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Up Close & Personal

name: Dr. Joel Shugar

age: 65

education: Joel K. Shugar, MD, MSEE was selected by SLD Industries as one of "America's Top Ophthalmologists", specializing in LASIK Surgery, Cataract & Lens Implant Surgery and General Ophthalmology.

family & marital staus: Married, son Adam (8)

teams: Optic Nerve

slot(s): Tail

favorite competition: Most successful one: Silver medal at the USPA Nationals 2001

skydiving mentor(s): Solly Williams, Gary Smith

Dr. Joel Shugar, one of the most passionate 4-way competitors and a true supporter of the sport, died in a skydiving accident in Eloy on May 26, 2008.

It would fill books to cover his merits in his professional career as an eye surgeon and for skydiving as a sport.

He will be in our minds forever. Blue Skies - Go Compete, Herr Doktor.

In Memory of Dr. Joel Shugar - see video



Eyes on Florida in 1998 Eyes on Florida in 1998
Optic Nerve was formed by eye surgeon and passionate 4-way competitor, Dr. Joel Shugar in 1997. The team name was first Eyes on Florida when Dr. Joel and Sally Stuart hired the two world class competitors of Team FX, Joey Jones and Dawn English, as player coaches. It was the first time that the player coach concept was used in the USA, which has become very popular these days.

The National Skydiving League was only in the planning phase by then, and Eyes on Florida trained in 1997 to compete only at the USPA Nationals, as all other teams in the country. Eyes on Florida with Dr. Joel Shugar and Sally Stuart posted a 10.7 average after six rounds in Perris, and the player coach project continued.

The team name changed to Optic Nerve in 1998, which was also the birth year of the National Skydiving League and the America's Cup. Both organizations had the purpose to offer more Formations Skydiving competitions, and Dr. Joel Shugar became a strong supporter of both AmCup and NSL.

His company, the Nature Coast EyeCare Institute, sponsored two huge trophies for the America's Cup, and Optic Nerve attended two of the 4-way competitions. The line-up had changed, and Scott Keeler became Dr. Joel's partner in work and skydiving. Dr. Joel Shugar, Sally Stuart, Scott Keeler and Mario Mauro posted 9.2 and 8.7 averages at two of the 6-round AmCup events.

Optic Nerve's original lineup of 1999 - 2001 Optic Nerve's original lineup of 1999 - 2001
The Optic Nerve 3-way with Joel Shugar, Sally Stuart and Scott Keeler hired Solly Williams for the USPA Nationals 1998 and finished with a 10.9 average after ten rounds. Optic Nerve also competed at the first NSL Championship in 1998. Dr. Joel Shugar and Scott Keeler had Sally Stewart and Arturo Arroya in the 1998 line-up. Sally Stuart left the team in 1999 and prepared her next skydiving career step with the US Women's team Synchronicity.

Optic Nerve of 1999 was finally the dream team for Dr. Joel. The player coach project was back to a 2-2 situation when Solly Williams and Gary Smith agreed to join the team after moving to the USA. Gary and Solly were already competitors of the Florida Skydiving League in 1996/1997. They were team members of DeLand Equanimity, the South African national 4-way team that won the bronze medals at the World Meet in 1997.

Dr. Joel Shugar presents the Shugar Cup to NSL founder Kurt Gaebel Dr. Joel Shugar presents the Shugar Cup to NSL founder Kurt Gaebel
Optic Nerve with Dr. Joel Shugar, Scott Keeler, Solly Williams and Gary Smith, filmed by Rickster Powell, attended one AmCup meet and posted a 13.0 average.

The same line-up competed at the USPA Nationals 1999 and took the first place in USPA's Advanced Class with a 14.4 meet average. Optic Nerve could not win USPA medals by then since Solly Williams and Gary Smith were not eligible for medals at a USPA competition yet.

1999 was also the first season for "archrival" Teiwaz, with NSL founder Kurt Gaebel who became a close friend of Dr. Joel over the years. Both teams had not met earlier that year at a meet since Teiwaz began training only in the summer of 1999. However, both teams had their first of many direct competitions at the USPA Nationals in Sebastian 1999, and Optic Nerve's new line-up was far ahead of Teiwaz (144 - 126).

Optic Nerve party after the USPA Nationals 2001 Optic Nerve party after the USPA Nationals 2001
The 2000 season would become the busiest year for the same Optic Nerve line-up with Solly Williams and Gary Smith. Dr. Joel Shugar had become more involved with the National Skydiving League and helped to develop the NSL handicap system, which was applied for several years within the league system and is still the foundation for the SkyVenture Orlando Competition.

Optic Nerve 2000 took full advantage of the dramatically increased numner of 4-way competitions in the USA and attended one AmCup event (14.8), plus additional eight meets (12.8 - 14.0 - 14.2 - 13.7 - 13.3 - 14.7 - 12.4 - 13.3) of the Florida Skydiving League.

Teiwaz attended most of the FSL 2000 meets, as well, and enjoyed the friendly rivalry with Optic Nerve. Dr. Joel Shugar's team was slightly ahead of Teiwaz most of the time throughout the whole season.

