitting down and getting a calendar and scheduling out every single day we were going to train, with concrete goals lined out. Not just, We want to win Nationals. Instead: We want to win Nationals and have this kind of average point. We put down on the calendar what skills we needed to work on at what time, and we broke it down to be really structured around what we were going for.” That hyper-detailed schedule might sound imprisoning; for Kenny, it was anything but. It gave him the freedom he needed to dedicate himself completely to the task. “If I knew that in the month of February, I would be at Paraclete for the second week and training three full days over the last weekend, then when February comes around, I’d know exactly what my schedule was going to look like to plan ahead for work. The strictness of the schedule ensured that we were getting the number of jumps we needed, the amount of tunnel time we needed and the amount of work we needed, all within our schedules.” Not a spreadsheet nerd? No problem. You’ll get the hang of it. “I literally had no experience of even how to set up a schedule,” he adds. “I went from working at McDonald’s to a full time skydiver, and then I quit my job to pack parachutes.” In fact, Banana Hammock’s training schedule derived from a 4-way-specific structural starting point gifted to Kenny by uber-competitor Dan B.C. The team agreed on a certain number of jumps and a certain number of tunnel hours that they needed to accomplish in the nine intervening months between their training start date and the Nationals competition in October. From there, it was a matter of division--but with a twist. 6. Cluster ‘em up. “You just divide up the jumps by the number of months you have available,” Kenny explains, “but you try to schedule so you are trying to do your month’s jumps in 2-to-4 day time period. You don’t want to do 40 training jumps over the entire month. You want to do 40 training jumps in 3 days and then maintain currency the rest of the month. That way you are honing in and developing those skills rather than just maintaining some vague point of currency. Like: Do I transition on my right or my left shoulder? Do I back up two feet or a foot? When you do 10 jumps in a day, you can dial that in. If not, you are not going to get that level of resolution.” 7. Then plan for the contingencies. “Then we went on to build a plan for all of the things we could think of that could possibly go wrong,” he continues. “When we did our first team jumps, we had already had a contract that we had written up and both signed that said, ‘if this happens, this is what we are going to do.’ That way there was no animosity between us if any of it happened.” Happily--and somewhat predictably--but for a few speed bumps, Banana Hammock ended up cruising cheerfully along its well-oiled tracks to meet its golden goal. While the team decided not to compete again (self-funded, y’know), Kenny reports that everyone involved considered it a happy ending, and he, for one, is glad he took the time to do it right. “The best advice I can give you,” he smiles, “Is don’t give up. Don’t quit. It won’t always seem like it, but it is worth it. If you’ve ever considered competing, you owe it to yourself to try.”
  9. nettenette

    The Last Frontier

    Down For 50 Jumps Alaska, And Annette O’Neil Tries to Rise to the Occasion Image Credit: Melissa Dawn Burns When I grapple my way out onto to the float, I notice two things immediately. First: It’s impossible to maintain a relaxed attitude while sitting on the pontoon of a floatplane in full flight. My mental image of myself doing this is going to take a major revision in the translation to reality. Secondly: My pilot chute has never felt so vulnerable in all my jumps. For almost the entirety of this once-in-a-lifetime skydive, as I keep a resolute smile trained on the camera aircraft flying next to us, a sepiatone clip plays over and over in my head: A pinch of (actually very securely and conscientiously packed) fabric managing to wiggle itself out of my (actually tight-as-a-new-pair-of-jeans) BOC and bolt mischievously between the pontoon and the step, deploying my beautiful new Crossfire one last time as we spiral, nose-first, into Alaska’s forested wetlands. But I digress. Before we came to Alaska, we were warned. “Ah, mosquitoes: Alaska’s state bird,” said one. “They don’t bite you. They carry you home and feed you to their children.” “You’re only there for five days?!,” breathed another. “Good luck with that. You should have planned on at least a week. You’ll never get a break in the weather.” “A college kid just got eaten by a bear while he was running a half-marathon out there in Anchorage,” chimed in another. “It chased him off the trail and into the forest. He was calling his mom as it was running him down.” Since my previous knowledge of Alaska was gleaned almost entirely from the Calvin & Hobbes ‘Yukon Ho!’ collection and