Todd Love is a USMC veteran who lost both of his legs and his left hand to an IED in Afghanistan, who’s determined to not let that get in the way of ANYTHING (Watch Todd’s story: http://vimeo.com/23424390). He has been surfing, skiing, scuba diving, wrestling alligators, and now learning to skydive. After completing his first tandem skydive with Mike Elliott into the start of the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship in Hawaii he was hooked! And since “impossible” and “can’t” are not part of Todd’s vocabulary, his teammates at Operation Enduring Warrior turned to AXIS Flight School to make his dream of solo skydiving come true.
Todd’s Tunnel Training just two months earlier.
Here are some of my selects from Todd’s AFF progression:
Here are some additional photos courtesy of Mike McGowan:
“Todd Love – you might not know the name…yet, but you’ve probably seen some pictures or videos of him. You’d remember because those were the images that immediately made you stop whining about how hard your day was and how you just couldn’t do something because it was too difficult. He often has that effect on people – a USMC veteran who lost both of his legs and his left hand to an IED in Afghanistan, who’s determined to not let that get in the way of ANYTHING. He’s been surfing, skiing, scuba diving, wrestling alligators, and now learning to skydive. The other day I asked him to tell me why he wants to skydive and about his journey so far, and this is what Todd wrote:
“Well I did some jumping (static line) in the Marine Corps and I did a few training jumps in Afghanistan too. After I was hurt I of course didn’t know anything about what I would be able to do or how my life would turn out. I remember watching one of Jeb Corliss’s videos and I thought how awesome and was inspired. Then a few months later I met these guys who called themselves Team XTREME. They would tandem Skydive wounded service members into events and they took me to Hawaii and not only put me on a surf board for the first time, they took me scuba diving for the first time, and right their where they filmed part of Jurassic Park I experienced my first free fall. It was beautiful. It was at The XTERRA World Championship and I waited as the guys ran the whole thing as a Team with Gas Mask. I knew I belonged with a group like this and wanted to be a part of it. They gave me the privilege of being on board and I’m not sure how it all happened but we started doing Spartan Races and Xterra events but they would carry me through the race on their backs. Sometimes they would let me tackle some obstacles by myself but hey were always their when I needed them.”
I actually first learned of Team X-T.R.E.M.E. at one of those races – the Bataan Memorial Death March – last spring. It’s a 26.2 mile ruck trough the New Mexico desert, that the team, which included a double amputee, Noah Galloway, completed while wearing gas masks. I had no idea what that was all about, so I asked them afterwards. What I learned was that this is an organization focused on raising awareness and honoring wounded veterans. The name actually stands for “train, rehabilitate, empower, motivate, endure,” and the organization has now evolved into Operation Enduring Warrior. So of course the next logical step was to see how I could help them implement the best therapy tool I know – skydiving. Its something the team has already been using with the help of Mike Elliott and the All Veterans Parachute Team performing tandems, but we were now going to take it a step further.
“Then they started operation X wing and I was introduced to a wind tunnel for the first time at the Paraclete. Pun was my first instructor. It took me awhile at first to get stable enough to where I wasn’t spinning out of control in the tunnel. It was frustrating. I knew if I had more time I could get better though and after watching all the regulars showing all their tricks I wanted to be able to do it too. Then JOIN Skydive Apparel jumped on board and they sent a pretty girl to take some measurements for a custom suit just for me. A few weeks later they showed up and I was starting to look like a pro with some fancy gear. Then UPT joined in too and built me a rig that I could wear. It all just started falling together. I guess that’s what they skydive community does haha.”
Todd’s got that right for sure – this is how our community does it! UPT, PD, Paraclete XP, JOIN, Axis Flight School, Skyventure Arizona, Green Light, Skydive Arizona, as well as all the instructors and staff offered their help without hesitation and we are extremely grateful to them.
