UConn skydiving takes trip over break
While many UConn students were enjoying time with family, opening gifts and celebrating the holiday season this winter break, the UConn Skydiving Team was busy jumping 13,000 feet out of airplanes over the Arizona desert, during the United States Parachute Association Collegiate Nationals.
"It's weird because a lot of people don't even realize competitive skydiving even exists," team representative and UConn grad student Will Harris said. "Even when I started jumping, I knew almost nothing about it, but there's a whole hidden sport that's sort of below the surface."
While the team may not be well known in and around Storrs, in the world of competitive collegiate skydiving, the Huskies are regarded as one of the top teams in the country, as well as a mainstay at the USPA Collegiate National competition.
The team's season, which begins in April and typically ends in October, includes weekend training jumps at Connecticut Parachutists in Ellington, summer training and multiple competitions during the early months of the fall semester.
"What we primarily do [during competitions] is formations, which means that we jump in two-person, four-person or six-person teams," Harris said. "The idea is that beforehand, the judges will say 'you have to make these formations as many times as you can.' Someone jumps with us with a camera and they film the whole jump. We go through the sequence of formations, with each formation worth one point. After the jump, the judges add up the points and the team with the most wins."
The sport of skydiving is one of passion and fearlessness. In Harris' case, immediately after his first jump, he was hooked; another victim of the adrenaline bug.
"I did a semester abroad during my junior year to New Zealand, and naturally with the beautiful scenery, I wanted to skydive there, and I did. It was a great time," he said. "After that I told myself I wanted to do it again, and just before I graduated undergrad I decided to check out the [UConn skydiving] club. I knew some people that were doing it, and I somehow just talked myself into it. It sort of took off from there."
A group of 11 students led by Harris embarked for the Collegiate National competition on Christmas afternoon, "much to the dismay of our family members," Harris said. Team members who participated included freshman Sarah Chamberlain, junior Kevin Duignan, senior Joshua Ellenberg, junior Brandon Gilbert, grad student Doug Hendrix, sophomore Justin Jetmar, senior Jim Marcum, sophomore Daniel Pace, sophomore Andrew Stipicevic and junior Jon Szylobryt.
The competition took place at Skydive Arizona, the largest and busiest skydiving dropzone in the United States.
"The place is unreal," said Harris of the facility. "They have their own fleet of planes, facilities, a hotel, restaurants and so on. Its like Disneyland for skydivers."
The Huskies - who had a three-day window of practice jumps and preparation upon their arrival in Arizona - competed in the meet on Dec. 29 against over a dozen other collegiate skydiving teams. The competition included Air Force, Georgia Tech, South Carolina, Virginia Tech, Kansas State and Navy, among others.
The Huskies' four-way jump team, took silver with a point total of 76. One of UConn's two-way jump teams, comprised of Doug Hendrix and Andrew Stipicevic, also netted a silver medal. Justin Jetmar won gold for his efforts in the novice level accuracy jump, while Doug Hendrix took silver in the same event.
While the skydiving team's season is now over, Harris is confident that the rapidly-growing program has a very bright future. The team has plans to assemble a roster to send to the 2013 USPA Nationals, the largest and most competitive skydiving competition in the United States, next September. Attending the event, which is open not just to collegiate skydivers but to seasoned professionals as well, would be a major benchmark in the growth of the club.
"Our team has grown tremendously in the past few years. We went from just a few people a couple of years ago, to fifteen people this year," Harris said. "The team has a sort of contagious enthusiasm. Its just sort of the way the sport is. I'm expecting big things from them over the next couple of years. We're just going to keep getting bigger and stronger."
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