If You Stay

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On July 10, 2010, as Barry stamped my A-license proficiency card, he told me, “If you stay in this sport long enough, you will lose a friend, or you will see a friend die.” It’s just part of the gig. He told me that when he stopped counting, he had lost 30 friends after 10 years in the sport.

Secretly, I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to ever write this column. I thought maybe I’d be one of the lucky few who never lost someone they knew in the sport. But on Aug. 1, my good buddy Adam Rubin died doing what he loved: jumping off things.

N00bs, this will happen; it’s a matter of time—a reality I was aware of but had not yet accepted. I’d like to share how I found out and how I have dealt with Adam’s passing so far. It’s only been 8 days since I found out about his accident at the time of writing. Hopefully I’ll have something more profound in the coming months. For now, it’s still raw; I’m still walking the line between denial and acceptance. Maybe it will help you get through your first loss in the sport.

I woke up Saturday, Aug. 2, and did the normal scroll through my notifications and mindless Facebooking before committing to waking up for the day. I noticed that my buddy Eric had changed his profile photo to a picture of him and Adam. I liked it. I even went so far as to say something about how I’m so glad Adam found Eric and the CRW dawgs at Elsinore, because he has never been so happy in the sport. I then sent Adam a message asking how he was doing, knowing he was in Idaho, and saying, “NATIONALS HERE WE COOOOOOOME!” We were excited about the trip, because it would be a chance for him to compete with Eric and Mark, and a chance for all of our Midwest crew to get back together.

I continued to scroll and noticed Dojo posted a picture to Adam’s timeline—one of him, his son and Adam. The caption read, “Love you buddy.”

This year has been absolutely terrible for me as far as skydiving goes, and losing friends who are skydivers/ BASE jumpers. Statistically, I’m sure it’s probably not far off where we were this time last year, but it seems like every fatality is hitting closer to home. So much so that I rolled over to Barry and said, “Babe, I think something might have happened to Adam.”

I sent Eric a message with a pit in my stomach, asking if Adam was OK and desperately hoping that his and Dojo’s posts were coincidental— and posted only because they love Adam. Because really, everyone who ever met Adam loved Adam.

I got to work and my phone starts vibrating on my desk. It’s Eric. I don’t even remember how I answered the phone or what I said, I just remember him saying, “Adam isn’t OK. He struck a cliff last night and he died.”

I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t feel anything. I was in total shock and disbelief. We talked for a couple more minutes and I told him to call me if he heard anything more and to keep me posted. And I thanked him for the call, because I’d rather hear it on the phone than see it on Facebook.

Eric and Dojo came out to the drop zone later that afternoon. We were telling Adam stories, and Dojo put it best, and most succinctly, “Adam was everything to everyone.” I’ll add to that, “And he never expected anything in return.”

To me, Adam was one of Barry’s students in Illinois—one of “Barry’s kids” and by default, one of our closest friends. He was the kid with the (completely badass) full-sleeve tattoo, and all the tips and tricks for how to maintain tattoos when we’re outside all the time. He was like a little brother. He was the first of six to move from CSC to SoCal after Barry and I did, and he was our roommate when he was in transition. He was Jezebel’s favorite guest, dog sitter, walker and treat-giver. He was one of the biggest dreamers I ever had the chance to meet, and we were lucky to know him, because not only was he dreaming big dreams, but he was out living them, every day.

So, n00bs, what do you do when you lose your first close friend? How do you deal? Where do you go? I can’t really touch any more on this than Douggs already did in his perfect article, “Death in the Sport of Life.” I read it Sunday after Adam’s accident. It was helpful, but I was hoping for a checklist of “How the fuck to navigate life knowing this person will never come back” and found nothing. And that’s OK. I mean, at the time I was pissed that people aren’t writing about this, but really, it’s not as simple as a little checklist.

I can’t promise this will help you, but these have been parts of my process so far:

Know yourself.

I asked my father for advice, as he had a friend die suddenly when they were both about our age. He said, “It gets better with time,” but for the future (because this isn’t the last time this will happen) to know your preferred methods of dealing with tragic news. Where do you want to go after you get the news—would taking a hike in the woods calm you or do you need a busy downtown, or just your own bed? Do you prefer to process feelings alone or do you want people with you to talk to? Are you the kind of person who feels better with a task—like helping plan funeral arrangements or cooking for the family—or do you need to rest and let yourself cry it out? Sometimes you can control these things, sometimes you can’t, but knowing how you prefer to handle bad news can help you feel more prepared for the next time.

Be honest about what you need.