“Then I was told Skyventure Arizona donated a lot of time for me and that Axis Flight School was going to coach me. I flew out and I met Nik and Brianne from Axis and they were super fun to work with. I flew with my rig for the first time and by the end of the week I had made tons of improvement. Nik introduced me to the story of Alistair Hodgson who is a skydiver who is a double amputee above the knee. I knew I could fly but I wasn’t confident how I would land but Al reassured me that I would be good. I would be landing the same way he does. I knew if he could do it then I could do it too. The guys from Axis then edited a video from my time in the tunnel, then next thing you know Jeb Corliss was sharing my video on his page. Soon I will be doing my AFF and I’ve never been more excited in my whole life.”
“If you’re like me, you love skydiving because it makes you feel alive. If you’re like Todd Love, everything you do is to celebrate the fact that you’re still alive and you live your life to the fullest. 25 October 2010 is what Todd calls his “Alive Day.”
This is the day he survived stepping on an IED in Afghanistan, which cost him both of his legs and his left arm below the elbow. This is a story best told in his own words, so please watch:
During his recover at Walter Reed Army Medical Center Todd joined Team X-T.R.E.M.E. (now known as Operation Enduring Warrior), which is an organization dedicated to the empowerment, rehabilitation, and motivation of wounded service members. Todd has been able to inspire thousands through his participation in events like the Spartan Race as part of the Operation Enduring Warrior team.
Todd has been determined to not let his injuries get in the way of any of his dreams, which includes skydiving. After completing his first tandem skydive with Mike Elliott into the start of the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship in Hawaii he was hooked! And since “impossible” and “can’t” are not part of Todd’s vocabulary, his teammates at Operation Enduring Warrior have been determined to find a way to make his dream of solo skydiving come true.
First step, was enlisting the help of the experts. Mike Elliott and the All Veterans Parachute Team are the team’s go to tandem experts and demonstration team. Mike has now performed a total of 4 tandem jumps with Todd. Due to the extent of Todd’s amputations, Mike had to manufacture a custom tandem harness in order to make the tandem jump possible. For a solo jump, Todd would need a completely custom system. The team turned to AXIS Flight School for consultation, and without hesitation Brianne’s answer to who can make this equipment was: “You want UPT and PD.” Not only was she confident that she was directing us to industry’s best manufacturers, but Brianne knew that the people behind the United Parachute Technologies (UPT) and Performance Designs (PD) brands would support this veteran’s quest. Brianne was right! UPT has put in countless hours of research, development, and manufacturing to provide Todd Love with a unique rig that is specifically designed to enable him to skydive solo. PD came through by providing the main and reserve canopies for this rig. Soon, two more sponsors joined the team: JOIN Skydiving Apparel and Green Light, both of which are passionate about the cause of helping wounded warriors realize their skydiving dreams. JOIN is a veteran-owned company that stepped right up to the task of creating a custom jumpsuit for Todd and the other students. Green Light has been team’s go to for all skydiving instrumentation and accessories.
Before Todd could enter AFF, he would need to demonstrate the ability to control his body and control a canopy. The canopy control was demonstrated on another tandem jump performed by Mike Elliott, where Todd was able to turn and flare the canopy.
For body flight, the team again turned to the experts: James “Pun” Flaherty at Paraclete XP and AXIS Flight School at Skyventure Arizona. Can you ask for better?! Paraclete donated approximately 30 minutes to Todd’s training and Skyventure Arizona donated 2 hours. Pun, Nik, and Brianne donated their instructor time in and out of the tunnel.
I recently sat down with Nik and Brianne to discuss Todd’s training. My first question was: What was your biggest concern before you began training Todd?
“We needed to make sure that Todd would be able to fly with other people so his fall rate and stability were our biggest concerns. One of the first questions that had to be answered is where is his center of gravity located and how that would affect his flying surfaces. We even entertained the ideas of additional equipment like a drogue or a “bird tail” of sorts to compensate for the reduced surface area when Todd is on his belly. As instructors, the biggest challenge was trying to put ourselves in his shoes and trying to imagine what it would be like to try to fly without legs.”
