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The Gentleman DZO

The Gentleman DZO by James La Barrie | http://blueskiesmag.com/2016/09/06/the-gentleman-dzo/
Danny and Annette Smith | photo source

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Originally printed in issue #73 (January 2016) of Blue Skies Magazine.
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In 2002, I found myself in what many would term as “between a rock and a hard place.” I was working as the head golf professional at a local golf course outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, and, to be frank, my lifelong dreams of being a club professional weren’t measuring up to the realities of actually being one.

Before I could think of a new path, it was forced upon me one October day when my boss was suddenly fired and I was demoted to the position of first assistant golf professional. I felt wronged, as the reasons for the demotion stemmed more from my relationship with my boss and the distrust management had with him than from my job performance.

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I wanted to leave immediately, but was in a “hard place;” I was an immigrant from the Caribbean on a work visa sponsored by the golf club. If I left on principal, it would be very difficult to find another job. Failure to get a job would result in me returning to Antigua. Staying would lead to me contributing to an already toxic work environment due to the resentment I felt. It seemed my future was literally hanging in the balance of this one decision. After a week of deliberation and counsel with my family, I made the difficult decision to resign from the golf club.

Finding another job would turn out to be much harder than even I had anticipated. There was no shortage of young golf pros and no reason for golf clubs to sponsor a foreigner such as myself. After four months of unemployment, I needed a lifeline. Time was running out and although the prospect of returning to Antigua wasn’t the worst thing in the world, the opportunities there were limited in relation to my career goals.

In March 2003, my lifeline came. Friend, golf student and Skydive Carolina owner Danny Smith gave it to me. He offered me a job and the willingness to sponsor me for a work visa. It was a long shot, but he was willing to take the risk. The risk was formidable especially in light of the time period. Following both September 11 and an El Niño weather system that brought rains in biblical proportions to the East Coast in 2002, Danny was just barely keeping the doors open. The fact that he was willing to extend his hand for a friend is something I’ve not forgotten because it literally changed the course of my life.

What Danny did for me, he’s done for many others. He’s extended a hand to help. Some have benefited and some have taken advantage of his generosity, but the lesson I’ve learned from Danny is to continue to extend a hand to help others. He sees the good in people and often gives them the benefit of the doubt even when others tell him not to. He also forgives and forgets.

If you’ve ever jumped at Skydive Carolina , you know it’s a DZ that welcomes guests with Southern hospitality. This stems from the man at the top who is a gentleman. He is quiet, soft-spoken and truly loves skydiving.

Danny hasn’t jumped in many years stemming from a broken neck on a hard opening, but his passion for the sport is unending. He is a skydiver’s skydiver. For the past 15 years, Danny hasn’t missed a U.S. Nationals. He has supported Skydive Carolina’s teams at Nationals, spending countless (long) days at the DZ through multiple disciplines of competition, living and dying on the performances of those he has sponsored. Danny is truly a rare breed.

In October 2015, Danny turned 70, marking 50 years since his first jump. In July 2016, Skydive Carolina will celebrate its 30th anniversary. Danny’s career has withstood countless challenges and he continues to do that. He constantly says Skydive Carolina is a continuous work in progress and he is motivated to make his DZ the best it can possibly be. Danny hasn’t been given national accolades because he’s never promoted himself due to his humility. However, I believe he should be recognized because he has represented the sport and industry of skydiving with class.

Should you get the opportunity to meet Danny or if you jump at his DZ, shake his hand. Thank him for all he’s done for the sport, for enduring hard times that many will never know about, for running a safe and conservative DZ and most of all … for changing lives. I’m forever grateful.

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