Be true to yourself about what this person means to you. Allow yourself to FEEL. When we got word Monday that Adam’s memorial was that Friday in Illinois, we knew we were going. Flights were outrageous but fortunately we figured it out. I knew—after deciding to train instead of going to the first memorial this year and completely regretting that decision—there was no choice. It wasn’t even a conversation, really. Barry and I needed to see all of our Midwest SkyFamily and get through this together. All of us.

Everyone deals with this stuff differently.

Some people can jump right back into their dayto- day lives because the routine keeps them calm. Personally, I need some time and space to sort out how this changes the game for me, and to respect and reflect on how Adam changed my life for the better. Some people will be wildly insensitive about it, as if I was overreacting or pretending. It hurts, but that’s how they deal, and it’s no reflection of you or your relationship with your friend.

Share stories.

After Adam’s memorial (a story better told in person), we went back to one of my AFF instructors’ houses and sat around the fire pit. We went around the circle, all sharing our favorite memory or thing about Adam and something we learned from him that we can (or maybe already have) put into practice in our own lives. We continued to share stories all weekend.

This loss thing sucks. But when it’s all said and done, I was honored to be able to attend Adam’s services. I was honored to call him a friend. We were so lucky to get to know him, to share that megawatt Shark-smile, and to be a part of his life.

N00bs, I hope you never need this column. But as a wise man once told me, “If you stay in this sport long enough, you will lose a friend, or you will see a friend die.” Fortunately or unfortunately, you’ll have lots of company in your own SkyFamily to help you with your loss.

Sydney Owen Williams

Regular Contributor

About the author: Sydney Owen Williams is obsessed with putting on the best events in the whole wide world. Current unicorn lover, former n00b, she knows what you’re going through and she’s here to help.

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Summer Lovin’

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“Rule #5: No dating the students,” read Mr. Ray Ferrell, from his list of shit not to do while working as a staff member for Skydance Skydiving in Davis, CA. I, being the complete smartass I’ve always been and the newest member of the team with no real sense of the inappropriate comments, raised my hand and asked, “Is sleeping with the students considered dating?” Cut to that winter and Ray’s Christmas party when the question is posed to the over fifty people in attendance: “Who’s broken rule #5?” and almost half the hands in the room, including Ray’s and his manager Neil’s are raised towards the ceiling.

Let’s face it—skydiving is the kind of activity that attracts very passionate people. It brings in lots of Alpha Dogs, both male and female, who are willing to go after what—and who—they want with just as much verve as what they want. It can make for some wonderfully entertaining times around the bonfire and occasionally a few really great couples, but it can also make one fucking hell of a mess.

The truth is, some of the most incredible, hot, steamy and wild times between the opposite (and sometimes same) sex takes place just because it’s two Alphas going at it. The trouble is, those are usually the ones that not only end quickly, but sometimes involve sharp utensils, Jet A, tiki torches and/or really nice Microns tossed in a dumpster somewhere in New Jersey.

On the flip side of that coin, I’ve seen—and even been lucky enough to be involved in—drop zone love affairs that have been not only hot and passionate, but quite special. The problem is, there simply seems to be something about the sport that makes most of even these “special” relationships just not quite work out.

Two Instructors
Perhaps it’s happened, but so far in my time in the sport, I’ve never seen this one work out. Hot and passionate, sure. You’re probably in for some fairly intense sport fucking, but you don’t start working as an instructor without having some serious control issues. Eventually you’re fighting over who gets to stick what in which hole, and it’s all downhill from there.

Instructor and AFF student
Male or female instructor doesn’t matter. You’re talking about a bit of hero worship. When you’re learning to jump, your instructor can be the sexiest, funniest fucker out there. The problem comes when the student figures out that the instructor is really a bit of a tool that lives in a trailer in the woods somewhere behind the Tiki Bar.

Instructor/Pilot (usually a guy) and the Manifest/Office Person (usually a girl)
If you’re the instructor in this story, you now have two things going for you. First, manifest more than likely won’t be assigning you any tandems over two hundred pounds, but you’ve just guaranteed that you will be taking the 180 lb. boyfriend of the hot chick for the rest of your relationship. If you’re accidentally given a hot chick to take, you will spend the rest of that week apologizing for what you didn’t do on the jump. The thing about this combination is that the Alpha instructor and the problem-solving office person can be a pretty good mix. This is one of the ones I’ve seen work pretty damn well, and even end in a marriage or two, but I’ve also seen some real shit storms when one person (office), is ultimately in control of the other’s working situation.

