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Up Close & Personal

name: Eliana Rodriguez

email: Elianaskychic@yahoo.com

age: 49

• 2 year Degree in Geneal Studies
• Working towards Bachelor's

family & marital staus: Single

number of jumps: 900

years in Sport: 28

teams: Illusions from 1998 to 1999; Rage in 2000; Synchronicity from 2000 to 2001

slot(s): Outside center for Illusions; tail for Rage and Synchronicity

favorite competition: World Championship 2001 in Spain

skydiving mentor(s): There’s no one specific that stands out; I admire those people that are always trying to make the sport better, more challenging, and more fun. But no one specific.

hobbies: No time for hobbies.

favorite music: I like a big variety of music. I work-out to techno. If I’m home cleaning it’s salsa and merengue. It depends what mood I’m in.

favorite movie(s): I really like action adventure movies.

favorite place: On break-off after a really good skydive in competition.

Where will you be ten years from now? Still skydiving and competing, I hope. Hopefully I’ll have my pilot’s license by then. I love to travel and see different places.

Eliana Rodriguez can brighten a room with just a smile. Young, intelligent and athletic, Rodriguez has become a shooting star in the world of skydiving competition since her first meet only three years ago.

Rodriguez is a member of Synchronicity, the U.S. Women’s 4-way team that took the gold medal at the World Championship of Formation Skydiving in Spain this year. Now Rodriguez is hungry for more.

NSL PR Director, Linda Florea, had the pleasure to spend time with Rodriguez in the NSL office. This profile offers an exciting career story that still seems to be only the beginning of a skydiving fairy tale.

When NSL President Gaebel met Rodriguez for the first time, she was a loving daughter taking care of her troubled family.

After her mother passed away and her father overcame a serious illness shortly afterwards, her life has now taken a new direction.

Without the responsibilities of the past and a balanced family life, she now feels ready to enjoy life in a different way and explore the whole range of skydiving competition. Here is her story.

The Start
Rodriguez was born 26 years ago to Columbian parents in Passaic, NJ. Moving around with her family, she spent her childhood in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Florida.

When Rodriguez joined the Army at 17, she knew she wanted to skydive and told the recruiters she wanted to be airborne.

It was not until her third year, when she was stationed at Ft. Bragg, that the army wanted to send her to airborne school. Since Rodriguez had less than one year left in the military and would not be able to finish the school, she declined.

Still in Ft. Bragg, she kept trying to plan a trip to a drop zone to make her first jump with some of her friends.

However, it never seemed to work out. Finally, on Oct. 1, 1995 she went by herself and did her first tandem at Raeford. Immediately, she was hooked on skydiving.

Although Rodriguez didn’t think she could afford an AFF course, a Golden Knight approached her and suggested the more affordable 82nd freefall static line course. Rodriguez started the course, but switched to AFF because she was running out of time in the military and knew she would be moving.

In April of 1996, Rodriguez left the military and moved to Titusville. For the next two years, she did as much recreational jumping as she could.

She heard about the SkyVenture windtunnel in Orlando and wanted to apply for a job. However, she thought they were looking for more experienced staff and jumpmasters. She still decided to apply and was hired in July 1998. At that time, she was working as a bartender and was going to college. It didn’t take long for her to give up her bartending job and work full time at the tunnel.

First Team
While at the wind tunnel, Rodriguez met her first teammates with the team Illusions. In December 1998 and with about 200 jumps, she joined the team (Rachel Vivier, Cathy Hodge, Cecilia Ferrer). Kurt Gaebel was the coach.

While the team was mainly out for  fun, they did compete in several Florida Skydiving League competitions. Coach Gaebel was already very impressed with her outstanding skills and positive nature by then.

However, Rodriguez only got about 50 training jumps with the Illusions when she had to quit. Her mother was sick and Rodriguez wanted to be with her. Rodriguez stopped jumping until September when she went back to her job at SkyVenture.

Once again, Rodriguez got involved with a team. Several acquaintances from the wind tunnel were putting together a season team and asked Rodriguez to join. Kinetics made its debut at the first Florida Skydiving League competition in January 2000. Within the first month though, personnel changes became necessary. As a result, two of the jumpers were replaced with Rodriguez’s tunnel rat co-workers.

The new team of Rodriguez, Glenn Mendez, Kyle Starck and Thomas Hughes, changed the team’s name to Rage and continued to compete in the Florida Skydiving League.

Because money was tight, the team only did about 100 jumps during the year. They did, however, get a lot of tunnel training.

Rodriguez said everyone on the team flew well and had good individual skills, but putting it all together became the biggest challenge. The random work in particular took communication and eye contact that was difficult for the team members to master.

With each of the members going at their own pace, Rage racked up a lot of busts on the Florida Skydiving League scoreboard. Coaches told the members that they needed to slow down and the points would come – and they did.

With only about 100 practice jumps, Rage competed in the 2000 U.S. Nationals in the Intermediate Division and won the gold medal with a 15.3 average.