Debriefing at the Nature Coast EyeCare Institute Debriefing at the Nature Coast EyeCare Institute
The final showdown at the USPA Nationals 2000 had Optic Nerve (13.8) once again six points ahead of Teiwaz (13.2) in USPA's Advanced Class competition. Optic Nerve was still not in first place. Robbie Spencer, South African Equanimity teammate of Solly Willams and Gary Smith, had put his name on top of the leaderboard (14.0) with Barry Jive's Uptown 5.

However, both teams with South African members were not eligible for USPA medals, and Teiwaz took the place on the podium in Perris. Optic Nerve was still not done competing in 2000. The same line-up competed in November at the NSL Championship in DeLand and took the third place behind PD Blue and Nemesis.

Fun with Optic Curves (Arianna de Benedetti, Eliana Rodriguez, Lise Nansen-Aune Fun with Optic Curves (Arianna de Benedetti, Eliana Rodriguez, Lise Nansen-Aune
Optic Nerve with a more flexible line-up followed up with another busy year after attending a record number of 11 competitions in 2000. Dr. Joel Shugar, Scott Keeler, Solly Williams, Gary Smith, Carlos Curti, Kyle Collins, Craig Buxton and Joey Jones posted great scores at the FSL meets (15.7 - 14.7 - 14.5 - 15.8 - 14.8 - 13.6 - 14.3) and attended the USPA Nationals and the NSL Championship in 2000, as well.

The America's Cup was integrated into the NSL structure at the end of the 2000 season when AmCup founder Alan Metni focused more on the wind tunnel business. The AmCup trophies became NSL inventory, and the NSL honored Dr. Joel's efforts for the NSL by re-naming the trophy into "NSL Shugar Cup".

With the Shugar Cup at Fantasy of Flight With the Shugar Cup at Fantasy of Flight
The Teiwaz line-up had become more flexible at the same time, and the situation had not changed. Optic Nerve still had the upper hand most of the time in 2001. The USPA Nationals 2001 also had a similar ending for Optic Nerve compared to 2000. Robbie Spencer and his South African friends in the Optic Nerve line-up were now all eligible for USPA medals.

This time, Robbie Spencer competed with Identity Crisis and "stole" the much desired USPA gold medals of the Advanced Class. Optic Nerve with Joel Shugar, Scott Keeler, Solly Williams and Doug Park ended up with USPA silver medals (155 - 148).

The last competition of the 2001 season was once again the NSL Championship 2001, the first time at Fantasy of Flight. Optic Nerve with Joel Shugar, Scott Keeler, Solly Williams and Doug Park posted a 15.6 average after ten rounds.

Optic Nerve and Teiwaz both took it much easier after these two busy years, and Dr. Joel Shugar's variations of the team name in 2002 reflected the even more flexible line-ups: Blue Eye Majik - Untrained Eye - Optic Nerve. More skydivers underwent eye surgeries with Dr. Shugar, and more celebrities appeared in the line-ups at the meets.

Optic Nerve Zone at an FSL meet Optic Nerve Zone at an FSL meet

Optic Nerve continued its challenge for the team's first FSL Championship with the first victory at one of the FSL season meets ever. After placing second at the season opener Optic Nerve has taken the lead in the FSL rankings. The Optic Nerve performance is impressive. The slow draw allowed "only" a 14.7 average at this meet. However, this draw was the second half of the whole dive pool. Optic Nerve and all other teams had completed the first half of the dive pool at the season opener in January.

The Florida Skydiving League is exhausting the dive pool over two meets to give the teams the opportunity to see all blocks and formations regularly. At the first meet, Optic Nerve scored a 15.7 average after six rounds. This means that the team averaged 15.2 after twelve rounds and completion of the whole dive pool. Only the full-time teams in the United States and not many teams in the world are scoring on a higher level.

With family at the NSL Championship banquet With family at the NSL Championship banquet
Optic Nerve is training only on weekends, and most of the time only on one day of the weekend in DeLand. Tail Dr. Joel Shugar is an eye surgeon and a strong supporter of Formation Skydiving competition with his Nature Coast EyeCare Institute. He is married to Michelle Shugar and father of infant Adam Shugar.

His tight schedule is determining the training efforts for Optic Nerve. Point Scott Keeler is working for Dr. Shugar at the Institute. Both have been competing for quite a few years, receiving coaching from Airspeed, FX and now the South African school.

At the USPA Nationals At the USPA Nationals
Solly Williams and Gary Smith lead Optic Nerve to the top of their current potential. Both are former members of the South African national 4-way team Equanimity that won the bronze medal in 4-way at the World Championship in 1997. Williams and Smith have been full-time coaches in DeLand for years. They are planning to start a new full-time team soon.

However, they will continue with Optic Nerve through the 2001 U.S. Championship anyway. The big goal for Optic Nerve is still to win the gold medal at the USPA Championship in the Advanced Class.

The team placed first at the U.S. Nationals 1999 in Sebastian but never received medals or recognition. Of course, this was not a surprise since the team knew that Williams and Smith would not be eligible for medals. However, the lack of recognition for the guest team in first place caused even more motivation to grab the gold medal some day.

