The article was published on Sunday, March 19, the second day of the 10-round competition in DeLand. This article went deeper into the environment of teams and competitors during a competition. News-Journal reporter Christine Girardin chose Fastrax as the featured team and received a lot of information while the team went through the first seven rounds of the meet.
The NSL News is working on the first video files of the competition, which will be uploaded and become available for NSL-TV very soon. Pictures and meet stories will follow, too.
Falling with flair - Precision formations in the sky help teams in competition
By CHRISTINE GIRARDIN, Staff Writer
DELAND -- When the thrill of jumping out of an airplane at 13,000 feet begins to wane, some sky divers find that competition is the best way to re-ignite their adrenaline fix. For four-man competition groups like Team Fastrax, the focus of sky diving becomes the chance to put their precision formation skills to the test time and again.
"I felt very calm and collected, and at the same time aggressive," Niklas Hemlin, 28, said after finishing the team's third jump Saturday at the annual Shamrock Showdown competition in DeLand. After two years of solo sky diving, Hemlin said the excitement was wearing off, so he turned to competition sky-diving. Competition team sky divers connect hand-to-arm and hand-to-leg in specified formations to earn as many points as possible in the first 35 seconds after jumping out of an airplane.
Team Fastrax scored 16 points for 16 completed formations on its second jump of the day, but by noon rumors were swirling that one team may have broken a competition record by scoring more than 40 points on a jump. Hemlin and his teammates, Mark Kirkby, 37, Doug Park, 40, John Hart, 44, and videographer Steve Redinbo, 29, gathered to compete against seven other teams in their class, some with sky divers from as far away as Italy. The Fastrax team is based in Ohio, but it has some local flavor. Park owns Skysystems USA, a DeLand company that makes competition sky-diving helmets.
It's a sport they take seriously -- Team Fastrax spends up to eight days a month doing practice jumps during a season that can stretch from December to October, Kirkby said. That practice also continues on the ground between competition jumps. Saturday, the team prepared for the formations required on their fourth jump by going through the motions on wheeled carts similar to what mechanics use to ease their way underneath a car. They also used a mockup of an open airplane door to practice leaping into the air, and walked through the moves.
Fastrax team member John Hart comes in for a landing Saturday during the Shamrock Showdown image by: Chad Pilster
For Kirkby, that practice pays off with a good team jump, one that passes smoothly and feels as if it's lasting minutes instead of seconds. "Busy means you're not doing so well," said Kirkby, who lives in Arizona and makes his living as a professional sky diving coach. Sky divers like those on Team Fastrax, some with more than 20,000 jumps in their careers, don't worry about the "what ifs" in mid-air. Their job is to focus solely on the competition at hand.
"Performance anxiety and stuff like that," is the only thing on Park's mind when he's on his way up in the airplane, he said. They also aren't daunted by the sport's infrequent accidents, like the mid-air collision between skydiver Gus Wing, 50, and an airplane over Skydive DeLand last spring. Wing's long-time friend Bill Buchmann was flying the plane. Wing's legs were severed in the April 23 accident and his injuries proved fatal.
The Federal Aviation Administration said Buchmann was responsible for the accident and later suspended his pilot's license for 270 days. Locally, prosecutors won't decide whether to pursue criminal charges against Buchmann until the National Transportation Safety Board finishes its crash investigation. Kirkby said he knew Wing, but the man's death didn't give him a moment's concern about the overall safety of sky diving. "It isn't necessarily that it won't happen to me," Kirkby said. "It's that we all accept the risks and we do our best."
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