From The Mag

Let’s Give a Zach Welcome
We're pretty good lip readers.
Photo by Zoey Padowicz
Written by James La Barrie

Online Reprint

Originally printed in issue #79 (July 2016) of Blue Skies Magazine.
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If I have a man crush on anyone in skydiving, it’s on Zach Sabel. How’s that for an opening line? Awkward. Super awkward if you’re Zach Sabel reading this for the first time. Hi, Zach. Love you, dude!

So, check it out: On Thursday of CarolinaFest, I decided to leave the office and head down to Skydive Carolina to enjoy the sights and sounds of the boogie and re-connect with people I hadn’t seen in a few years. What a pleasure it was; we really have the best people in this sport!

Five minutes into a weather delay, an announcement came over the loudspeaker with perfect enunciation, volume and clarity so that everyone spread across the DZ could clearly hear and understand:

“Ladies and gentleman, may I have your attention? A big shout out to all the people here making this boogie happen. To manifest, the packers, pilots, and the whole crew, thank you for putting this on. Everyone, please give the staff a massive round of applause.”

Everyone erupted loudly and with appreciation. It was sincere, not contrived. The announcement was made by Zach; this is the essence of the guy. Grateful, happy, energetic, polite and an excellent energy. If Zach has a spirit brother and sister, then he’s related to Craig Girard and Melanie Curtis. You just want to hang out with him because of how he makes you feel.

So why all the Zach love? In the last year, I’ve been lucky enough to travel and visit a lot of drop zones between Australia and the U.S., and I’ve been reminded of how intimidating a DZ can be, especially as an outsider. I’ve been part of the skydiving community since 2001 and yet I often feel like the new kid on the first day of school. As a perfect stranger, I’m looking for a friendly face, a smile or acknowledgment. I think that we all want to have a sense of belonging and walking into a DZ for the first time can feel a little cold.

PD New Beginning

What prompted this writing was a letter that was shared with me by a guy who had quit skydiving right after completing the AFF program. He loved skydiving, but as an introvert felt that there wasn’t a place for him on the DZ. Rather than feeling welcomed, he felt he had to earn his way in and, as a nondrinker, really felt like an outcast.

If you’ve been jumping for a while, you get a pretty good sense of which students will stick it out and who will quit. Often we don’t make the time investment in the people who look like they are going to quit when in reality those are the ones we need to be encouraging. Many students are walking a tightrope of “I really want to do this,” and “What the hell am I doing?” Sometimes these people just need that extra positive word, acknowledgment or smile to keep them moving forward in this sport. Think of Eliana Rodriguez—one of the most accomplished skydivers in the world—who struggled mightily through AFF. What if she had quit? What if she hadn’t received the encouragement she needed to get through the program? I’d say our sport would have missed out on one of its greatest people.

DZs are a microcosm of life; they’re filled with amazing people and not so amazing people. Like high school, there are the cool kids and not-so-cool kids, the shunned, the introverts, the extroverts, the bullies and the leaders. The one thing we all have in common is a desire to belong.

We all want to feel accepted. My challenge for us is to have better self-awareness. As a community, what can we do to make people feel more welcome? We can do better. We love Zach and Melanie because of how they make us feel. Let’s make others feel just as great and not rob our sport of the amazing people that should be joining our fantastic community.

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