a single viewing of Grizzly Man, I’m a receptive audience. I decide not to go for runs. When I arrive in Anchorage, I walk through a neighborhood from my airport hotel to a car rental storefront. The gardens, clearly nothing more than a salad bar for the local deer population, have been scrupulously stripped of anything edible. The one with remaining flowers is surrounded by a high fence. A woman crosses in front of me, walking her toy yorkie. She is carrying bear spray. I speed up, having no toy yorkie to cast off as bait. Image Credit: Melissa Dawn Burns When I get to the rental place, they issue me a Subaru. Clearly, they assume I’m not messing around. And clearly, we are not. The next morning, we—myself, my Down For 50 co-adventurer, Joel, and Brett, along for the ride on this particular state’s adventure—are on the road, bound for the town of Talkeetna. Ah, Talkeetna, Alaska: the acknowledged “doorway to Denali,” home to a heterozygous mix of hippies and lumberjacks, a private pilot mecca. The latter becomes evident even miles away, on the long road into town. The traffic overhead, after all, is significantly more congested and varied than the traffic on ground level. I’m glad I’m not driving; I’m transfixed looking out and up, checking out the rush hour trucking over the trees. Soon, following the instructions given in a flurry of arranging emails, we wind through a series of deeply wooded roads to arrive at our pilot’s lakehouse/hangar/office/flight school/community hub. The pilot himself, Don, is an affable fellow with a handsome mustache and the air of a man you’d immediately trust with your life. In fact, I do: When he suggests that we head over to the airport to conduct a quick aerial requisition of the available parachute landing areas “in the Breezy,” I immediately offer myself up. We hop in the rough-and-ready fuel truck (okay: the rusted-through blue pickup with a tank of AV gas in the bed) and off we go. The airfield is, to put it mildly, a candy store. All manner of aircraft sit gamely waiting, lined up as tidily and fetchingly as pretty ladies in an Old West brothel, all waiting expectantly for a pilot. Don and I cruise along in front of their expectant glass faces. Will we hop into the shiny red one? The bare-metal number that looks like it’ll have a sign on the door that says “silk scarves required”? The race-car-faced green-and-white one with its dancing shoes on and the freshly-chamwowed gleam? What’s this blue thing? As I’m wondering what I’m looking at, we pull to a stop. I take a closer look. This aircraft—I’m finding it difficult to call it a “plane”—is a robin’s-egg-blue latticework of metal with a wing laid across the top. There’s a prop. There’s an engine. There’s a Wizard-of-Oz-style picnic basket strapped in for storage behind an open, park-bench seat. It looks like the pilot is meant to perch on a piece of wood that sits directly in front of that. Suddenly, I realize that Don’s walking right towards it. Oh. The BREEZY. That looks pretty breezy, alright. Don hands me a motorcycle helmet and a bib jumpsuit “so he doesn’t have to worry about me.” I sit down on the park bench. I fasten the single lap belt as fastidiously as I can manage. Then, as Don works the engine like a lawnmower, I read the little metal placard fastened to the seat in front of me. It says, “Passenger warning: This aircraft is amateur-built and does not comply with the federal safety regulations for standard aircraft.” For some reason, that’s all I need to start enjoying myself. As we taxi out, I’m smiling so hard in my helmet it hurts a little. Twenty minutes later, I’ve found Jesus. I’m reeling from the feeling of being in the dead-on sweet spot of everything I love about flying and motorcycling and adventuring, all bound up into one ugly-ass not-quite-aircraft. We rode the river like a track day. We bounded over forested hillocks and gravel outcroppings and one enormous, out-of-place old satellite dish. We buzzed the lakehouse, waving at my astounded companions. As we land, I decide I might not be bluffing about wanting my fixed-wing license anymore. I tell Don. “Oh, you don’t need a pilot’s license to fly this thing,” he grins. “I can get you checked out on it this afternoon.” I backpedal. Hard. When we arrive back at camp, it’s late. It doesn’t look late, but it is late. Don, the pilots and us jumpers congregate on the dock, four floatplanes bobbing cheerfully around us, and go over the flight plan. As it turns out, they want to do our jump as a stacked formation—each of us in our own chariot—with queenly Denali throwing her white skirts around in the background. There will be a photographer (my preternaturally gifted, multi-hyphenate wonder of a friend, Melissa) passenging in a camera plane, ready to capture it. Our flight instructors thrill to the plan. I am assigned the one that’s mostly purple, bedecked with little hippie daisies. I am much pleased. After the meeting, Joel