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Did You Know...

... that some competitors are still living the dream?

Blue Skies Mag: TURNING POINTS in March
posted Mar 20th, 2017 - It was a long time ago, I thought, that skydiving competitors lived the dream in more primitive ways than they do now. I was wrong.

I grew up as a skydiving competitor (OK, 4-way and 8-way freak) when times were different. The rules were still the dinosaur ones - with only random formation in one jump and set sequences of certain block flying maneuvers in the next one - when I attended my first meets and championships. Then some genius turned the FAI/IPC rules into what we have now, and the "modern era of Formation Skydiving Competition" began, as I have called it for a while. Thank you again for the revolutionary change in 1985.

Not only were the rules different before 1985, the logistics of training and competition were different too. It was normal to live in tents, cars, vans - whatever would save money and fit into the adventurous environment. There were exceptions though, when some outsiders had an RV or even stayed in a hotel or bed-and-breakfast place.

Packing in Sebastian: Andrew Happick and Doug Barron

TURNING POINTS: Living the Dream

Those kinds of logistics in this environment were even normal up to the level of national championships. It was exciting when you went to a world cup or world championship and the host accommodated the teams in hotels.

There was little sponsorship by drop zones, skydiving industry or the business world. Money for training and competition came out of your own pocket and there was only financial support by the federations for the trips of the national teams to world meets. It was logically no surprise that tenting and camping to save money was a big part of training and competition.

Of course I know there are still a lot of skydivers these days who set up their tents and little campers when they visit events. However, the level of sophistication and "luxury" in the sport has changed a lot, and I don't see a lot of eager formation skydiving competitors who are camping or improvising in similar ways to save a few bucks here and there, at least not on the higher performance level.

Then I visited Skydive Sebastian recently for a little Sun Path Products NSL News piece on SDC Rhythm XP's winter training in sunny Florida. The new lineup, which started training and competing at the beginning of the 2016 season, is a very interesting combination of two couples.

MIT and Virginia Tech graduates: SDC Rhythm XP
JaNette and Steve Lefkowitz are a married couple of MIT graduates who left the academic career world for a while to pursue the dream of becoming 4-way world champions. They teamed up with several other top U.S. competitors that they usually had to sacrifice to Arizona Airspeed's hungry world champion factory. Then they met the other couple (no misunderstanding here, please).

Doug Barron and Andrew Happick are a couple of best friends who also went through college together. They graduated from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) after launching their skydiving careers at the school's skydiving club. Both academic 2-ways went their own ways until they joined forces last year to pursue their common goal together.

Doug and Andrew's personal resources are probably more limited compared to other top competitors, as I watched them do something that I had not seen in a while during my own pursuit of learning the secrets of the best formation skydiving competitors in the world. They packed their own parachutes.

On the road to becoming world champions: Shannon Pilcher and Ian Bobo with Georgia Tech team Genesis
This made me even more curious, and I found out later that they are also camping together to save some more money. SDC Rhythm XP has two trips to Europe on the travel agenda (World Challenge - FAI World Cup), which have to be financed somehow.

Anyhow, I was impressed, and it brought back memories of a time long ago. Now I can't wait to see how the academic Rhythm road compares to the professional Airspeed business, which are both heading the same direction: Gold medals at the next World Championship of Formation Skydiving in Australia 2018.

There has been a successful example before. Four Georgia Tech students (Shannon Pilcher, Ian Bobo, Kyle Collins and David van Greuningen) traveled on the same road over a decade ago. Two of them (Shannon Pilcher and Ian Bobo) eventually teamed up with Gary Smith and Natasha Montgomery and won their world meet gold medals with DeLand Fire in 2006. One of them (Shannon Pilcher) has been coaching SDC Rhythm XP on the same road. They never lived in tents though...

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