Wind tunnel training and coaching had paid off for the team members, helping make up for a lack of actual jumps - Thomas with 200 jumps, Rodriguez with 500 jumps, Glenn with 700 jumps and the most experienced of the team, Kyle with 1,300 jumps.

Rage’s victory was short lived, however, and the team broke up after returning home to Florida. Glenn joined the army and Kyle decided to become more dedicated to his education.

A few weeks after the returning from the nationals, Lilac Hayes asked Rodriguez to jump with a woman’s team forming at Zephyrhills. Lilac told her that the team was planning on going to the World Cup in Eloy to represent the United States. No other women’s team had qualified.

At the last female 4-way event in Australia 1999, the winning team had an 11 plus-point average and Hayes felt like they could do better.

With about 30 jumps together, Synchronicity with Lilac Hayes, Sally Stewart, Sally Hathaway and Rodriguez, went to the World Cup at Skydive Arizona in November 2000. The team averaged 11.8, enough for a gold medal in the women’s class.

While the team had competed at the World Cup for fun and because they thought they could win, it was the encouragement of the other teams that helped make them decide to go to the World Championship in Spain.

Enlisting the coaching abilities of Joey Jones, the team wanted to make 300 jumps before the World Air Games. Training became more intense as the date neared with five-day camps and the needed tailgate exits at DeLand.

Synchronicity became the team to beat at the Championship after their win at the World Cup. Before leaving for Spain, three of the women’s teams in DeLand, Sweden’s 4-Pleasure and Great Britain’s V-Max, and Synchronicity held a practice six-round meet for the international competition. Synchronicity won the meet.

At the World Air Games, the American team got off to a slow start, tying with Norway and Sweden in the first round. As the rounds progressed however, the other teams pulled ahead a point or two at a time. By the end of the fourth round, Synchronicity was five points behind the leader, Norway, and just hanging on to third place by one point.

Rodriguez admits that she felt down after round three and she realized how hard it would be to pick up the needed points from teams that were strong and not making mistakes.

But Synchronicity started a rally in round five and began making back the lost points a few at a time. Synchronicity seemed to grow stronger with every round and earned a well-deserved win, scoring a sizzling 24 points in the last round:

“I think it will be hard to duplicate that competition,” Rodriguez said. “To come from behind and finish off strong, that just made it the best.”

The Future

And there is not doubt about it - Rodriguez is hooked on competitive skydiving. She said it was the World Championship competition that has really captivated her and brought out her competitive spirit. Rodriguez said she would like to stay with Synchronicity if the team continues.

Hayes will be leaving and they will have to find another woman to replace her if the team is to go on. Rodriguez said it doesn’t matter if she is on a women’s or men’s team, she wants to continue competing.

“I’d like to get to the level of Dawn (English) or Lise (Aune) whether competing with women or men,” Rodriguez said. “Right now, the team is good to be at the level we’re at – we’re growing. I’ve found three others and they just happened to be women.”

Even though Rodriguez has a string of gold medals, she only has 900 skydives. She gives a lot of the credit for her success to her job at SkyVenture and the fact that she flies in the tunnel four days a week.

She said she would advise anyone looking to improve their skills to use the wind tunnel and a good coach to avoid bad habits down the road. Rodriguez said she has spent a lot of time and money with training, but it has been worth it and made her life very exiting.

“I started competing for fun,” Rodriguez said. “I never thought I’d end up at this level.” And this is not the end...

Eliana Rodriguez is making history again. Last year, she became the first world champion in the newly created women's class at the World Championship of Formation Skydiving. The creation of this women's class caused a lot of controversial discussion whether there is a need for this class or not. The title of a world champion for the women competitors was looked at with many suspicious eyes.

Rodriguez as a member of Synchronicity, the U.S. women's team that won the gold medal in Spain, is now ready to make the next step and show the world one more time that women athletes do not need their own class to compete on the highest competitve level and possibly become a world champion. The current overall world champion, Arizona Airspeed, chose Rodriguez to become their first female team member in Airspeed history.

Airspeed 2002 with injured Eliana Rodriguez at the USPA Nationals 2002, image: Omniskore Airspeed 2002 with injured Eliana Rodriguez at the USPA Nationals 2002, image: Omniskore
As most of the new Airspeed members, Rodriguez will begin with Airspeed Zulu. The final personnel decisions within the Airspeed project have finally been made. Airspeed Vertical will remain unchanged and Craig Girard, Mark Kirkby, Neal Houston and John Eagle will try to defend their title at the World Championship 2003 in France if they win the U.S. Nationals in 2002.

Airspeed Zulu had personnel changes. Alan Metni and Christopher Irwin left the team. This opened up the opportunity for qualified competitors to go to Arizona and try out for these open slots. Actually, it was only one slot. Gary Beyer decided to join the team again after he had retired from Airspeed Purple in 1999. Beyer was still a team member of the Airspeed 8-way team that won the World Championship in 1999 and lost the title in 2001 to Russia.