and Brett and I trundle up to the room that Don has graciously offered us, with its wide deck overlooking the twilit lake and the visiting pilots trading stories around the fire pit. We (very ineffectually) close the shades. We try to rest. Tomorrow’s a big day. Image Credit: Melissa Dawn Burns The night segues seamlessly into the morning. I wake when my sleep mask shifts and the 4:30AM sun sears my eyelids. Brett wakes when I bump his shins, hanging over the padded arm of the loveseat upon which he reclines. Joel is already up. Coffee in hand, we meander down to the dock under a cloudless, bluebird sky. There’s a four-month-old Bernese-Blue Heeler mix rolling around the lawn, doing its best to learn how to be a dog, its fur bunching adorably in handfuls, waiting to be grown into. Two chubby golden retrievers stalk fish offshore. Two pigs, wire-haired and curious, wander over and present themselves for belly rubs. We kit up. Taking off from water is a new experience entirely. It’s smoother than I think it’ll be, as the glassed-off lake is feeling nary a tickle of wind this fine, blue morning. Before I know it, we’re tooth-and-clawing our way up to six grand. “I forgot how pretty it is from up here,” my pilot smiles when we get to around four. I, for myself, had forgotten that most people—especially people around here—don’t blow through four grand like the front door on a cold night. Once we’re up at six, we circle, building the formation. Let’s be clear: these are really, really good pilots, but they’re not formation pilots, and there’s most certainly a trick to it when you’re wrangling low-performance aircraft that were made to do nothing of the sort. With the door open, six thousand feet over Alaska at the entrance to glaciertopia, it is cold. The twenty minutes it takes them to get together has me clinging to the back of the passenger seat like it’s a lover returned from the wars. I hope my hands still work when it’s time to get out. Image Credit: Down For 50 Which, coincidentally, it is. I see Melissa’s plane figuring its way alongside us. I uncertainly stick out a foot and screw it down onto the sandpaper surface of the step. Then I offer my body up to the full blast of the relative wind and lunge for the strut. I get a purchase. I, ungainly, perch. I’m doing it. There’s a yoga to staying here, one iron grip around the strut, the other hand “casually” in my lap, my brain stuck firmly to my pilot chute. Most of me aches to tumble into the familiar arms of freefall. The rest of me grabs that part of me by the cheeks and shouts into its face: For chrissakes, woman, pay attention to this and here and now, because it has an expiration date that is less than a minute in the future and this is what you came for. I heed it. Suddenly, I can see. I see the red and white camera airplane, framed by impossible mountains. Denali, of course; Mount Huntington; Moose’s Tooth; Little Switzerland. I see a sky of a blueness Alaska pretty much never sees, yet here I am, sitting in it. I see Melissa, concentrating behind the winking black eye of her lens. I can’t see them, but I feel Joel and Brett, doing their own pontoon yoga practice behind me and above me. I see so much of what I love about being in this world, hanging here and now in the suspended animation of complete attention. And then there’s the landing area below—a cleared construction pad, tucked up next to the Talkeetna airport runway. My pilot nods. I had planned some sort of fanfare for this exit. As it stands, however, all I can manage is a dizzy-eyed smile and a bog-standard hop. My pilot hollers to watch me go. She’s never seen anything like it before. When we land, parachutes slung over shoulders, I’m exhausted with the effort of committing it all to memory. I decide to walk back to the FBO and let it all process—Don’s generosity; the force of the community here; the entirely new sensations of flight. It overwhelms my hardware. It’s only later, as we hunch over plates heaped with pancakes, that I happen to glance at the collection of grinning pilots clustered in black-and-white on the Talkeetna diner wall. It crystallizes what I’m feeling: The momentum of a long tradition. Those smiling faces, proudly next to their planes, captured over the entire history of aviation, seem to prove that this place—Alaska, the last frontier—was created by and for adventure. Alaska turns energy to adventure like some sort of spiritual chlorophyll. Every single one of these guys grew tall, strong, enduring lives with the force of that alchemy. Alaska pushes out the envelopes of the willing like leaves bursting from ever-lengthening branches. This is its job. It does it well. ----------- Down For 50, the first 50-state skydiving road trip accomplished in a single journey, is happening from May to October of this year. To follow the journey, to check out when it’s coming to your state or simply to help out (thanks!), visit downfor50.org.
