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Up Close & Personal

name: Thomas Hughes

email: thomashxl@earthlink.net

age: 43

family & marital staus: Single

number of jumps: 5,000

years in Sport: 25

teams: Deland Tunnel Rage, Sebastian XL, Arizona Blade, Deland Black Magick, DeLand Fire, Arizona Airspeed

slot(s): Point, outside center, tail, video, alternate

favorite competition: Japanese Nationals 2003 with XL and German Nationals 2005 with D

funniest moment in skydiving: Mark Kirkby explaining how to pass the rock - see Natasha Montgomery's profile

skydiving mentor(s): Pete Allum and all XL members, Joe Winters and Carlos Euribe from SkyVenture Orlando, Craig Girard, Shannon Pilcher, Dave Brown, Joey Jones, the two women I have had the opportunity to be on a team with, Eliana Rodriguez and Natasha Montgomery, all my te

hobbies: Cycling, swooping, water skiing, surfing, free diving

favorite book(s): The Alchemist, Jonathon Livingston Seagull

favorite music: Changes with mood

favorite movie(s): Office Space

favorite place: The Present

Where will you be ten years from now? Exactly where I should be.

best kept secret: I have never done a night jump from a plane, only a base jump from an antenna, and I have not received any water training.

favorite quote:

"Reach high, for stars lie hidden in your soul. Dream deep, for every dream precedes the goal."

                              - Ralph Vaull Starr

Thomas Hughes Thomas Hughes
Born In Swindon, England, on February 9, 1981, Thomas Hughes grew up on a farm, heavily involved in water skiing. His first competition experiences came from water skiing, as well. After already competing for a few years in England, he moved to Florida and continued competing in the water skiing circuit for a few years.

His 18th birthday brought the turn toward the new passion and sport. Thomas Hughes decided to make a tandem skydive a couple of days after his birthday in Lake Wales. The next step happened quickly. He decided to check out the wind tunnel and visited SkyVenture Orlando with a friend who had been there before.

Water skiing competitor Water skiing competitor
He was hooked to the tunnel flying right away, and the financial part made it even easier, due to the relatively low costs for flying time, compared to real skydiving. However, Thomas decided to do one more tandem jump: “I just wanted to make sure that I really wanted to get involved in the sport before I would spend the $1,100 for the AFF program.???

The decision came easily, as Thomas remembers: “Once I was back in the plane, with the door open ready to jump, I was sure that I wanted to continue further into the sport.???

SkyVenture Orlando SkyVenture Orlando
After the second tandem jump he went back to SkyVenture Orlando and flew as much time as he could afford, while he was still saving money for the AFF program. Soon it would became easier for him to do both.

One day, he was once again flying in the tunnel, when the SkyVenture Orlando manager approached him to offer a job.

Thomas already had a good job serving at Disney World at that time and was first reluctant to accept. That changed instantly when he found out that free tunnel time came along with the new job.

Thomas was now handing out SkyVenture Orlando coupons on the busy streets of Orlando’s tourist area for a couple of days a week.

The new job at SkyVenture Orlando was nothing more spectacular than merely handing out coupons on the side of the road in front of Wet’n Wild.

However, Thomas soon climbed up the career ladder at SkyVenture Orlando. He handed out coupons for only about two months before he began working at the front desk.

DeLand Tunnel Rage in 2000 with Thomas Hughes, Eliana Rodriguez, Kyle Starck, Glenn Mendez DeLand Tunnel Rage in 2000 with Thomas Hughes, Eliana Rodriguez, Kyle Starck, Glenn Mendez
There he staid not much longer than about a month. The next move happened as soon as an instructor position opened up. Thomas was included in the next training course for instructors, which takes about two to three months.

He started to work on his AFF instructor license at the same time in Lake Wales and graduated from the course with former Airspeed member Chad Smith and his future Sebastian XL team member Steve Hamilton working as his AFF course instructors.

Thomas was now a full-time skydiver and did as many jumps as he could afford over the next year, while he was still working at SkyVenture Orlando.

