Down for 50

Annette O’Neil and Joel Strickland made their skydive jump over Arizona, performing an incredible air dance before pulling their chutes. They also completed jumps in New Mexico, are currently headed to Nevada, and eventually, they plan on making skydives in all 50 states (even Alaska and Hawaii) over the next six months, making it the first time the challenge has been completed in one fell swoop.

But they’re not just making these jumps to set a record, they’re also raising money for Operation Enduring Warrior (OEW). The organization’s goal is to honor, empower, and motivate wounded vets. To tell us more, Annette and Joel joined our RTM hosts in the studio, along with Brianne Thompson from Axis Flight School, who partners with OEW to teach veterans to skydive.

If you’d like to know more or donate, please head over to DownFor50.org

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The Power of Mentorship—Operation Enduring Warrior Skydive Continues Its Mission

Posted on 03. May, 2016 by Parachutist online. Words by MURV, Photos by NiklasDaniel.com.

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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.

toddThere’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 skydive@enduringwarrior.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.

Todd Love featured on German Television Pro 7 Galileo

It has been over a year now since AXIS Flight School got to meet and jump with Todd Love (USMC veteran who lost both of his legs and his left hand to an IED in Afghanistan).  On Saturday 28th February 2015, at 08:15, ProSieben (a German television channel) featured some of Todd’s video footage flying over Skydive Arizona on the show “Galileo Big Picture”.

Unfortunately the segment can not be viewed in the US due to country code laws, but here is a screen grab of Todd rocking out in the head up flying orientation over Eloy.

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Todd on Pro7

OEW Canopy Choice

 Originally posted on the Performance Designs Blog.

Joe Grabianowski in Freefall

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.

Spread in Parachutist

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 Love on Spectre 170

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.”

Contact:

Brianne Thompson
AXIS Flight School
4900 N. Taylor St.
Eloy, AZ 85131 USA
520-466-4200
Info@AXISFlightSchool.com
AXISFlightSchool.com

Photos by Mike McGowan

Operation Enduring Warrior on FOX News

‘What else is possible?’ Wounded warriors take up skydiving

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To view video, click here.

Although an IED attack and severe infection left Army vet Joe Grabianowski in a wheelchair, he never gave up on skydiving.

“I’ve wanted to do it for a long time now. Well before even I was wounded. I’ve had dreams of it, thoughts of it,”Grabianowski told Fox News.”It would be such a goal. If you just achieve it, you’d feel so great about it.”

Grabianowski’s motivation was Todd Love, a Marine Corps vet who lost both legs at the hip, along with his left hand to the mid-forearm.

“Being able to be an inspiration to others, it’s a privilege,”Love said. “It makes it all that much more exciting. You know, cause, if I can simply go out and do what I like to do and inspire others to do what they want me to do, then that – it makes me happy.”

Operation Enduring Warrior is a volunteer group, set up a year ago this month, that introduces high level amputees – who can’t be fitted with prosthetic limbs – to extreme sports, including skydiving.

“We really wanted to help wounded warriors and we took a multifaceted approach to it, so we do things like obstacle course racing, such as tough mudder, spartan races,” said Scott Blough, a member of the all-volunteer team who is still on active duty with the Army .”Just anything to get wounded warriors out and get them active again and show them they can accomplish all of those things that they did before, and more than they did before they were wounded.”

While there are no hard statistics on the number of severely wounded vets skydiving, it appears to be on the rise. “I think a lot of the disabled community,especially injured veterans, are drawn to skydiving because it’s starting to grow,”Love said. “Veterans are perfect for skydiving because it’s a sport you have to plan and military guys — they know how to plan properly – and in skydiving if you can do that, you can eliminate a lot of the risk.”

Grabianowski trained at a wind tunnel in Arizona, learning to balance despite missing both legs. Then he moved on to tandem jumping, before going solo.

“For me it felt exhilarating,”Grabianowski said. Like anyone else, he was a little apprehensive when it came time to go out of the airplane door — but it was worth it. While he can’t walk, during free fall, he said, he felt liberated from his injuries.

“Just that freedom of movement out there,” he said. “You’re free falling but in a way, you can move your body in certain ways to actually make it feel like you’re flying.”

Love said the experience was mentally healing. “You know, it’s silly that I put a limit on myself and thought that I couldn’t do it or believed that I couldn’t. And then to look back, I was like wow, I totally, like, put a barrier that I couldn’t cross and then I ended up crossing it and I think, what else in my life am I doing that with?”

“Last October I got to jump with Todd,” Blough said. “And I’ve pushed Todd in wheelchairs, I’ve carried Todd in races in a backpack”

But skydiving, he said, was a surprising equalizer. “You put him in the air with me and we go flying together and jump together and he can move as well as, or actually can jump better, than I can.”

Drop zones and wind tunnels in Arizona, Texas and North Carolina are donating training and jump time. It’s about paying it forward, how one vet can inspire another.

“Joe saw Todd skydive and realized, hey I can go do that,” Blough said. “And now there will be somebody who sees Joe skydive in these videos or sees Joe here on Fox News and it will absolutely transition them into thinking: I can do that.”

Grabianowski is out of Walter Reed, and looking for work helping other vets in the DC area. He recently turned down a custom home to accommodate his disabilities because he wanted to earn it on his own.

Both he and Love said skydiving is a confidence builder.

“It makes me wonder what else, what else is possible?” Love said.

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Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.