  10. Three Cognitive Tools to Help Keep You In One Piece Image by Kenneth Grymen Uncertainty is a foundational element of skydiving, and managing that uncertainty is one of our most important responsibilities in the sport. Right? Right. Unfortunately: what we know from laboratory experiments is that when humans come up against probabilities—all of which are, technically, conditional probabilities—our minds seize up when they try to make an inference from that data. We all hold carefully constructed illusions that comfortably surround the ideas of certainty, responsibility and safety. Learning about the structures we build out of those illusions forces us to open up to the idea that we don’t know jack. And man, we don’t like to do that. As a culture, we’re also tripped up by the fact that statistical thinking isn’t a cornerstone of our educational system. We’re friggin’ terrible at juggling statistics, in fact. (Esteemed mathematician John Alan Paulos calls this phenomenon “innumeracy”: literally, an illiteracy of numbers.) With that in mind, co-nerd along with me on this path to understanding how we stumble around in our own heads. Clearly, a library of cognitive phenomena relate to our beloved sport; I’ve picked my favorite three biggies to start the conversation. #1: The Dunning-Kruger Effect If you walk away with only one new tool in your cognitive toolkit, let that be the Dunning-Kruger Effect. The Dunning-Kruger effect is a relatively new discovery, as these things go. It was set out in experiments run by David Dunning and Justin Kruger at Cornell in 1999. The Dunning-Kruger Effect is a cognitive bias (defined as a systematic deviation from rational thinking) that prevents people from being able to know with any accuracy how skilled and/or informed they are. Basically, the research found that incompetent people overestimated (sometimes, hilariously vastly) their own abilities. Skilled people, however, tended to downplay their competency. What repercussions does this have for you as a skydiver? Holy dachshund puppy in a hot dog bun. SO MANY. It only takes a little extra listening to recognize it in the people around you--and yourself. Our sport is--just like the rest of the world--chock-full of the “confident incompetent”: those who lack the metacognitive ability to recognize that they (at least for now) suck. What’s a smart skydiver to do? Firstly and most importantly: Underestimate your abilities and the abilities of the jumpers around you. Get professional coaching to uplevel; that’ll come with a bonus of an outside perspective on your actual skills. Then make it a project to find truly competent fun jumpers to enrich your educational environment. Remember: People who know nothing are far more likely to make themselves be heard than people who know a lot. The fun jumpers who actually know a lot will likely be much quieter, so it’ll take more work to find them. #2: The Stress-Influence Tendency Every human makes decisions under varying intensities of stress; far fewer of that number regularly, intentionally make life-and-death decisions under stress. Of that smaller population segment, a pretty large fraction does it for a living. For fun? Yeah. We’re a weird crowd. We play stress games. We need to play them as consciously as possible. The Stress-Influence Tendency pops up when the stakes are high and not enough information (or cognitive resources) are present to reasonably guarantee a good choice. Here, it’s the pressure that matters. High-pressure environments dramatically change human decision-making strategies. You might think that your decision-making under pressure is solid, but you’d be wrong: Studies that compare outcomes often show vast differences in decision-making quality between high-pressure and low-pressure environments. Here’s why. According to psychologist (and Nobel Prize laureate besides) Daniel Kahneman*, we humanbeans have two routes to the endgame of a decision: the fast route, labeled System 1**, and the slow route, labeled System 2***. System 1 is snappy and pretty much automatic, kicking in to respond to an external stimulus. System 1 can be the result of genetic hard-wiring (Eek! A rat! Climb up the bookcase!) or long-term, hard-practiced skillbuilding (Eek! A rogue toddler in the LZ! Braked turn!). These responses have a tendency to feel involuntary. System 2, on the other hand, has to do a bunch of library research and take up the whole damn operating system to do its work. System 2 puts together a spreadsheet and a PowerPoint presentation of the