If you’re the pilot in this one, then…well, this one I happen to have some personal experience with. The pilot operates a bit under the radar for the most part, mostly because people just don’t see them around much. As you might imagine, that can be one hell of a benefit if you’re trying to keep the relationship a secret, which we were. We of course failed miserably, and then fell victim to one of the more common relationship problems: shit talkers. For us it was an age thing, me being more than a bit older than her, but regardless of the reason, those smear campaigns can do real damage. She and I managed to get past all the crap and have an amazing season together, but like most DZ love affairs, it didn’t last too far past the close of the season.

Staff and Experienced Jumpers
The most common of all. Here is where most of the mayhem takes place. Let’s face it: On the whole, skydivers are a pretty horny bunch. Both men and women are all about the titties, most of us either have or will happily jump naked, we have naked slip-and-slide competitions and Jell-O wrestling, and we’ll jump all day and bang all night if we get the chance. More often than not, the relationships that get started have nothing to do with any common ground between two people other than the strong desire to get down the other’s pants. Unfortunately, this also leads a lot of trailer hopping, jealousy and the occasional bug from bumping uglies with the town pump. It has, on the other hand, also lead to happy fuck buddies, steady boyfriend/girlfriend type things and even quite a few marriages—marriages that happily haven’t yet ended in divorce! For me, it’s led to a few less-than-ideal days, a few really good memories and even one or two very special people in my life.

Is there a rule of thumb for the drop zone love connection question? Fuck no. We will continue to say “NEVER AGAIN,” and continue to do it whenever the situation arises. You, just like I, will pretend that the hot new jumper is nothing special, pretend not to get excited when the 105 lb. bombshell turns out to be your tandem student and lie out our asses about what or who we did last night. My advice: Fuck it! Have a wonderful time, try and be smart and not hurt anyone, and if you can’t do that, hide your gear and stay away from sharp objects.

Dean Ricci

Monthly Columnist

About the author: Dean “Princess” Ricci has more than 8,500 hours of flight time; 5,000 of those have been piloting jump ships for skydiving. He calls Skydive Dubai home now after a grueling stint in the Caribbean flying for The Man.

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Photo Interview: Paige Milligan and Lisa Mazzetta

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For this fourth photo interview, I found myself 200 miles from home in a hotel room converted into a photo studio on Sixth Street in downtown Austin, Texas. There I met up with half a dozen world class, beautiful skydiving ladies, enjoyed a few cocktails and took some pictures. Some things in life suck; that situation was not one of them! For this interview, I thought it might be fun to mix things up a little bit by introducing you to two of those ladies. Like before, the idea of the interview is to give you the opportunity to meet some of the amazing personalities we share the air with as they are on and off the DZ and tunnel.

You may have bumped into these ladies at a world-record attempt or at one of the Sisters In Skydiving (SIS) events. You also may have seen them organizing at a boogie or watched them compete in dynamic 4-way in the windy tube. Their smiles and personalities are not easy to miss or forget.

It is with great pleasure that I would like to introduce you to the ladies of Arizona Rampage: Lisa Mazzetta and Paige Milligan.

Photo Interview: Paige Milligan and Lisa Mazzetta | by Zach Lewis | blueskiesmag.com

Zach: Good afternoon ladies! First off, where are you guys from, and how did you end up in Eloy?
Lisa: I moved to Arizona in 2008. I moved there after I started skydiving because I wanted to be close to a drop zone with a tunnel. I’m originally from Maryland, and have lived in Europe and a few other places over the years.
Paige: I am originally from the Phoenix area. I did my first tandem in 2010, and got my license the next year in Eloy. [Paige has since moved to Chicago to work at the new tunnel there.]

Skydiving has struggled to get mass appeal with whuffos. There were short term successes with disciplines like skysurfing and freeflying in the early days of the X Games, but it never stuck. Dynamic is so visually appealing, do you think it might be the skydiving-related sport that might gain that mass appeal?
L: We definitely have some good crashes! It’s hard to say, but with tunnels popping up everywhere you will have more people with that first-time flyer experience and might be able to relate to what is happening in the tunnel. I don’t think it will have mass appeal from a spectator point of view, but you will have more potential participants.
P: I think we would all like to see it become a big sport, but I think it is hard for people to relate to and understand the difficulty of the moves and how long it takes to learn the skills to balance and fly this way. I definitely think tunnel flying as a whole is going to evolve into something bigger in the next couple of years.

Tell me about your guilty pleasures. Don’t be afraid to share, your secrets are safe here!
P: You know what, I really like jamming out to ‘90s pop music in my car. It is such a guilty pleasure, but give me some Britney Spears and N’SYNC all day long. I like ‘90s pop and rhytm and blues. I blast it in my car, and when I get to the drop zone I have to change my Pandora station because it is just too embarrassing.
L: I think I have lots of them! Lately I have been hooked on Netflix documentaries, and I can lose a whole day watching documentaries about all sorts of unusual things. I recently watched one about identical twins who have been hookers in Amsterdam for something like 50 years.

