I grew up in a skydiving family in the early 80’s. My pops was a big time belly flier and that was THEE discipline at the time. Belly flying had grown from the style and accuracy and CRW days, and my dad was at the top of his game.
I remember watching my dad teach newbies techniques on perfecting the arch, inspiring people in getting on a formation skydiving world record, and seeing his eyes light up when he could dive last out for a 10-way competition. Although it was belly, belly, belly, another discipline that was new is what really caught my eye: freestyle.
Freestyling is such an elegant expression in the sky – gymnastics without a floor board – and beautiful. I remember watching the likes of Deanna Kent, Dale Stewart and Stephania Martenego. I knew then, that’s how I wanted to fly!
When I discovered freestyle, it’s all I wanted to do. And I did. I did a lot of solos with no coaches, just watching the hard-to-find videos or try to emulate the rare freestyle pictures in publications. It was hard – it was hard to perform, hard to find someone to film me that had skills to film my flailing self, and hard to find camaraderie with others since I was – literally – on a solo mission. But I pushed on.
I attended my first national in 1999 but I was the only participant in Women’s Freestyle and wondered why the discipline was so underrepresented. The disciplines were separated by Women’s Intermediate and Open, and Men’s Intermediate and Open Classes and left very few competitors, if any, in each class. I continued to compete and won the next two years USPA Nationals in Open Women’s Freestyle. That led me to represent the USA at the World Cup in Vienna, Austria placing 4th.
In 2002 things started to change as I was starting to wake up to the freedom of freeflying – a similar discipline to freestyle but with teammates. So I started focusing on freeflying and started the all women’s open freefly team, Sugar Gliderz with Amy Chmelecki and Jen Key. Training in two different disciplines was difficult. I placed 3rd in Freestyle and decided that to be my last year to compete in freestyle. That year we also made the debut as the only female freefly team placing 6th.
We may not have placed high, but we made such a huge impression on the freeflying community giving rise to more females pursuing the discipline, or staying in the sport longer. It was definitely hard work to create routines for two different disciplines, but it was so much fun and rewarding.
But the year 2003 had other plans for me. That summer my father, the legendary pioneering skydiver and DZO, Roger Nelson had passed away. My life felt like it was shattered to bits but I kept doing what I knew as I forged my way in this unexpected path – compete.
SUGAR GLIDERZ EVOLUTION
My Sugar Glider teammate Jen Key retired from the team and in 2004 we added camera flyer, Steve Curtis. That following year Amy pursued a different avenue in the sport and even though I took on the daunting task of running an inherited DZ, I still wanted to compete and created Sugar Gliderz 2.0 with Brooke Schultz and Kate Hoffstetter and we competed in 2004 and 2005.
Images courtesy of Omniskore.com
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE: VERTICAL FORMATION SKYDIVING
Having now competed for six years and comparing the evolution of relative work skydiving to what freeflying was evolving to, I was looking ahead. I watched the likes of Mike Swanson, Olav Zipser, Stephania Martinego, and Ippo Fabbi and their vertical formations just being in awe. It was at the 2005 Nationals having talked to a bunch of freefliers pushing the sport forward that I knew 4-Way Vertical Formation Skydiving was the next natural step.
Competing in skydiving helped my skydiving skills grow exponentially, expand my community and network of skydivers around the world, and have an opportunity to find my niche in creating, innovating, and inspiring women in this sport. BUT – there’s always a but – I felt that there was something more for me and it was time to evolve. Looking back it’s clear to see, but back then I wasn’t sure what the next steps were.
In 2003 Amy and I set off to organize the first Women’s Vertical World Record (a successful 8/10/12/14/16-Way at Skydive Arizona), then again in 2005 (18-way at Skydive Chicago). I had also participated in the 42-Way Vertical World Record at Perris, CA in 2004, and the 151-Way Women’s Formation Skydiving (Jump for the Cause) in 2005 also in Perris. Before I knew it, I looked back and within two years had racked up 8 skydiving World Records. It then dawned on me that was the next adventure: more world records!
OUT OF COMPETITION RETIREMENT
I retired from competitive skydiving in 2005 but had pulled out of retirement for a few 4-Way VFS and 10-Way (my dad’s favorite event). In 2015 I had decided it was time to dust off the freestyle moves and compete again with long time friend and freestyle camera flyer, Craig “9 toes” Amrine. It was quite incredible as there was the most teams registered in forever! And we didn’t do too bad either. To my surprise we placed 3rd! And I realized, that freestyle was my first love in the sport, and I still hold it close!
WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE VERTICAL SKYDIVING DISCIPLINES
Over the years, wingsuiting and angle flying has captured so many newer skydivers. However, I think that Vertical World Records and it’s sister discipline Vertical Sequentials are the near future – doing more vertical points, and moving skydives. With the advent of wind tunnels it drastically changed the sport of skydiving. However, now that they’ve been around for a while, we’ve seen an increase in freefly, 4-Way VFS and freestyle participation.
However, skydiving is still a young sport and there’s still so much left to be explored. I hope to contribute in other ways by being a USPA National Director, and as a member of the Highlight Pro Skydiving Team inspiring more women into the sport and into leadership roles. So the future of what’s next really lies in the hands of the newer skydivers getting in the sport today.
I hope their instructors take a page from my book and train them like they’ll be the next world record holders or leaders in our sport, because you just never know!