Posted on 03. May, 2016 by Parachutist online. Words by MURV, Photos by NiklasDaniel.com.
The Operation Enduring Warrior Skydive program began in 2013 (it was then called Operation X-Wing) to facilitate initial skydiving training for combat-wounded veterans. Since then, nine students have earned their A licenses through the program. But just like other recently A-licensed skydivers, many OEW jumpers came off the high of reaching this milestone and found themselves asking, “What’s next?” The world of skydiving is so full of possibilities for new jumpers that deciding what path to take can be overwhelming.
To figure out how to best encourage graduates to continue to learn, have fun and make wise decisions, OEW asked its alumni what kept them interested in the sport and coming back to their drop zones on weekends. From these interviews, OEW organizers learned that the new jumpers needed to feel comfortable in their home drop zones’ environments and that relationships with local jumpers played a big role in whether an adaptive skydiver chose to call a particular DZ home. So OEW decided to start a mentorship program to help graduates maintain currency and proficiency while beginning to explore different disciplines in the sport.
There’s No Place Like Home
OEW-program hosts Lone Star Parachute Center in Luling, Texas; Skydive Arizona in Eloy; Skydive Paraclete XP in Raeford, North Carolina; and Skydive Suffolk in Virginia are very supportive of the program and its adaptive athletes. However, after initial training, graduates often find themselves without a familiar drop zone close to home. Todd Love, a triple amputee who began skydiving in 2013 and is OEW’s first graduate, said, “I look for how accessible [a drop zone] is. If it’s not, then the only way I’m going is if I have a good friend who can help me out with all the logistics of skydiving as an adaptive athlete. It can be a bummer going to a drop zone that doesn’t have a bathroom I can use.”
Love also shared his thoughts on selecting people to jump with: “I always try to choose other skydivers who can have a positive ability on my own skydiving capabilities. I look for people who are professional not just in skydiving but … about everything they do. It sounds silly, but watching how people drive their cars, how they eat, how they speak or how they listen are all very revealing of their states of mind. There may be hints in their habits on the ground that may foreshadow their behavior in the air.” Love emphasized the need to find good communicators to jump with and added, “If there is a lack of communication, then step up and be the voice that can bring clarity to the plan of the skydive.”
Finding a Mentor
Along with the feedback OEW received from interviewing its graduates, it also had a chance to witness the positive effect of mentorship first-hand. When Tyler Anderson, a 2015 graduate of the OEW program at Paraclete XP, attended a B-license canopy course through AXIS Flight School at Skydive Arizona, he brought along his mentor, Justin Avila. (Recognizing that canopy control goes hand in hand with avoiding injury and staying in the sport, OEW recently began offering B-license canopy training for its graduates.) Anderson met Avila—a fellow wounded veteran with more than 500 jumps and a Coach rating—through school outside of the OEW program. At the canopy course, the OEW staff recognized that Avila’s support and guidance was a big part of Anderson’s success at progressing in the sport after earning his A license.
Additionally, Love attended some of Anderson’s canopy classes, providing additional support. Love’s guidance was also useful to new OEW student Donna Bachler. Though at different stages in their skydiving progressions, both Anderson and Bachler commented on the value of having another OEW Skydive graduate and adaptive athlete available to them as a resource.
A single mentor can provide an invaluable support system, as well as guidance and motivation, to a beginning skydiver. For OEW graduates, the most effective formula for achieving skydiving progression and success involved mentorship by fellow veterans. OEW graduates and current students call drop zones all over the United States home. If you’re a military veteran skydiver and would like to be involved with OEW, email firstname.lastname@example.org or search for “Operation Enduring Warrior” on Facebook.
About the Author
Iveta “Murv” Muravyeva, D-33208, is a pilot and a skydiver with more than 14 years of experience in both fields. She joined Operation Enduring Warrior in 2012 as Operation X-Wing’s program director with the goal of connecting wounded veterans to the skydiving community. She’s worked closely with AXIS Flight School at Skydive Arizona, as well as the staff of Skydive Suffolk, to develop the program.
I would like to thank Dave at Skydive Radio for having AXIS Flight School on his show to discuss the Operation Enduring Warrior Project! Skydive Radio is the world’s leading internet radio show dedicated to the sport of skydiving. Weekly episodes include commentary, feature interviews with industry insiders, listener-contributed photos, and e-mails from an audience that spans the globe.
Click here, and fast forward to 51:00 Minutes.
Originally posted on the Performance Designs Blog.
Operation Enduring Warrior – Skydive is a non-profit organization that works to empower wounded veterans by helping them to achieve Extreme Goals. Operation Enduring Warrior has seen a number of inspiring veterans welcomed into our sport and skydiving family. Most of us have seen the inspiring images of Todd Love and other wounded warriors that have gone through AFF training and continued to become licensed skydivers. Axis Flight School has been a big part of this training, and has helped these wounded warriors to fulfill their personal goals of becoming licensed skydivers. We sat down with lead FS coach for Axis, Brianne Thompson, to better understand the challenge of choosing the appropriate canopy for these new skydivers.
“As with all things, there is a learning process. We take our best educated guess, try it, then assess the next best course of action. In some cases, you wing it. In the case of the Spectre 170, when it was first sent to us for Todd Love, I was a little bit concerned that it would be too small. I was expecting a Navigator 200. I tend to be on the conservative side of things, and putting a student, regardless of their size or body shape, on something below a 200 seemed a bit out there. Granted, it was a complete emotional response; I had no scientific evidence of that being bad, just that “we’d never done that before”. Dangerous words, to be sure. So, when the Spectre 170 came I was a bit skeptical, but Nik felt confident that it would be awesome. He did a test jump and we agreed that shorter brake line length would be critical in order to preserve the arms and hands of Todd. We needed the canopy to flare at or above his belly button, rather than past his hips. Once the brake lines were shortened, we were ready to go. Todd did his first couple landings with the confidence of someone who had done that before, and as someone constantly trying to learn their canopy. It was actually pretty exciting to watch.
The landings were soft and forgiving, but the power of the Spectre had yet to reveal itself. After several jumps, Nik figured it would be time to follow Todd under canopy in order to get some pics. Nik jumped the Pulse 190, thinking that that had more glide and size than the Storm and he would be all set. What was amazing was that because of Todd’s lack of legs, it affected how he hung in the harness and it directly affected the glide of the canopy.
Todd sat in the harness much like a paraglider pilot: he reclined in the harness. With the combination of the recline, and the lack of drag on his legs, the Spectre had more glide than the Pulse! A surprising amount more.
The Spectre’s powerful, yet forgivable flare was the other big keeper. The Spectre allowed the students to correct mid-flare, rather than having to commit to the process and hope for the best. We all want soft landings for our students, but we must confess, it seemed even more critical for these students because Todd and Joe had no landing gear. Their landing gear is their seat/tailbone and spine. The Spectre offers a flare that allows the student to adjust and correct, mid-flare, with good response from the canopy, yet without an adverse affect. As the students grow and evolve, it will be important for them to try other canopies. Their canopy skills will evolve just like their freefall skills, and it will be important for us to foster those changes. But, during the learning process, the Spectre seems to be the most forgiving canopy for the wing loading and body style that these students have.”
AXIS Flight School
4900 N. Taylor St.
Eloy, AZ 85131 USA
Photos by Mike McGowan
Article published in July 2014 issue of USPA Parachutist.