Jump for the Rose Raises $15,000 to Save the Boobs

By Christy West

Skydivers always have a fascination with breast cancer fundraisers, and this one’s even more special than most! Jump for the Rose (JFTR) is a skydiving- and giving back-themed charity founded by breast cancer survivor and skydiver Marian Sparks about six years ago. The organization held its latest annual fundraiser at Skydive Spaceland Houston on Sept. 12-13, raising more than $15,000 to fight breast cancer.

Jump for the Rose raises money for The Rose, Houston-area breast cancer clinics that screen and treat all women for breast cancer regardless of their ability to pay. Now in its sixth year, JFTR expects to hit $100,000 raised for The Rose by December.

“It only seems right to combine the two things I am most blessed to have in my life: Skydiving and The Rose,” says Sparks, who was treated by The Rose following diagnosis at a time in her life when she was recently divorced and uninsured. Expecting to find a shoestring operation with long waits and limited availability, she was pleasantly amazed to find a clean, professional facility with a caring staff and efficient, effective treatment.

“After I was cured, I told Dr. Mellilo [who treated Sparks] I was going to pay her back,” said Sparks. “After the first event in 2010, we raised over $11,000 and broke a Women’s National and Texas State skydiving record. We were both crying as I handed her that first check, saying, ‘I told you I’d pay you back!’”

At this year’s event, the annual huge raffle of skydiving and non-skydiving prizes raised money along with donations, bumper ball play, and a dunking booth. In keeping with the give-forward theme of the event, many staff members offered donations of their time as prizes—pack jobs, free tandems, etc. Several experienced jumpers donated items large and small as well, Performance Designs donated $3,000 based on sales of beautiful, specially designed breast cancer awareness canopies, and Skydive Spaceland donated money for each tandem booked through JFTR in the months leading up to the event. Norman Kent illustrated the event with his photography/videography talents as only he can, Eric Jackson put on a fireworks show for everyone on Saturday night, and the SkyDeli provided delicious food throughout the event. The event is always one of the highlights of the year at Spaceland.

At this year’s events, as always, jumpers aimed to set some records to gain even more publicity for the charity. Eight women (Jennifer Bocker, Tammie Frank, Bridget Johnson, Jessica Lynn, Rose Moeser, Melissa Payne Petrijcuks, Merry Regan, and Laura Wagner) set a sweet-flying head-down Texas State Record and 37 Skydivers Over Sixty (SOS) gathered to try to set a world record large formation during the event. Although the SOS formation was ultimately not successful (building to 36 jumpers), the jumpers had a great time clowning around with walkers and wheelchairs to show that older people can skydive, too! And five of the jumpers who went to the bench after earlier attempts set their own state/national SOS sequential record—a 6-point 5-way by Bob Felt, Tom Ruprecht, John Benoit. Gary Greer, and James Parker.

The highlight of the event came on Saturday morning, when Gulf Coast Regional Director DJ Marvin presented a brand-new, Jump for the Rose-themed Infinity harness/container system (packed and ready to jump) to Sparks, who was completely surprised and overwhelmed by the gift! Unbeknownst to Sparks, Marvin had been collecting donations from local jumpers for a few months to purchase the container.

“Marian is one of the most selfless people I’ve ever met,” said Marvin.

“I knew that my Spaceland family supported me, but I didn’t realize the full extent of how much they supported me,” said an emotional Sparks to a cheering crowd of skydivers. Completely in keeping with her character, she turned around and immediately gifted her old container and main to Stephanie Behnke, a schoolteacher and relatively new skydiver at Spaceland.

“Marian is unbelievable!” said Behnke. “She gave me her container and main. I cried… she cried… we all cried. I will never forget what she did and cannot wait to pay it forward in future. Marian is truly amazing.”

All photos in gallery by John Cheesmond

Jump for the Rose continues to fundraise to save more lives of women and men affected by breast cancer, and they are looking forward to some big developments in 2016. For more information on year-round donations and annual events, see www.JumpfortheRose.org.

Breast Cancer Facts

  • Early detection is key to surviving breast cancer.
  • Nearly 40,000 women and 500 men die annually as a result of breast cancer.
  • More than 200,000 women and 1600 men are diagnosed with breast cancer annually.
  • One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lives.
  • Breast cancer in men younger than 40 years of age appears to be on the rise.

Source: The National Cancer Institute and PubMed

The Truth about Tandems

Online Reprint


“So … We’re friends now, right?”
“Yeah, for sure man. Why?”
“Well, cause I’ve gotta ask a question. I don’t know if you remember when I came out with my girlfriend and made my first skydive, but I have to know … Did you have a boner when you took her on her jump?”