Eliana Rodriguez was working as an instructor at SkyVenture Orlando at the same time, and she approached Thomas with her plan to build a 4-way team. She was already on a team called “Kinetosis", together with Glenn Mendez, Russ Snyder and Steve Rand. Thomas was supposed to be the alternate for Kinetosis. However, he became a full member soon when Steve Rand could not commit to compete at the USPA Nationals.

Sebastian XL exit Sebastian XL exit

Kinetosis continued with this line-up until Russ Snyder left and Kyle Starck, fellow instructor at SkyVenture Orlando, decided to join the team. It was time to change the team name, and “DeLand Tunnel Rage??? was officially formed.

The four raging SkyVenture Orlando instructors planned to make 200 training jumps between January and the USPA Nationals in October 2000 and managed to complete approx. 100 jumps. However, Eliana Rodriguez, Thomas Hughes, Kyle Starck and Glenn Mendez were able to add a lot of 4-way tunnel time to the team agenda. In fact, DeLand Tunnel Rage did not jump at all within the last six weeks before the competition and trained only at SkyVenture Orlando.

Sebastian XL at the Mondial 2003 in Gap, France Sebastian XL at the Mondial 2003 in Gap, France
Tunnel Rage with Thomas and Eliana won the Intermediate Class competition at the USPA Nationals in Perris with a stunning 15.3 average and did not have any serious competition in this class. The team members surprised the whole audience and also themselves. Tunnel Rage had competed at meets of the Florida Skydiving League in 2000 and scored between 7.0 and 12.0 meet average.

Tunnel Rage discontinued after this success, and Thomas took a break from 4-way to do some Freeflying. By then he had already earned his uncrowned title as the “King of the Tunnel??? and showed off his unprecedented flying skills in the tunnel and in freefall.

Thomas’ next step up into the Open Class competition was his move into world-class 4-way competition at the same time, and it happened in November 2001. His former AFF instructor and Airspeed member Chad Smith invited him and Eliana for a try-out in Arizona. They both agreed and jumped with Airspeed members for two days.

Thomas Hughes with Black Magick in 2005 Thomas Hughes with Black Magick in 2005
However, Sebastian XL’s team captain Pete Allum had already mentioned that his team will probably have an open slot, as well. Thomas decided to make some try-out jumps with Sebastian XL just two weeks after returning from Arizona. He was highly motivated to make it into the British team when Airspeed decided that the two open slots for the 2002 season would go to Eliana Rodriguez and Gary Bayer.

After the first disappointment, Thomas re-focused and prepared for the XL jumps. He still remembers the situation: “I realized that it just wasn’t meant to be and I began to look forward to jumping with XL. We made ten jumps for the try-outs, which went very well. Pete called me back the same evening and asked me to join the team.???

The rest of Thomas Hughes’ career is well known. He trained and competed with Sebastian XL in 2002 and 2003. The exciting duel of the British team with Norway for the bronze medals at the Mondial 2003 in Gap, France, ended up with a 1-point advantage for the DeLand Norgies and a 20.5 average for Sebastian XL with Thomas. It was probably the most exciting competition in Thomas’ short career as a 4-way shooting star.

Video for DeLand Fire in 2005 Video for DeLand Fire in 2005
Both teams discontinued after the world meet in 2003 and Thomas accepted a player coach position for Arizona Blade in 2004. He met Blade founder and sponsor Natasha Montgomery in Arizona and continued with her on the same path and in the same team throughout the 2004 and 2005 season.

Arizona Blade was not eligible for USPA medals in 2004 due to Thomas’ participation with XL at the world meet in 2003 and still impressed with a great performance as a guest team at the USPA Nationals 2004. Blade won the NSL Championship with the same line-up a few months later at SkyQuest 2004.

Natasha Montgomery wanted to move on and formed DeLand Fire for the 2005 season. Thomas Hughes became only the alternate and videographer since his eligibility status would still be in the way at the USPA Nationals 2005 where DeLand Fire wanted to win the gold medals and qualify as the US national team for the world meet in 2006. Thomas’ situation with DeLand Fire would be discussed again at the end of the 2005 season.