How do the two of you bring home the bacon?
L: I work for JPMorgan Chase in mortgage underwriting.
P: Skydiving!

Paige, when did you realize that being a full-time jumper was a possibility, and was that an easy decision to make?
P: I thought it was a really easy decision to make; it was my dream job! I wanted to be a part of the Skydive Arizona staff, and I wanted to be a full time skydiver for a while now. It was really exciting for me when I was given the opportunity to go full time because I worked really hard to put myself in the situation where I might be considered for the position.
L: I too made the decision to be a full-time skydiver, but after a day of packing Strong tandem rigs, I promptly went back to the bank!

Photo Interview: Paige Milligan | by Zach Lewis | blueskiesmag.com

Can either one of you describe dynamic in 20 words or less?
P: Fucking awesome!
L: Not static!
[Author’s note: If you haven’t seen dynamic, use the Google and check it out!]

Is there anything that you think the rest of the world should know about your teammate?
L: There is a slight age difference between the two of us, and I love getting to see the world through her eyes. I love Paige’s drive and determination. It is super fun for me to watch her learn, and grow into an amazing woman.
P: Lisa has this amazing quality that allows her to light up any room that she enters. Through our journey together on the team she has become one of my best friends and helped me get through some stressful times. She has a way of making me laugh, no matter what is going on.

Photo Interview: Lisa Mazzetta | by Zach Lewis | blueskiesmag.com

Outside of the DZ and the crack shack, what do you guys do to blow off steam?
P: Sleep!
L: I used to be a big party girl, but now the hangovers last longer than they used to! I’ve been in Eloy for the last few years now, and I really enjoy when we have a boogie with a DJ here so I can party close to home.
P: I am actually a homebody. Believe it or not, I really enjoy being at home on the couch watching romantic comedies.

So far, this is one of my favorite recurring photo interview questions: What do you suck at?
P: I really suck at coordination in general. I am always tripping and falling or stubbing my toe.
L: I am also bad at spelling, but not nearly as bad as my roommate Amy [Check out Amy Chmelecki’s Photo Interview in the December 2013 issue]. Her spelling always blows me away!

Can you share a little bit about your fitness routine? What do you do to stay in competition shape?
L: Normally, I do hot yoga two or three times a week.
P: Nothing. I don’t work out at all. Ever.

Photo Interview: Paige Milligan and Lisa Mazzetta | by Zach Lewis | blueskiesmag.com

You guys seem really nice, but I would really love to know what the best way to piss you off is?
L: Just drive slowly in the fast lane buddy; that gets my blood boiling every time.
P: You should ask my boyfriend, because he is pretty good at it .

Do either of you have any bad habits that you wish you could break?
L: I bite my nails. I don’t really want to bite them, but then they rip, and I have to bite them and once I start I can’t stop.

What is something that people would be surprised to learn that you do well?
L: I play the guitar and can sing. That has surprised several people because I seldom break out the guitar anymore.
P: I cheered and danced competitively through middle school and high school. I think people are surprised to know that was something I did well.

Photo Interview: Paige Milligan | by Zach Lewis | blueskiesmag.com

When your blood-alcohol ratio is out of balance, what is your cocktail of choice?
L: I like Ketel on the rocks. I love a nice Ketel martini, but I usually just drink wine at home. We go through a lot of wine at the Cougar Den. Neither Amy or I are really cougars, but I like the way it sounds.
P: I wanted them to have a party called “Rage in the Cougar Cage,” but I haven’t talked them into it just yet. For me, when I am home I like to have a glass of wine, but when I’m out I like vodka soda with extra lime.

In Amy’s interview it was noted that Lisa is an incredible Italian chef; Paige are you a master cook as well?
P: I can make mac and cheese out of a box and that’s about it! Vince is a really good cook and he is teaching me a few things, but I am still not quite there.

Photo Interview: Paige Milligan | by Zach Lewis | blueskiesmag.com

Is there any food that you guys prefer not to eat?
L: Exploding sea bass! We were training on Christmas Day, and I made a beautiful sea bass dinner for the team. Right before I took it out of the oven, the Pyrex dish blew up and shot glass everywhere. In other words, I like to cook successful meals that don’t threaten blindness.
P: I’m not a very picky eater. I am pretty much like a garbage disposal; I will eat almost anything.