pros and cons associated with each option. It’s the farthest thing from involuntary, but it can flexibly check, modify, and override the decisions from System 1, if given the chance. Ideally, System 1 sits down with System 2 and offers a solution, and System 2 either vetoes that judgement call or gives it the blessing of reasoning. An overdose of stress, however, pulls that chance right out from under System 2. It diverts all the cognitive resources that System 2 needs for its ponderous function, subbing out instinct for conscious reasoning. In lots of cases, that works out just fine. The problem is that System 1 is simple. It’s a habit memory system. It’s rigid; it only has a hammer, so everything looks like a nail. System 2 can bring the rest of the toolkit to bear on the problem, but only if it has the chance to get there. The only way to reliably get System 2 into the room is to reduce the amount of stress you’re under. Strive to limit your variables. Example: Doing your FWJC? Awesome. Doing your FWJC at a new dropzone in suboptimal conditions? You just locked yourself in with System 1 and chucked the key out the window. If you need a more reasoned solution for a problem than the one System 1 throws out first, you’ll be out of luck. Another thing: When you’re learning new skills that overlap with skills you’ve trained deeply, be mindful that your System 1 responses are going to overwhelmingly favor what you’ve trained. (This is why swoopers have a tendency to over-toggle paragliders, and why multi-thousand-jump skydivers sometimes panic-pull off of big-wall BASE exits in the opening phase of their low-speed belly careers.) #3: The Availability Heuristic (a.k.a. The Availability-Misweighing Tendency) Because our decision-making process has its roots in the systems that sent us scrambling for food and running from better-physically-adapted beasts, those systems are built for immediacy. They’re designed to make quick assumptions and finalize a decision using that scant criteria while consuming as few resources as possible in the process. The system works like a search engine, and we’re only ever really interested in the top three results. In precisely the same way as a search-engine ranks its resultant listings, the system ranks the stuff that pops up according to the number of times it has been accessed. “Availability” is analogous to top-ranking search position. Top ranking alone creates the illusion of truth and reliability. It’s easy to forget that simple repetition got it there. Beliefs, in kind, propagate by repetition, and our sport is no exception. Examples abound. A nail-biting number of skydivers (and aircraft operators, besides) remain super-casual about seatbelts in the jump plane because it’s pretty rare that a forced landing makes the news, making them cognitively unavailable for decisions. Make no mistake: There are plenty of forced landings goin’ on. In another example, the prevalence of a certain brand of gear on your dropzone (or in the advertising you consume) will make it significantly more “available,” driving your purchase decision more than you realize. And another: A regional community’s oft-repeated mantras (Ex.: “If we didn’t jump in clouds, we’d never jump!”) are most certainly available due to repetition and not the unaltered truth. Thinking outside of availability takes work. It takes curiosity. Often, it takes the willingness to say or do something out of lockstep. How often do you visit the second page of the search results? Maybe it’s time to start. As I said before: There are loads of these cognitive heuristics that, in one way or another, bring their kerfuffle to bear on your skydiving (and, of course, your life at large). Most of these biases complicate the problem by tending to overlap and interweave, creating a series of false bottoms and fake doors in your thinking. Learning to recognize them is a good first step; the rest of the demolition work is up to you. * Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow ** “Intuition” in the “stress induced deliberation-to-intuition” (SIDI) model *** “Deliberation” in the SIDI model
  11. nettenette

    Out of the East (Yin Yu's Story)