Optic Nerve in action Optic Nerve in action
In 2000, it was only Smith not being eligible for medals. Williams had become a "legal resident alien" at this time. Optic Nerve competed again as a guest team in the Advanced Class at the U.S. Nationals. This time, they ended up in second place, just shortly behind "Uptown 5", another guest team with South African guest competitor Robbie Spencer, former Equanimity team member with Williams and Smith. Neither team received USPA medals. But this time, the competition between Optic Nerve and Uptown 5 found more USPA coverage in the Parachutist than the actual medal winners, Teiwaz, Nemesis and PD Gold.

This year, Smith and Williams will both be eligible for USPA medals. And Optic Nerve is still not tired of pursuing the gold medal in the Advanced Class. Meanwhile, the team has outgrown the competition in this class and is closing the distance to the full-time teams in the country. However, most likely Optic Nerve will still be seen among the other weekend teams.

Whatever the team is planning to do - the performance is impressive and will not be limited to the current team meet record of 15.2 average. The 16.0 average will be the next benchmark. NSL-TV will present Optic Nerve with their world class performance in round one of yesterday's meet later today.

With Doug Park in 2001 With Doug Park in 2001

The NSL News story on 2 October 2007 covered the AAA Class "amateur teams" competing at the USPA Nationals 2007, including Optic Nerve. The article mentioned at the end that Dr. Joel Shugar, Scott Keeler and Solly Williams were looking for a 4th member to complete the line-up at the NSL Championship 2007. Robbie Spencer had competed for Optic Nerve in Ottawa.

Team founder and sponsor Dr. Joel Shugar went through the colorful list of current and former Optic Nerve members and was able to recruit Doug Park to fill the open slot for Optic's third meet of the 2007 season. Dr. Shugar added mostly celebrities of the 4-way community to the "membership list" ever since the team was founded in 1997:

Dawn English, Joey Jones, Sally Stewart, Arturo Arroya, Solly Williams, Gary Smith, Carlos Curti, Kyle Collins, Craig Buxton, Shannon Pilcher, Toby Stafford, Doug Park, Lise Aune, Arianna de Benedetti, Eliana Rodriguez, Robbie Spencer, Bob Byrne, Marco Arrigo, Thiago Murradas.

At SkyQuest 2005 At SkyQuest 2005
The line-up for the NSL Championship 2007 was not a new one. Dr. Joel Shugar, Scott Keeler, Solly Williams and Doug Park competed for Optic Nerve at two meets in 2001. The 2001 season was the peak for the team with a lot of training and attendance at a total of nine meets.

The 15.8 average after the four rounds at the FSL 2001 April meet in Lake Wales was still the highest team average until 2007. Solly Williams and Doug Park had already formed DeLand Majik together with Gary Smith and Joey Jones when they competed for Optic Nerve at the NSL Championship 2001. DeLand Majik competed at SkyQuest 2001 as a guest team, as well, and beat Sinapsi PD, DeLand PD Blue and the Golden Knights with a 21.7 average. The Golden Knights won the NSL Shugar Cup that year.

However, the 15.7 average at the FSL Shamrock Showdown 2007 was the highest 10-round average for Optic Nerve in team history. Solly Williams, Shannon Pilcher and Ian Bobo competed with Dr. Joel Shugar in March 2007.

At the Shamrock Showdown At the Shamrock Showdown
Optic Nerve went through some serious scrambling when it came to the slots for the NSL Championship 2001. Dr. Joel owned and still owns his Tail slot, while Scott Keeler is the Point. Doug Park had the Center Inside position, and Solly Williams was the Tail for DeLand Majik. Optic Nerve had Solly Williams move to the Center Inside position and Doug Park taking the Center Outside slot. The team's continuity plan also required memory and slot switchers only for the center positions, as the video of Round 1 at the NSL Championship 2001 shows.

The Optic Nerve 2001 reunion at the NSL Championship 2007 did not have the same problem with the slots. Doug has been the Center Outside for Team Fastrax for a while, and Solly is used to be Center Inside for Optic's rear piece. Both former 4-way world champions also compete only with one team this time.

At the FSL 2008 April Meet At the FSL 2008 April Meet

The Optic Nerve lineup in DeLand on 19 April 2008 was identical with the original lineup of 1999, 2000 and 2001: Dr. Joel Shugar (Tail), Scott Keeler (Point), Solly Williams (Center Inside), Gary Smith (Center Outside), Rickster Powell (Camera). It was almost exactly seven years ago that the original lineup competed together the last time, and the original lineup completed a 10-year circle in April 2008: 1999 - 2008.

Dr. Joel Shugar, Scott Keeler, Solly Williams, Gary Smith and Rickster Powell had started in 1999, continued in 2000 and competed with the original lineup last time at the FSL February meet of 2001. From then on, Optic Nerve began to show up at the meets randomly and with different lineups - until the complete reunion on 19 April 2008.

In Memory of Dr. Joel Shugar - see video