Lisa, care to share an unusual fact or two about Miss Paige?
L: Paige has an amazing bikini collection! Every day this summer it seemed like she had a new one on, and not to mention, she wears them so well!

Lisa, do you have any tattoos?
L: No. I feel like I’ve made it this long without tattoos, and I would rather spend my money on tunnel.

Photo Interview: Lisa Mazzetta | by Zach Lewis | blueskiesmag.com

If you could walk Lisa into a parlor and make her get any tattoo of your choice on her body, what would it be and where?
P: [Her fiancé] Petter’s face on her butt!
L: That would be awesome! Who wouldn’t want to look at that?

I think it is safe to say that for most of us who have tattoos, there is usually something special or a story behind each one. Would you mind sharing one of those stories?
P: I have always had this fantasy of being in a traveling circus. Like the old 1930s Barnum and Bailey type of circus. When I quit my “real” job and decided to make the switch and pursue skydiving as a career, I decided I was going to give myself a “freedom” tattoo. I started a circus-themed piece that stretches from my mid thigh all the way up to the top of my rib cage. It has a tattooed serpent lady with a fortune-teller lion and a few other unique circus inspired details. This tattoo is especially important to me because it represents a new chapter and journey in my life.

Photo Interview: Paige Milligan | by Zach Lewis | blueskiesmag.com

Speed Round
Steak or lobster?
P: Steak
L: Steak

Champagne or scotch?
P: Champagne
L: Champagne

Europe or Africa?
P: I don’t have a passport, but would say Europe.
L: Europe

Snuggle or dance?
P: Snuggle
L: Dance

Power or finesse?
P: Finesse
L: Power

Mustard or Mayo?
P: Mayo
L: Mustard

Sweet or dill pickles?
P: Dill
L: I can’t eat pickles anymore.

Smile or Game face?
P: Smile.
L: I thought it was smile, but at our last competition I was all game face. If I had to give one more high-five I was going to lose my mind.

Scrambled or Fried?
P: Fried
L: Scrambled

New or gently used?
P: New
L: New

Would you rather be really short or really tall?
P: Tall
L: Short

Summer or winter?
P: Summer
L: Summer

Book or movie?
P: Movie
L: Movie

Photo Interview: Paige Milligan and Lisa Mazzetta | by Zach Lewis | blueskiesmag.com


Zach Lewis

Photo Interviewer

About the interviewing photographer: Zach Lewis started jumping in 1997 and flies camera for Dallas Khaos Khobalt. He enjoys jumping, taking pictures, taking pictures while jumping, and whiskey.

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Remembering What We’ve Forgotten

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Originally printed in issue #11 (June/July 2010) of Blue Skies Magazine.

As we gain experience in our sport, are we forgetting what it was like at the start?

My ride to altitude was a blur of handle checks, fiddling with goggles and eyes clenched shut as I mimicked the “real” skydivers dirt diving their jumps in the hopes that some of their confidence would rub off on me. It wasn’t the unknown rush that was the first jump, or even the barely contained terror of the level one AFF. It was knowing that I would graduate on this jump—and then I’d be set free in the world of skydiving with no fucking clue what I was really doing.

I was lucky. I graduated my AFF program at a Nevada drop zone that happened to have an amazing crew at the time. Bruce Henderson, Kurt Issle, Chris Stump, Will Forchet, Mike Skeffington and a few others were all a huge part of my beginnings in the sport. Not just because they got me safely through my tandem, AFF and gear crossover, but because they didn’t just leave me hanging after the fact. That amazing crew of guys took me to Perris Valley to show me what the real sport was like. I survived a broken leg at 25 jumps and my first cutaway at 27 jumps. It was these guys who not only helped me find all my shit but forced me back on the plane before the day was done, ensuring that I wouldn’t be just another guy who once made a few jumps back in the day. They were the ones that made wisecracks after pounding myself in on that bad landing, burning into my brain the need to never make that mistake again … Yet I find that as the sport has gotten older right along with me, and become much more mainstream, I seem at times to have lost some of what makes it so special.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are still a hell of a lot of wonderful people in our sport who love passing on all the little things we take for granted, but they seem to be harder to find these days. On more than a few occasions, I’ve seen teams snub those looking to learn from them—unless, of course, it’s a paid gig or one required by their sponsors, and that’s a very disappointing thing to see. Almost gone are the days when Mary Tortomasi and I could load Shark Air to go do a fun jump with the Flyboyz. Eli, Fritz and Mike were the freefly team of the day, yet would happily give up training jumps to go flail around with a couple of newbies like Mary and me. It was an amazing experience to find ourselves in the air with, for lack of a better word, our heroes.