Will Forchet looked at me as if I’d asked him the stupidest question ever posed to anyone in the history of mankind, and replied very matter-of-factly, “Of course I did. I jam a boner in EVERYONE’S back!”

By the time I had gotten around to asking Will that particular question, I’d been in the sport for more than a year. By then, there was no real doubt in my mind that there were some pretty over-the-top personalities in the sport, but a very rare few who decided to make it their profession. Even fewer who chose to spend their days strapping other human beings to them potentially dozens of times a day. I guess that particular combination can lead to some very strange, funny, and sometimes downright disgusting stories.

1. Dedication

JJ had been jumping his ass off all day long. It was hot, it was dusty, it was hours from sunset, and the poor guy hadn’t been feeling well from the first load. Usually, when JJ and I were jumping together, he was a total ham. He’d have a blast with both student and me on and off video, but this day was far from the usual. As I hung from the strut and watched him and his student work their way out the door, he looked simply miserable. Even so, in freefall he was in total control, and gave his student a great ride as always.

Then came the signal of “five-five” and the pull. Back then we were jumping Relative Workshop Vector Tandems with F-111 360s, and the only thing I could say when JJ’s canopy came out was, “FUCK!!” My neck actually hurt from the speed I had to look up to keep the tandem in frame it opened so fast! It was a complete train wreck.

As JJ came in for a landing, he actually slid in and sat his tandem down which, until then, was something I’d never seen him do. I actually thought he may have hurt himself on the opening, and as soon as I’d finished filming the post-jump interview with the student, I went over to make sure that he was all right.

“I shit myself.”

“Uhhhhh … ” was all I could manage to get out at first.

“Uhhhh, you did what?”
“I said I shit myself. I shit myself on opening, and it’s been running down the legs of my jumpsuit the entire canopy ride!”

I would have started laughing my ass off uncontrollably if he hadn’t looked so completely pathetic—and almost started to anyway—but just then both JJ and I heard someone yelling from across the landing area, “JJ, you’re ON THE NEXT LOAD! GET OFF YOUR FUCKING BUTT!” I, on the other hand, was not turning the load and the last thing I saw from our load was JJ run/waddling his way across the dusty landing area with what looked like desert mud caked all down the back of his suit. The crazy part? He got on that next load!

2. Lord Simeon of Kent

“I’m just ready to go skydiving,” said Simeon to the camera in the best English/effeminate accent he could possibly muster. The English part of the accent was easy because he was English, and the effeminate part kept going, because all of us were laughing hysterically. He was dressed from head to toe in the brightest pink jumpsuit on the planet, as well as sporting a very large floppy billed fuzzy pink hat with feathers around the rim, which even had a chinstrap thanks to the rigging loft.

I don’t think anyone actually believed he was going to show up to his student dressed and acting the way he was, least of all his student Herb, who just about dropped when he realized that we weren’t kidding, and this actually was his instructor. From the limp-wristed handshake, up to the almost blushing expression as Herb sat on his lap in the Skyvan for the hook-up, Sim never broke character. He didn’t break as he sauntered toward the door, didn’t break as he had an almost “O” face as he banged out the gainer on exit, and didn’t break as he offered me the same limp-wristed handshake in freefall. It was priceless, and to this day I guarantee if Herb ever had the balls to show his video to friends, none of them ever paid any attention to him.

3. Talk Radio

“It’s KFBK talk radio in Sacramento,” said the local reporter, who was out at the DZ in search of a story. She had decided that in order to talk intelligently about “extreme sports,” she really should have some type of experience with them and a skydive was what she had come up with.

“All right. Just so you know, the microphone isn’t going to pick up anything but wind noise in freefall, but you should be able to pick up the conversation once the parachute is open.”

I honestly didn’t have a fucking clue if it would pick any of it up, but it sounded good. I had run the microphone cord up to the collar of her T-shirt under her jumpsuit so that it wouldn’t end up flying all around during the jump.

As we got airborne in the PAC, she started asking all the usual questions about the jump and what was to come. She was a bit more animated than the average student, but I just assumed that it was the reporter in her and the microphone that gave me that impression. As we got hooked up in the plane, that opinion changed though, and I realized that she was just plain scared. No worries, I thought. I’ve had tons of this type and I can get her to relax, no problem.

Out the door and she was great. She arched on exit, opened her arms when I tapped her shoulders, and geeked the cameraman once he was in front of us. No problem! As the parachute opened I was pleased that she’d done as well as she had. It would undoubtedly make for a better broadcast!

“So, what did you think of that?!?” I asked.

“Oh, my god, I think I’m gonna be sick!”

Not exactly the words you want to hear from a student all of ten seconds into the canopy ride. I hopefully thought that perhaps she was just really worked up, and that some calm words following my instructions on what to do if she did have to puke would relax her quickly.

