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One of the topics was related to my favorite one and I have had a few thoughts about it in my mind for many years.
How is your discipline (fairly or unfairly) stereotyped?
Well, my discipline is obviously 4-way Formation Skydiving competition, even though I actually like 8-way just as much. I prefer 4-way actually only for a reason that is more a logistical one; there are not enough 8-way teams around to get good competition on a regular basis. Did I tell you that I really like competition in sports...?
It is difficult enough to put together a 4-way team that does a little more than meeting for two days this year at the national championships, a so-called pickup team. Now imagine the management of an 8-way team.
I have so much respect for people who do that, and do it successfully. Which means making more than three jumps together per year with the same lineup, and that in an 8-way team...
I have been thinking more and more over the years that "my discipline" has been stereotyped in a way that does not make 4-way competition very appealing, even though I cannot imagine any sport that can give me more fun and more physically and mentally athletic challenges than exactly that: a 4-way team.
It is not the first part of the word that does the damage. I believe it is the "team" word that causes skydivers to shudder and take a step backward when they hear it.
The word "team," especially when it is connected to 4-way or 8-way, means for most skydivers a serious commitment that costs a lot of money and takes a lot of time.
OK, that's true if you want to become a national champion, or even a world champion. It is even expensive if you just plan to become a good skydiver, as this is what 4-way training is doing to you. It teaches you a lot of things that may you have never heard about before you committed to a 4-way team.
I have to admit that things were different many years ago. 4-way teams had the flair of something special, and we surely enjoyed that. It was kind of an elite group in the skydiving community.
It wasn't necessarily in a negative or arrogant way that 4-way teams presented themselves, but it was still something in that direction.
It was even more so with an 8-way team, and the same counts here: It was not meant to be a negative separation from the rest.
It was just so special to be on a team, and an 8-way team was simply impressive to watch with their way how to conduct their team business. It was adorable, while you asked yourself if you can ever do the same thing.
There are teams for a day, for a weekend, for a month, for one special event and for a whole season. While there are the teams and competitors who want to become world champions...
It has all become one big team family. The top teams and competitors are more than ever motivated to connect with the whole skydiving community, as they have become more professional.
They have sponsors and a following who deserve to feel welcomed and be served well. The doors to the team rooms and work areas of the top teams and competitors are wide open.
They don't only connect with their likes any longer - they are running all kinds of events, they are coaching teams on all performance and experience level, and they are also happy to give free advice whenever there is time.
Everybody is welcome to the 4-way family, as there is a home now for everybody. The National Skydiving League introduced the categories for the beginners (A - Rookie) that have made the entry into 4-way training and competition much easier for everybody, and the wind tunnels are helping tremendously to teach and learn the required skills.
The atmosphere within the teams has become very different, as a team is not only out to be special and better than everybody else, especially the "recreational skydivers." No, teams are out to have fun, first of all and more than anything else.
There is still the old and completely false terminology of "fun jumpers" versus "team jumpers". Team jumpers know that they have the time of their lives being in a team and enjoying the progression and dynamics of jumping together on a regular basis.
I consider myself a fun jumper, and I do nothing else but 4-way and sometimes a larger formation - which is 8-way...
Again I admit that I wanted to be seen and called a 4-way team jumper in the old days, and I still am. But the word "team" has a completely different meaning by now, and I love the way the 4-way community is presenting itself these days.
Come on in, all you "recreational skydivers" and give it a try. You don't have to become a world champion or go through any other pain. Just share the fun with us - it is unlimited...