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When I first came to the U.S. in 1991, I attended an all-boys boarding school in Orange, Virginia, (Woodberry Forest School). I was told it was mandatory to take part in a sport and so, for the winter term, I unfortunately chose wrestling.
At the tender age of 13 and straight out of the Caribbean, I was horrified to be presented with a singlet, a jock strap and some kind of head gear designed to protect my ears. I had never seen any of the three, but I would go on to make history in this historic school’s amazing wrestling program. Weighing in at 103 lbs, I successfully lost every single match. Armed with just one move, I tried to fireman’s-carry my way to victory, and time and time again, I got thrashed. I made getting pinned look fashionable because it happened so much. I call these losses character-building experiences.
Despite my dismal records in wrestling and tons of losses in golf, I have a great appreciation for athletes at the top of their games. All sports are more of a mental test than a physical one and that’s what I enjoy so much.
Due to my love of sport, I have come to appreciate skydivers who compete. Competition skydiving is a brutal mental test where one error can ruin an entire season of preparation. Thousands of dollars and hours in planes, overnight tunnel sessions and nights spent in shabby motel rooms, all sacrificed for the love of the sport. There is no glory, other than the personal satisfaction that comes from overcoming a massive challenge whereby the playing field is uneven based on huge variations in sponsorship. There can be no greater David and Goliath storyline than a civilian skydive team facing off with a well-funded team that makes skydiving a profession.
This is why you have to admire the Airspeed story so much. If you haven’t read Dan BC’s book, “Above All Else,” yet, do yourself a favor and read it. Dan and his teammates built a franchise out of a crazy desire to win. That’s it. They weren’t competing for anything else—there isn’t anything else. That is character. That is why my heroes in skydiving today are the ones who quit their jobs and commit to full-time training, all while going broke, just to show up at Nationals and bring their best against people from all over the country who are just as crazy.
Can there be a more pure form of sport than one in which participants literally put their lives on the line for no financial gain? They do it simply for a shot to make a podium that few, if any, media will cover.
If you don’t follow competition skydiving, this is the year to start. The Olympics of our sport are coming to Chicago in September. The World Parachuting Championships, known as the Mondial, will bring skydivers from every corner of the globe to compete. Some teams will be well funded while others will arrive with hardly two nickels to rub together, and that is what makes this event so exciting. The Cinderella story is only a video bust away. So much sacrifice from so many people all coming down to one major event. How can we not tune in?
There’s another storyline building: This year’s event will be hosted at Skydive Chicago. When its founder Roger Nelson was alive, everything he did was first class. His vision of building Skydive Chicago moved the sport forward. It gave other drop zone operators an example of what was possible and a big goal to strive toward. Roger gave skydivers permission to like nice things and to move beyond the “Fandango” mindset in which the sport had existed. Some of today’s amazing DZs originate from this pioneer’s vision. So, it is fitting that his son Rook won the bid to host the Mondial. It’s the final piece in Roger’s legacy because he loved the sport, and the skydivers within it, more than anyone.
I’ve never been more excited about our sport than I am this year. We will see the world’s best clash for the right to call themselves world champion. Airspeed versus Hayabusa, The Golden Knights versus the French, and countless other stories in multiple disciplines at an historic location, known for excellence, run by a man named Nelson. This is going to be awesome. I hope you’ll be tuned in. This 0-24 wrestler certainly will be.
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