I started to speak. “Just aim do …….wn …” was all I managed to get out before all hell broke loose a mere inches in front of me. In less than a heartbeat, that woman unloaded a never-ending stream of puke and bile that seemed to shoot out of her like lava out of Mt. St. Helens! She convulsed and twitched, and burped and gurgled for what seemed like a lifetime until the barrage of spew finally ceased. As I surveyed the scene, she seemed to have suffered little to no damage from the barf bomb she’d set off. I was a devastated mess. She had managed to cover me from head to toe, somehow even managing to puke around herself to cover the entire front of my jumpsuit. After a deep breath and a bit of a chuckle, I only had one thing to say.

“Did you eat oatmeal and bananas today? ‘Cause that’s what it tastes like.”

4. Full Service Skydiving

“Grab my tits!”
“Um, what?”
“Grab my TITTIES,” said the tandem student strapped to Jim’s chest. “Grab my tits and squeeze ‘em. Squeeze ‘em HARD! It’s my fucking 45th birthday, and I want my titties SQUEEZED up here!”

Jim, being a can-do, aim-to-please kind of instructor, took a look at his altimeter, judged that he had a little altitude to play with, aimed himself toward the DZ and dropped his toggles. Jim had big hands, but the pair on his student was simply overflowing as he gently laid his hands across her ample bosom. “Squeeze!” she said, so, Jim squeezed. “HARDER!” So Jim squeezed harder and harder. Jim went right ahead and kept squeezing harder even as she started to moan, then yell, then put her hands on his and help him squeeze just that little touch more. Then, she had what Jim would later describe as an “Earth-shattering orgasm,” right before she passed out.

If you are reading this at your local DZ, then there is more than likely a tandem instructor in your midst. If that tandem instructor has been at it for more than a week or two, I can promise you there’s a story. Probably lots more than one. Probably stories a lot like this, or even stranger. Go ask him/her and I’ll bet you they’ll tell you to take a seat, ‘cause it’s a good one!

The Fuckin' Pilot

Monthly Columnist

About the author: The Fuckin’ Pilot has more than 8,500 hours of flight time; 5,000 of those have been piloting jump ships for skydiving.

Get more like this!

October Fly-In at Speedfly Soboba

Speedfly Soboba is hosting Fall Speed Flying Boogie October 17-18, 2015. Boogie fee is $40.00 and gets you 2 days of park fees, 2 rides per day up the mountain along with a t-shirt.


Purchase 10 ride tokens or more at the discounted rate of $5.00 each (normally $6.00).
Plenty of space for camping: Pitch a tent or to park your RV!
Hot showers, kitchen facility, bonfire, live music, drinks, BBQ ($10 donation) and of course good times with great people!

This post brought to you by Speedfly Soboba: The Largest Speed Flying School in the World.

Connect, Inspire … Win

Online Reprint

“Who wants to be part of something excellent?”

I was an Arizona Airspeed fan before I knew their storied history or their record in competition.

In June 2005, I hired Craig Girard and Kirk Verner to host a 30-way camp during Skydive Carolina’s anniversary boogie (which would later morph into CarolinaFest). On the final day of the event, while running past a dirt dive to hot fuel a plane, Craig called me out.

Surrounded by 30 jumpers, Craig stood in his signature style that allows you to pick him out of a group from 500 yards away—bodyweight leaning to one side, hand on his hip with his black and teal jumpsuit tied at the arms around his waist with that cool, surfer-like demeanor.

He said, “Dude, when are you going to stop working and have some fun? Go get your rig and jumpsuit and let’s go.”

I could feel the group mentally roll their eyes. I tried to save them from their despair and told him my paltry jump number. I had 150 jumps and had no business being on a dive that I could potentially screw up for everyone who had been jumping for three long days.

It was as if he never heard me, because his response was immediate and without hesitation. “Perrrrfeeccttt. Grab your stuff, you’re in the base with me. Let’s go.”

I’d pay good money for a picture of that 30-way, taking grips on Craig out of the back of a blue and white Fayard Casa, feeling like a rock star. Looking back, it wasn’t the jump that stands out in my mind, but the goodwill gesture that few others would have extended. Whenever I’ve worked with Craig, Kirk, Eliana and other Airspeed members they’ve always been a class act. I was inspired and became a fan of the Airspeed brand—not because of their amazing record, but because of how they treated me.

If skydiving was more prominent in the national spotlight, Airspeed would have sponsorships with the biggest brands in the world—certainly because of their talent, but also because of the intangibles that resonate with people. If a brand can create a connection beyond the product or service it offers, then customer loyalty is born.