    Yin Yu Is In Your Sky, And She’s Bringing China With Her If you don’t know about Yin Yu yet, take note: You will. (You’ll probably meet her as “Daniela,” the name she goes by in the States.) Yin’s rarefied position as one of the only Chinese athletes teaching skydiving to a Chinese student base has put her at the forefront of a growing wave that’s getting ready to engulf the world in new licensees. Her business--AUV Skydiving--has already graduated more than 50 Chinese skydivers, and the waiting list is growing at an exponential rate. “They know the US gives the best skydiving education,” she says, simply, “so they want to come over to the US to learn how to skydive.” In a lot of ways, this story starts when Yin moved to the U.S., 10 years ago. For the first couple of those years, Yin lived in Atlanta. She did her first tandem skydive at The Farm (now Skydive Spaceland Georgia) and started her AFF there. Distracted by a heavy academic schedule, she didn’t finish. When Yin moved to Chicago to earn her Master’s degree (quickly followed by a high-powered internship and job), she found what she still refers to as her home dropzone at Skydive Midwest. “The major reason I wanted to learn to skydive,” Yin explains, “was that I felt under too much pressure from balancing hard work and cultural differences. Being a Chinese person in America is challenging. The conflict of the culture is the hardest part. There is the overall feeling, all the time, on the inside: No one really gets me. I’m just sitting in the corner, wishing someone could talk to me and understand me.” With jumps tucked here and there within a packed schedule, it took Yin three seasons to earn her solo skydiving license. “When I first finished my 25 jumps,” she explains, “I wasn’t able to find someone to teach me how to pack, because everyone was in the sky and I could only come on the weekends. So it took me forever. I had 60 jumps by the time I completed the packing course, so I just applied for a B license. I never had an A license.” “I teach almost ½ of Chinese skydivers to get their A license,” she laughs, “but I never even had an A license.” Yin’s whopping market share is motivated by a whole range of factors. The first of these, of course, is that the cultural differences between east and west loom large for skydiving students even more than most. Learning to skydive is a highly stressful proposition, and navigating its exacting, immediate requirements at the same time as navigating the subtleties of a new culture has proved preventively overwhelming for many would-be students. Yin seeks to change all that. “The US is very straight-talking,” she says. “You just tell people what you want. In China, people always talk in a circle to get to the point. And that’s just one of the differences. Chinese students can only really learn from a Chinese person. So I bring them in and teach them in the way they need--a way they can understand--because it is so stressful to do learn how to skydive. You can’t go over the barrier of the fear and stress and the barrier of the culture. Once Chinese students have a teacher who speaks to them in a language they can understand, both literally and culturally, they get confident and then the connections can happen naturally.” “In China, education is also very different,” she continues. “I went to university here, so I understand very well that the American teaching style is really open. When you bring questions to school, the answers might vary. In China, you sit in the classroom simply learn what the teacher tells you. I try to combine the two methods so my Chinese students are comfortable, but they are better prepared to deal with the differences when they set out on their own.” Yin brings the hard-earned lessons of her own student days to bear in her instruction. It was way back in those days that she initially decided on this path, in fact: When she saw the occasional Chinese skydiving student struggling in a system that wasn’t built to facilitate them. “For example: when you see a student flare too high, you tell students ‘Hold it!’ But if you say that another way--like ‘Don’t let go!’--they might be confused and freeze. Even though it means the same thing, switching words forces the student to process because they have to translate between English and Chinese.” “Before I was an instructor, I saw many things like this happen,” she continues. “I tried to help interpret but, at the end of the day, I decided I should probably be an instructor and stop that from happening in the first place.” She couldn’t help but notice some sticky equipment issues, too. “I am small,” she grins. “I was even smaller when I started 10 years ago. I was 100 pounds with a 260-square-foot canopy. I constantly had bruises all over me.” “I also had an experience with a cutaway that was very informative,” she adds. “I learned that the equipment was not designed with Asian