Much harder to deal with than The In Crowd making it hard on the new kids is watching instructors do the very same thing with their students. Watching an instructor work with a difficult student with barely contained disgust is a horrible thing. Some of us were able to glide through our training with ease, but others had to fight and scratch for each and every level. It’s these students that I find become not only the best overall skydivers, but the most caring and attentive instructors. These are the people more than likely to give their all in the sport because it’s something they have incredible pride in—pride earned from a difficult task overcome with drive and determination, along with the helping hands of an instructor that gave a damn.

Whether you’re an instructor or a very experienced jumper, remember what got you into the sport, and more importantly, what kept you in it. Remember to pass on all the wisdom that you’ve gained over the years and keep it as fun and exciting for the students and low-timers as your instructor or mentor did for you. Instead of finishing the day having drinks in a team room or being closed off from the rest of the DZ buried in your clique, invite that new guy or girl to join in with you. Let them see what our lifestyle has to offer once the last load has landed. And don’t forget about all the little after-hours things you may have had to learn the hard way; teach that 50-jump wonder who decided to hang out for the weekend that he may want to consider taking his shoes off before he passes out at the DZ …

I also believe it is of the utmost importance to teach your students how to deal with the aircraft, the ground crew and the pilot as well. Teach that new jumper that the airplane you fly to altitude in is your lifeline right up until you jump out and deserves respect befitting its importance because your very life depends on it.

Teach them that one of the hardest jobs on the DZ is manifest, and it would be wise indeed to always remain on their good side. The term “Manifest Bitch” is one they need to learn to use with EXTREME CARE, if ever at all! Teach them that the ground crew helping start, move and load the aircraft are ultimately there to help and shouldn’t be given a handful of shit for telling you where to be, how to load or when. It’s their job and they are doing it to help provide the best service possible, as well as keep everyone safe. And if you think about it, at the end of a 12-hour day in ninety degree heat, wouldn’t you be a bit fucking irritable, too?

And for Christ’s sake, teach the new girls coming up in the sport how to get extra altitude. If you’ve been in the sport for a while ladies, let’s get back into the swing of things! I’ve noticed a drastic lack of titties in recent years, and can count on one hand the number of times I’ve given extra altitude for a good boob shot. The pilot needs love too, and you’ll find your local “Fuckin’ Pilot” will be much happier throughout the day if you help keep this particular tradition alive.

We are all guilty at times of forgetting what has drawn us to—and kept us in—our sport. As with anything, sometimes we forget how it used to be. Use the energy of that tandem student or recent A-license recipient to get yourself just as jazzed as them. Teach them a thing or two in the air and on the ground and see if you don’t end up just as excited as them!

Dean Ricci

Monthly Columnist

About the author: Dean “Princess” Ricci has more than 6,000 hours of flight time; 5,000 of those have been piloting jump ships for skydiving. He calls Skydive Dubai home now after a grueling stint in the Caribbean flying for The Man.

Photo Interview: Jennifer Sensenbaugh

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Originally printed in issue #51 (February 2014) of Blue Skies Magazine.
Download “Photo Interview: Jennifer Sensenbaugh”

In this third installment of the photo interview series, I hope to introduce you to another amazing character in our sport via a photo shoot, a few drinks and an interview. As might be expected, skydiving will be a common theme, but the real goal is to get to know the interviewee as they are off the DZ as well. You may recognize her from one of the wind tunnels that has been fortunate enough to have her as an employee, or maybe you remember her from the one of the early (and best!) cover photos of the most awesome skydiving magazines around. Either way, she isn’t one who is easily forgotten. Readers of Blue Skies, I hope you enjoy getting to know Jennifer Sensenbaugh.

Photo Interview: Jennifer Sensenbaugh | by Zach Lewis | blueskiesmag.com

Zach: You have moved around a little bit as your career has progressed. Can you tell us a little bit about where you are from and how you got from there to here?
Jennifer: I was born in Uppsala, Sweden. My dad met my mom in Stockholm when he was getting his Ph.D. and on the prowl for a hot European wife. When I was two, my family moved from Sweden to Jupiter, Florida, a small beach town near West Palm Beach. I went to college at the University of Central Florida in Orlando and got a degree in hospitality management. I fell in love with skydiving, and then started working for iFLY Orlando in Customer Service. In November 2012 I transferred within the SkyVenture company to work for iFLY Austin. One year later I transferred again to open and operate iFLY Dallas! So now here I am in Texas. The word “y’all” has very comfortably worked its way into my vocabulary. I would have never thought that was possible.