Earning loyalty equates to people who will happily tell others of your greatness. There is no type of advertising more powerful.

Examine these iconic brands with huge consumer-base loyalty: Toms, Zappos, Whole Foods, Amazon, Costco, Southwest, Wegmans, REI and Goodwill. These companies all focus on creating a connection with consumers by exceeding expectations via a higher social purpose or delivering amazing customer service.

The companies that can inspire are the ones that win.

As Simon Sinek beautifully put it, these companies understand the ‘why’ of their existence and not just the ‘what’ of their existence. The companies that can inspire are the ones that win.

If five drop zones were in the same marketplace with the same budgets, same aircraft and same price points—all variables being equal—which one would have market share and greater revenues? The answer is the one that inspires and creates a connection with its customers. In the early stages of business, these companies would all be neck and neck because no one would know the difference. With time, a competitive advantage would be gained, because word-of-mouth needs time to spread.

My vision for great marketing is larger in scope than a quick promotion to drive traffic. In addition to advertising, I push for companies to focus on the small details that revolve around every customer point of interaction and making it great. Advertising is important to draw in new customers, but focusing on details designed to exceed customer expectations makes these new customers loyalists who become repeat customers, who happily tell their social networks about why that drop zone is unique. This approach offers long-term sustainability and a well-defined roadmap for a solid marketing plan.

Our industry has a great opportunity to thrive because the product we sell exhilarates and inspires. However, our service (a life-changing skydive) is not enough to build loyalty. Customers already expect to be inspired by making a skydive—that’s why they come to the drop zone in the first place. Exceeding expectations will require more. If our hangars haven’t been cleaned in weeks, jumpsuits not laundered, instructors looking as if they just got of bed, aircraft not washed in weeks, then we won’t make the connection we need to make. Ultimately, the connection lies in the hands of DZ staff and instructors—all of whom must be passionate about what they’re doing. The skydive is just one part of the overall experience.

Our customers only spend about 26 minutes in the air and the rest of the time on the ground. How do we make them feel when they’re on the ground for the hours that they’re with us?

When making presentations both in and out of the skydiving industry, I always ask my audiences this question: “Who wants to be part of something excellent?” To date, I’ve never had anyone not raise their hand and acknowledge that this isn’t a desire. We all do. But what does being excellent actually mean? It means paying attention to the details, especially when we don’t want to. It’s giving a tandem student who checks-in at the end of the day the same level of enthusiasm as the one who checked in at the beginning of the day. It’s cleaning the bathroom at 2 p.m. when it’s not your responsibility or conversing with students on a weather hold. Oftentimes, it’s the details we take for granted that are the most important.

A well-designed website with strong SEO, a polished brand, a good social-media marketing campaign and creating interesting content are all components to good marketing, but their effectiveness will never reach full strength without the focus on connection. Our objective must be more than just making money. The best drop zones in the world are the ones that focus on the entire customer experience—both before and after the skydive. If we can amaze our customers … the money will take care of itself.

James La Barrie

Monthly Columnist

About the author: As a former drop zone manager for nine years with proven results, James La Barrie is a different kind of marketing professional. As the founder of DropZone.Marketing, he helps his DZ clients increase revenues by implementing techniques in word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM), social media, company culture, branding and world-class web design.

Like this article?

Get more just like it every month, delivered straight to your mailbox. Subscribe today!

Rookiefest 2015 – Skydive Chicago

By Katelyn Couch

Skydive Chicago’s Rookiefest was definitely a success this year! Newly licensed jumpers from all over joined together for our friendly 3-way scramble competition. A total of 5 rounds of competition were planned, although due to weather we could only fit in 4 rounds. Each round is a bit more challenging than the one before, giving the jumpers an opportunity to push themselves and learn.

Rookie competitor Melissa Jahnke of Wisconsin Skydiving Center (who came in third place) explained Rookiefest best:

“This event is a brilliant way to introduce newly licensed skydivers into the competitive world of skydiving. I was completely blown away with the generosity of SDC [Skydive Chicago] in providing an accomplished coach, and camera person for two new skydivers. I mean, who are we? The fact that high-profile coaches and camera crew humbly took their time, and taught us skills that they’ve learned over thousands of skydives completely blew my mind. I loved meeting new people, and I found it energizing. The amount of passion everyone exuded was contagious! It was a class act, and I am grateful I was part of it! I highly encourage all new licensed skydivers to participate in Rookiefest! I absolutely loved it!”

Skydive Chicago was happy for the outcome of 50 participants this year. This event has grown not only to be a local event but more of a regional boogie. Thanks to the help of SDC’s teams Rhythm XP and Core, these rookies were stoked to be able to fly and learn from some of the best. We look forward to seeing this event grow each year, until next year, blue skies!