people’s bodies in mine. Asian people are much smaller; their arms are shorter than what we think. We have to cut away a little more forward and harder.” They also have to communicate a little differently, which gets in the way--especially in the vulnerable beginning. Yin notes that Chinese students are really nervous about responding in English. They do speak English, but they are reliably shy. If you’ve ever learned another language, you can empathize: It’s not necessarily that you don’t understand; you get nervous for freeze up. “At a drop zone, a lot of the instructors will question a Chinese student to find out if they can do an action and think that the answer they receive means ‘no,’” she says. “When that student talks with me, It’s clear that they understand exactly how to do the action, but with English instructors--even if the student does speak English--there is this disconnect. American students will pretend to understand. Chinese students simply don’t fake understanding as well.” When she decided to create AUV Skydiving, Yin was no stranger to business ownership. She’s been in business before: a smoothie shop; a magazine; a stage design business. She was raking in a six-digit, salary, but she wasn’t finding joy. She was never able to see her parents in China. Interestingly enough, she already had a solid audience for her marketing when she launched the endeavor. As it turns out, Yin is something of a celebrity. In addition to several other entrepreneurial ventures, she was a songwriter. One of the songs she wrote “got her name out there,” as she wryly notes. Chinese students recognize her as the song’s writer--and, more recently, as the Chinese girl who wingsuited over Everest--so when she opened her doors, there were already faces pressed to the glass. She left her other work a year and a half ago to go full-time with AUV. It’s not just the AFF students, either: In 2013 and 2014 alone, Yin brought over 1,000 Chinese people to the States simply to experience tandem skydiving and the iFly wind tunnel. (She’s also the first Chinese AFFI certified by both China Aero Sports and the USPA, the first Chinese examiner candidate.) Yin’s next project is to solve the problem of where those students can go when her two-week AFF camp complete. In China, as you may or may not know, there’s almost nowhere to jump. There are no commercial dropzones. For now, Yin’s students usually come back to the States to jump; this year, she’s organizing a group skydiving mission all over the U.S. In the meanwhile, she’s starting to lay the groundwork In China for commercial dropzones to operate. In this author’s opinion, this is where it gets really interesting. Slowly by surely, Yin is making inroads, consulting with other Chinese entrepreneurs who are interested in opening dropzones. She’s also working on a education program for US instructors who want to go to China and teach skydiving skills and operating. “There are a bunch of [Chinese aviation owners] coming to talk to me, saying they want to start a dropzone and asking me how,” she says. “I’ve been working for dropzones for 7 years, so I can help them. I am building a team as well, to teach people how to start a dropzone. I’m getting my examiner rating, too.” “Three major things are always on my mind,” she states. “I want to bring very advanced skydiving education to China. I want to bring USPA standards and practices to China. And I want to bring serious skydiving competitions to China. If China gets in, it will take half of the business of the world. When China decides to do something, there is no stopping it.” “In China, everything is possible,” she adds. “It just comes down to the way you present things, and what kind of connections you have.”
  12. @skydave238 Oh heck yes! Swakop is a brilliant place to check out. Totally agreed.
  13. nettenette

    Why You're Normally Deviant (And Why You Shouldn't Be)

    @riggerrob Damn, but that blows my mind. :|
  14. nettenette

    Why You're Normally Deviant (And Why You Shouldn't Be)

    @freeflynick !! Holy crap! Oh course I'll pass along a hug. I want one for myself as soon as possible! :D I'm so awesomed out that you read the Edge link. Edge is a treasure trove of yummy thinks. :) The world of deepwater drilling is one I'd love to know more about. I listened to this a few months ago and it still pops up in my brain: http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/06/17/482203447/invisibilia-how-learning-to-be-vulnerable-can-make-life-safer Thanks for the kind words, too, of course.