Rodriguez was one of many candidates for the open slot. Many people in the competition world still questioned whether Airspeed would pick a female competitor for the team. However, Rodriguez came to Arizona with a huge amount of talent and also a lot of experience that she had collected in the last years at many competitions. The NSL Profiles featured Rodriguez' career in the second last edition. Her move did not really surprise the NSL News after listening to her story.

NSL News interview with Eliana Rodriguez and Linda Florea NSL News interview with Eliana Rodriguez and Linda Florea
After she came back from her try-outs in Arizona, Rodriguez proudly showed the jumps she made with Airspeed members.

However, she was still anxious about the situation since Airspeed had not confirmed her slot right after her visit. It still took a little while and more Airspeed meetings behind closed doors until they picked the new Airspeed Zulu member. Zulu will now consist of Kirk Verner, Chad Smith, Gary Beyer and Eliana Rodriguez.

With her dreams becoming true now, reality is up next. There are a lot of things to be taken care of. Life in Eloy, Arizona, is different than in Florida.

The work situation for Rodriguez will change dramatically since she will have to leave her secure position as an instructor at the SkyVenture wind tunnel in Orlando. And her family is located in Florida, as well. However, she has been ready for the move for a while and she will take on the challenge with all the energy she has.

"I started competing for fun," Rodriguez said in the interview for the NSL Profiles. “I never thought I’d end up at this level.??? She wanted to get to the level of the other top female competitors: "I’d like to get to the level of Dawn (English) or Lise (Aune) whether competing with women or men.??? Now she has already arrived on this next level. And the NSL commented at that time "...this is not the end..." There is still work to be done.

No female competitor has won Excalibur yet.....

Rodriguez moved to Arizona and joined Airspeed in the beginning of 2002 after winning the slot in the Airspeed try-outs. She became the first female Airspeed member and trained and competed with Airspeed 8 and Airspeed Zulu that year. Bad luck kept her from winning her first USPA Championship as an active member in the Open Class. She broke her ankle in August 2002 and missed the gold medal performance of her 8-way team at Skydive Chicago.

However, her 8-way team was qualified as the national team for the Mondial 2003 in Gap, France. Rodriguez resumed training with Airspeed 8 as soon as her ankle was well enough. The 4-way event had lower priority by then. Airspeed 8 ended up in second place after a most exciting race with the Russian 8-way team in September 2003. The whole Airspeed squad traveled from France to Florida and won the USPA 8-way Championship in Lake Wales. Airspeed Dragon with Eliana Rodriguez took the fourth place in 4-way.

New 8-way world champion Arizona Airspeed with Eliana Rodriguez in Croatia 2004 New 8-way world champion Arizona Airspeed with Eliana Rodriguez in Croatia 2004
The 2004 season had 8-way as the top priority for Airspeed and Rodriguez once again. The new battle with the Russian 8-way team and also with France in Croatia was on the agenda. This time, Airspeed won the gold medals, and Eliana Rodriguez became the first female competitor winning the World Championship of Formation Skydiving in the Open Class.

Back home in October 2004, Airspeed once again won the USPA Championship in 8-way. Rodriguez and her line-up of Airspeed Blue placed 5th in the 4-way event.

Airspeed changed plans for the 2005 season. The NSL News story of January 7, 2005, provided information of the new directions the 8-way world champions would follow this year. The Airspeed 2005 plans included top competition in both the 4-way and the 8-way event.

Airspeed has to defend the 8-way gold medals at the world meet 2006 in Germany. There is not much doubt that Airspeed 8 will once again qualify as the U.S. national team at the USPA Championship 2005 in September in Perris and move on toward the 2006 goal.

The U.S. competition in 4-way is much tougher and tighter than ever before. However, Airspeed wants to be a part of this competition, as well, and has formed two very strong line-ups. Eliana Rodriguez is a member of Airspeed Odyssey, together with Andy Delk, Brian Johnson and Airspeed veteran Craig Girard. This line-up was the stronger one at the first competition this year, the SSL Valentine's Meet 2005, which was held in February in Eloy, and promises to keep up with the Airspeed goal of contending in both events. Round five of the Valentine's Meet is currently featured on NSL-TV.

This is the current situation of Arizona Airspeed and the update for Eliana Rodriguez and her NSL Profile. She will visit the Sky Knights Sport Parachute Club in July as the reigning 8-way world champion, and also as a new and well trained top contender in 4-way. Even more excitingly, Rodriguez will just have returned from competing with the world's best 4-way and 8-way teams at the Malevsky World Cup in Russia, which will be completed two weeks before her trip to Wisconsin. She will have great information available for the participants of the MWSL weekend event in East Troy.

NSL News Update on July 27th, 2015

Induction of Eliana Rodriguez into Skydiving Museum's Hall of Fame Class of 2022