I had a question on this list that was going to ask you where you got your cheekbones; I had several exotic guesses … but never would have guessed Swedish!
I suppose they could be Swedish! My dad’s side of the family comes from Germany and Portugal, so I’m a big mix.

Photo Interview: Jennifer Sensenbaugh | by Zach Lewis | blueskiesmag.com

Did you find anything unusual when you moved to Texas?
I was pleasantly surprised with how friendly people are in Texas. Also, people here are more inclined to stop and smell the roses. I love it. I’m definitely trying to take a page out of their book.

Sure, why not! I like to dance for fun when I’m out with friends but I’m no ballerina! That’s for sure.

Where did you get your first paycheck?
I worked at a little burrito shop called Pyros Grill. I did everything from prepping the sauces, cutting the chicken, and washing dishes to taking people’s orders and making burritos. Now I always want to show the people at Chipotle how it’s done. Their portions and ingredients to tortilla ratio is always all off.

Photo Interview: Jennifer Sensenbaugh | by Zach Lewis | blueskiesmag.com

I am always interested to find out how people in the skydiving/tunnel industry navigated from their first jump or flight, to finding themselves in a place where this industry is their livelihood. How did you find your way?
My first few jumps were a disaster and I nearly quit. I broke my foot on level 1 of AFF after landing off in a junkyard in high winds. Then I failed level 3 after flailing out of the plane and showing my AFF instructors my technique on how to fall as slow as possible, and what a non-existent arch looks like.

While I was a crappy student, I did know that I loved being on the drop zone and the overall great vibe that came with being surrounded by such unique, exciting people. My instructors recommended that I spend some time in the tunnel, so from there I was able to become more stable and comfortable with the freefall portion of skydiving. Fast forward a couple of hundred skydives, and after some begging, groveling, and numerous job applications, I was finally able to put my degree in hospitality management to use and start work as a customer service representative at iFLY Orlando.

While in college, I was unsure of what I wanted to do with my life in terms of a career. People always told me to start doing what I love and the rest would follow. I had no idea how true that would become. Skydiving completely changed the path of my life, and I am forever grateful of everyone who encouraged and helped me along the way.

Photo Interview: Jennifer Sensenbaugh | by Zach Lewis | blueskiesmag.com

When it comes to music, what do you enjoy listening to? Is there anything that might surprise people?
I like classic rock from the ‘60s and ‘70s. All the good stuff that I used to listen to as a kid with my dad while cruising around town in his car. The Doobie Brothers, The Eagles, Bob Dylan, The Beatles. Top 40/pop/hip-hop isn’t really my thing (unless of course I am dancing) I also listen to a lot of indie music. It really depends on my mood. No big surprises in my music taste.

Is there a skydiving event that you would recommend to the readers?
I love the Invasion! I’m from Florida, and Skydive Sebastian is such an awesome drop zone. The view! The people! The awesome New Year’s party!

When it is time for a nip, what is your cocktail of choice?
I wish I could confidently say that I have a drink of choice. This again depends on my mood. I enjoy good red wine and Champagne. I will come up with any reason to celebrate for Champagne!

Photo Interview: Jennifer Sensenbaugh | by Zach Lewis | blueskiesmag.com

Would you consider yourself an introvert?
I think most people have both sides in them, but I always considered myself an introvert. I am a pretty quiet person and sometimes keep to myself. However, when I started skydiving, I opened up and became much more extroverted. I really love the big personalities that come with skydivers. I also love being around and interacting with skydiving/indoor skydiving students, because their nervous excitement is so apparent and it reminds me of how I felt when I first got into this sport. My job also requires a certain level of social interaction, so as I got older, I slowly broke out of my shy bubble. Sometimes I crawl back in though. It’s comfortable in there.

I hope you don’t mind my saying so, but you are in amazing shape. Is there any specific strategy in your diet and exercise routine to help you accomplish your goals?
I don’t really work out very much. I am just a small person with a fast metabolism. I eat a lot, and it will catch up to me one of these days. Flying in the tunnel is a great workout! A lot of the food I eat is home-cooked and organic, and I don’t eat fast food. Unfortunately I really dislike going to the gym. I wish I liked it, because I would like to have more muscle and bigger legs. According to advertisements/social media, “Real women have curves,” and I’m lacking in the curve department.

You once told me that you like to cook; what is your best dish?
I do like to cook, but I’m definitely not the best cook. I enjoy making healthy meals, lots of seafood and vegetables. Sometimes I watch the Food Network and imagine myself side-by-side with Paula Dean, whipping up beautiful dishes in a nice kitchen with organized spices and a sweet knife set. Then I come to, realize that I manage a wind tunnel, and cooking is not my forté.