  15. “This particular aircraft doesn’t have seatbelts, but we only have it for this one boogie--and we’ve never had a forced landing, anyway.” “There’s no AAD in this rig, but I’m only going to jump it this once while my regular rig is being repacked. It’s just so I don’t miss the record attempt. I’ll be back on my regular rig on the next load.” “We always jump in cloud here. Otherwise we’d never get to jump! The pilot has GPS, anyway, obviously, and he’s never been wrong.” The final sentence--which always follows, right?--is the kicker: “I’m sure it will be fine.” Are you? Really? USPA Director of Safety and Training Jim Crouch introduced a really important concept in April’s Parachutist (‘Safety Check’; April 2017). In it, he brings up The Challenger Launch Decision, written by sociologist Diane Vaughan. Vaughn very usefully summarized the kernel of this human tendency. She even coined a term for it: the “normalization of deviance.” Normalization of deviance comes up pretty much everywhere in life (foregoing your helmet just to bike down to the neighborhood park; speeding; not bothering with the condom). High-variable, high-pressure, high-safety-requisite circumstances breed the normalization of deviance like bunnies at a bunny swinger’s convention. For some insight into how the normalization of deviance affects you in your airsports career, let NASA Astronaut Mike Mullane bend your ear. Mullane was a fighter pilot in 1978, when he was selected as a Mission Specialist in the first group of Space Shuttle Astronauts. He chalked up three space missions (aboard the Shuttles Discovery and Atlantis), spending more than 350 hours in the void. And, solely in the years after he celebrated his 60th birthday, Mullane summited Mt. Kilimanjaro, Mt. Rainier and 35 of Colorado’s 14,000+ers. You can safely assume that Col. Ret. Mullane is an expert in managing his own risk envelope and that of those around him--and, yet, even he is still influenced by the normalization of deviance. How ‘bout that. Why is it so tough to fight immunity to unacceptable risk? Cause damn, it’s hard. It’s cultural; it’s about preserving a certain quality of relationship. It’s personal; it’s about preserving a certain self-image. Finally, it’s transactive; it’s about trading off a potentially good experience now for the chance to have more good experiences later, in the absence of much data at ****all. “The natural human tendency,” Mullane notes, “Particularly in pressured circumstances, to want to take a safety shortcut. [You say,] ‘I’ve done a [jump] like this a thousand times in the past, and nothing bad has ever happened. I can certainly do it this one time [...] and nothing bad is going to happen. [...] The absence of something bad happening when I took this safety shortcut means that it’s safe to do so again.’” There will always be a next time. And you’re going to be mightily tempted to do it again. When you do it--whatever ‘it is--enough times, the shortcut becomes the norm. The loop is reinforced. In Mullane’s words, “The deviance is now invisible to you.” And when invisible deviance leaves a very visible mess? Well, Diane Vaughn coined another term in her book for that eventuality: a “predictable surprise.” Those involved in the Challenger debacle readily admit that the explosion (and the resulting deaths) constituted a predictable surprise. So does a catastrophic wingsuit collision in the absence of one jumper’s AAD. So does a plane full of broken jumpers after a forced seatbeltless landing (of which--make no mistake--there are very many). So does a double tandem fatality at a dropzone with an it’ll-be-fine attitude towards instructor training. Image by Brett Kistler The itchy issue we face as airsports athletes is that we’re not under pressure from the government, as Mullane and NASA were. We’re not under pressure from the market. The pressure you’re under on the dropzone is your own. If you think it’s a good idea to scratch, you can damn well go ahead and scratch. You can roll your eyes at anyone who gets after you for it--the manifest; your buddy; your team at the Nationals. Most of the time, though, you don’t. You stay on the load, and--probably significantly more than nine times out of ten--you build another nanolayer on your normalization-of-deviance callus. The old triusm that familiarity breeds complacency makes a little more sense, no? That newbies are generally more risk-averse than intermediate-to-mid-career jumpers (a trend which tends to reverse as the jumper amasses significant empirical data)? That you’re more willing to do--well--gloriously stupid shit at a dropzone you know really well, as opposed to one you’re just visiting? Take it from Richard Feynman, compared the practice of predictive reasoning to Russian Roulette: “The fact that the first shot got off safely is little comfort for the next. [...] Nature cannot be fooled.” In real life, of course, it’s more uncertain than that. He was talking about binary predictive reasoning (with an either-A-or-B result). We’re not playing a binary game when we’re jumping and flying; we’re not playing Russian roulette. Honestly, we don’t even know how many bullets are in that gun. But we’d better remember that it is a gun, and it is loaded, somewhere in there--and the safety culture we’ve inherited is a desperate attempt to introduce proven failsafes in the face of our old nemesis, randomness. Walking out to the pointy end is fun. Randomness is fun. Deviance is fun. That’s a big part of why we do this, right? That said: understanding why we make the decisions we make--and, perhaps, even learning to make better ones--can do much to extend a career. For more, do yourself a solid and check out Vaughn’s The Challenger Launch Decision, which originally coined the phrase. It’s a riveting read--and I bet you’ll readily recognize the culture which worked to create the conditions for the tragedy.