However, there was one thing the Axis coaches were not concerned about – his gear: “We have full faith in UPT, and so we knew that gear would not be an issue, because as far as they [UPT] are concerned – where there’s a will, there’s a way!” There has definitely been a lot of “will” in this case, primarily on the part of Todd Love. Everybody that has worked with Todd has been extremely impressed by his attitude: “Todd and his brother Brandon (who traveled with him to AZ for training) were truly inspirational.”
I also asked Nik and Brianne to describe the challenges they faced during Todd’s training at Skyventure Arizona?
“Well, first of all, Pun did a grat job of setting the foundation of Todd’s training during their time at Paraclete XP! We got Todd right at the beginning of the steep part of his learning curve. Our goal during this training was to fully prepare him for AFF. We approached it by putting ourselves in the shoes of his AFF instructors and asking what would be our biggest fear? Student going unstable and out of control to the point where the AFF instructors are not able to get to him is of coarse the biggest fear. This is why we focused on making sure that Todd would be able to recover from any instability and any body position. In addition to barrel rolls and front flips, we incorporated back and head up flying into his training. This way he would be comfortable with different sight pictures and confident he can recover back to belly unassisted. Surprisingly, the loss of his left hand presented a bigger issue than the loss of his legs due to lack of feedback on one of his major control surfaces. Also, one of the early problems Todd had to solve was unassisted entry and exit from the tunnel. He came up with a technique of backing into and out of the tunnel that seems to work great for him.
Todd’s injuries and his unique flight characteristics also lent themselves to unexpected discoveries during training. Todd used a full-face helmet during his tunnel training at Skyventure Arizona and learned that he was able to use it as a significant flight surface as well. After some experimentation, Nik and Brianne determined that for Todd the best method for pulling his main would be to adapt a wingsuit-like style of reaching back with both arms. Todd also pleasantly surprised his coaches with how well he was able to track and the unique techniques that were discovered specifically due to his body shape.
In part due to the fact that Pun, Nik, and Brianne are certifiable wizards and in part because Todd is one of the most coordinated and driven people I know, after a couple hours in the tunnel Todd was not only able to fly stable and practice reaching for handles, but was doing barrel rolls, front flips, and verticals!
You can follow Todd’s progress at facebook.com/OperationXWing“
I would like to thank USPA‘s Parachutist for utilizing one of my USPA Nationals photographs for the January 2013 cover spot. The photo depicts the U.S. Army Golden Knights 4-way formation skydiving team’s videographer, Scott Janise, filming Laura Dickmeyer, Angela Nichols, Jen Schaben and Dannielle Woosley as they exit a Twin Otter on their way to become the first all-female team to medal in the open class at the USPA National Skydiving Championships.
“Arizona Arsenal has been a competitive 4-way Verical Formation Skydiving Team since the first test USPA Nationals in 2006 when we won the gold medal by 1 point! At this time VFS was called VRW, Vertical Relative Work. Since then Arsenal has maintained its status as a top tier medalling competitor winning gold and silver medals each year at both the National and World levels.”
“Not only does our team compete in one of the most challenging freefall disciplines out there, but we also train individuals, military groups, and work on special tv and commerical stunt projects.” – Arizona Arsenal
- 2011 USPA Nationals – Silver – 4 Way VFS
- 2010 USPA Nationals – Silver– 4 Way VFS
- 2010 FAI World Championships Russia – Silver – 4 Way VFS
- 2009 FAI World Cup Czech Republic – Gold – 4 Way VFS
- 2009 USPA Nationals – Gold – 4 Way VFS
- 2008 FAI World Cup VFS – Gold – 4 Way VFS
- 2008 US Nationals – Gold – 4 Way VFS
- 2007 US Nationals – Silver – 4 Way VFS
- 2007 National record longest sequence in VFS
- 2006 US Nationals – Gold – 4 Way VRW