Photo Interview: Jennifer Sensenbaugh | by Zach Lewis | blueskiesmag.com

Outside of the tunnel and drop zone, what do you enjoy doing for leisure?
I love to travel! I go to Sweden every summer to visit my family. Any little random trip I can take, I try to take advantage of. I’m somewhat of a homebody though. After a long, hectic day at work I like to be at home with my cat and a good book. I suppose that is the introverted side of me.

Any clues on what things are sure to make you smile?
Being around my family. Airports and knowing I’m about to go on vacation. An awesome skydive where something hysterical happens and then recapping it under canopy equals huge smiles. Witnessing random acts of kindness that momentarily restore my faith in humanity. Cliche, but the smell of jet-fuel. I’m a pretty smiley person; it isn’t hard to make me smile.

If you could go back in time at any point in the last 10 years, would you change anything in your life?
No. Any tiny change would completely alter the course that I’m on now! I am pretty content with that path. I have made a lot of mistakes, as do most people, but I have also learned a lot from those mistakes. The person that I am today is a reflection of my past 10 years, so I don’t think I would change anything. But the going back in time thing is a whole different story. We can save the time travel paradox discussion for a rainy day, over Champagne!

Photo Interview: Jennifer Sensenbaugh | by Zach Lewis | blueskiesmag.com

People always like to talk about what they do well, but what I want to know is—what do you suck at?
I suck at a lot of things! I’m pretty clumsy, and I’m unfortunately I’m not one of those people who just picks up on things really quickly. I sucked when I started tunnel flying; I was a rather slow learner. I suck at singing; I have a pretty squeaky voice, so I just refrain from singing.

What really pisses you off?
When people lie! I mean, I understand why people lie; they don’t want to hurt others, or to save themselves from a bad situation. People who are inconsiderate piss me off. I also hate when people are obnoxious, or rude for no reason.

If we were to throw a steak on the grill, how would you like it prepared?
Medium-rare, or rare if I can get away with it. It depends on the restaurant, but if I am at a nice restaurant I will usually get it rare. People who get their steak well done … why?

Photo Interview: Jennifer Sensenbaugh | by Zach Lewis | blueskiesmag.com

If you could do something to help improve our sport, what would it be?
It would be nice for skydiving to be more accepted and understood. It’s difficult to explain skydiving as a sport to someone who doesn’t skydive; they always look at me like I’m crazy. I think indoor skydiving has and will continue to improve our sport as more people experience it and become interested in body flight. It will be awesome to see how skydiving as a sport evolves as more people continue to push the envelope, as technology and video quality develop, and as skydiving/BASE/tunnel flying get more exposure via various media outlets.

If money and time were unlimited, where would your next trip take you?
All over the world! I would never stop exploring. I think I would start in Thailand. Or maybe South Africa.

When you were a kid, did you ever do anything crazy or mischievous that your parents never knew about?
I always got caught! My grandparents in Sweden live on a river that flows out to the Baltic Sea, and every year they open a dam which makes the river current extremely strong and dangerous. I remember one fine summer day in Sweden when I was about six, I was determined to go swimming in that raging river without drowning. I ended up getting a long rope and a life vest and tied the rope to a rock on shore and the other end to my life vest. I then ran full speed off the dock and jumped into the current. I quickly learned that I was not the pro body surfer that I had fashioned myself to be. Luckily my dad came running down and hauled me back in before I got swept out to sea. I didn’t get away with much when I was younger. I was always plotting something.

Photo Interview: Jennifer Sensenbaugh | by Zach Lewis | blueskiesmag.com

In the event you knew you were having your last meal, what would you have prepared?
I hope I wouldn’t know I was having my last meal, because that would make it super unenjoyable. In fact I would probably lose my appetite. But to entertain the question, I would order a steak. Medium-rare! And lobster, with a glass of red wine.

Lightning Round
Weights or cardio? Cardio.
Ice cream or cake? Neither.
Swoop or tip toe? Tip Toe!
Muscles or brains? Brains.
Saver or spender? Saver.
Fly or drive? Fly.
Business or laughs? Laughs.
Comedy or tragedy? Comedy.
Violin or guitar? Violin.
Desire or discipline? Desire.
Brute force or careful consideration? Brute force.
Poker or blackjack? Neither.
Spicy or mild? Spicy baby.

Photo Interview: Jennifer Sensenbaugh | by Zach Lewis | blueskiesmag.com

Zach Lewis

Photo Interviewer

About the interviewing photographer: Zach Lewis started jumping in 1997 and flies camera for Dallas Khaos Khobalt. He enjoys jumping, taking pictures, taking pictures while jumping, and whiskey.