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.