Cycling with friend Pete Allum in DeLand Cycling with friend Pete Allum in DeLand
Thomas trained with DeLand Fire when it was necessary and even filled a slot for the team at the German Nationals 2005. However, he had to step down from his alternate and video position during the USPA Nationals 2005 in Perris.

His eligibility status was indirectly clarified when the Air Sport General Commission (CASI) of the FAI (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale) changed the international eligibility rules in October 2005, based on the “Pete Allum Case???. Thomas would now be eligible to compete for any US team at the world meet in 2006.

However, DeLand Fire finally decided to continue with the same line-up in 2006 after winning the USPA Nationals 2005. Thomas was without a team for the moment. It did not take very long though until the next opportunity came up. Arizona Airspeed had been in contact with Thomas already for a while hoping that he would join the team when Dennis Rook left at the end of the 2005 season.

Thomas thought about the offer for a while and compared it with other opportunities that had come up in the meantime. He did not want to leave his current home in DeLand where he could enjoy his other hobbies of cycling, surfing and free diving easily. However, the perspective of winning the 8-way gold medal in Germany 2006 was finally convincing enough, and Thomas Hughes accepted the Airspeed slot for the 2006 season. The NSL News audience will surely hear more of the ongoing impressive skydiving career of the “King of the Tunnel???.

World Meet 2008 in Maubeuge World Meet 2008 in Maubeuge

Airspeed's 8-way lineup of 2006 with new member Thomas Hughes won the silver medals at the same world meet where DeLand Fire became the 4-way world champions.

Thomas Hughes also won his first USPA gold medal the same year with Airspeed's 8-way team, while he trained and competed with Airspeed's 4-way "farm team" Velocity. Then he left Airspeed and joined Fastrax in 2007, where he met Niklas Hemlin, who would eventually become his 4-way world champion team mate in 2012.

Fastrax did not continue in 2008, and Thomas Hughes joined a colorful U.S. pickup team that would defend his 8-way silver medal successfully at the World Meet 2008 in Maubeuge, and then finish behind Arizona Airspeed at the USPA Nationals.

Thomas Hughes was still two years away from the beginning of his 6-year period with Arizona Airspeed when the 2009 season began.

World record with Spaceland Force XP in 2009 World record with Spaceland Force XP in 2009
He first joined DeLand Fire world champions Shannon Pilcher and Ian Bobo for one year with Spaceland Force XP. Gary Beyer completed the Force lineup.

Spaceland Force XP posted a new 4-way world record for a single round with the 45-pointer at the USPA Nationals 2009 (A,N,H,P,O) and still had to accept the 2nd place (24.4 - 25.2) behind Airspeed's 2007 - 2010 lineup (Eliana Rodriguez, Craig Girard, Mark Kirkby, Andy Delk). He also competed with Paraclete XP's 8-way lineup in 2009.

The 2010 season was once again a slower one. He trained and competed as a player coach with Speedy Kids and was back in Paraclete XP's 8-way team for more USPA bronze medals.

The significant turning point in his skydiving career came when Airspeed's lineup of 2007 - 2010 was done after gold medals in Maubeuge 2008 and silver in Menzelinsk 2010. Mark Kirkby recruited a completely new lineup, Thomas Hughes accepted the first Airspeed invitation for a 4-way slot and moved to Arizona.

FAI gold medals with Arizona Airspeed in Dubai 2012 FAI gold medals with Arizona Airspeed in Dubai 2012
Thomas Hughes' six years with Arizona Airspeed have been well documented by the Sun Path Products NSL News, and they include five USPA 4-way gold medals, as well as his first FAI 4-way gold medal at the Mondial Dubai 2012.

He said in 2005 that he will be "Exactly where I should be" in ten years, and he quoted Ralph Vaull Starr for his vision: "Reach high, for stars lie hidden in your soul. Dream deep, for every dream precedes the goal."

It seems like the vision of his own life and career were still a good match ten years later. His family status has changed significantly though. He was single in October 2005, and he is married now and a brand-new father. The next update of his NSL Profile might cover a coaching career or only family life...