The All-American Big-Ways Invitational has an extraordinary energy. Founder Doug Barron’s phenomenal leadership, encouragement and vision makes the formation skydiving event—now in its seventh year—shine. His enthusiasm is contagious, and the participants can’t help but bring their A-games to every jump. In addition, it’s a ridiculously fun time with remarkable people: the best kind of summer camp for adults.
Every year, Barron dreams up challenging and intricate signature formations. One year, the formation was in the shape of an American flag; another year, it was the logo of his 4-way formation skydiving team, SDC Rhythm XP. This year’s signature shape was the mustache, inspired by Barron’s distinguished facial hair.
It took months of preparation to pull off the event, which Skydive Chicago in Ottawa, Illinois, hosted June 30-July 3. Barron rallied the best of the best to make it a success, including world-class coaches Craig Girard and Eliana Rodriguez and top videographers Elliot Byrd, Charlie McGee and Craig O’Brien.
The jumpers—handpicked by Barron himself for their skill, talent, attitude and commitment—traveled from across the USA and beyond to attend. It was a colorful bunch (in terms of both jumpsuits and personalities) that spanned three generations. Impressively, 27 per cent of the participants were female. From day one, Barron made it clear that safety was the top priority … anyone who pulled stupid stuff in freefall or under canopy would be asked to sit out or leave.
“This is always my favorite weekend of the year! Incredible people, incredible jumps, incredible location.”– Amanda Elkin. Photo by Elliot Byrd.
Patience, Perserverance and Positivity
Skydiving all day is exhausting, but so is sitting around for hours waiting to skydive. Although the weather wasn’t cooperative, Barron did an excellent job of rallying everyone and keeping their energy up. When they were able to jump, they made the most of it.
The event started off with 18- to 20-way warm-up jumps featuring a lot of outfacing slots and smaller components of the mustache to foreshadow the signature dive. One 18-person group performed 4-way block dives; a 20-way group ended a total-break-sequential jump with a round featuring burble-hopping piece partners; and a successful two-point 20-way built with an all-female 8-way base that chunked out of a Skyvan. Barron gathered data from these smaller, complex dives to help him make adjustments to the signature formation.
“So close. We are so close,” Barron said after the first try at the mustache.
Ever the optimist, Barron understands that a little encouragement goes a long way. During the debriefs, he pointed out what was working, the group’s strengths and where it could make improvements. The focus and determination of the participants was off the charts. The group made several attempts at the jump, and their efforts brought them very close to a completion. Even when clouds moved in and ruined a planned jump from 17,000 feet, they moved to plan B and built a 43-way partial mustache from 11,500 feet while 17 others hung back and flew their slots as instructed. The formation built so quickly it looked like it was sped up on video.
“This sport and people continue to blow my mind every day. This is truly one of my favorites and I look forward to next year.” – Kelly Tuberville. Photo by Elliot Byrd.
Despite the weather challenges, just participating in the event was the culmination of a dream for many. Participant Erika Woodrum said, “About two and a half years ago I saw an edit of the All-American Invitational and I distinctly remember thinking, “that’s what I want to do in this sport.”
Barron has already begun planning for the 2024 All-American Invitational. What kind of specialty formation he’ll come up with is a mystery, but it’s certain that he’ll take it to the next level once again.
More information about All-American Big-Ways events and an event video from the All-American Invitational is available on the All-American Big-Ways Facebook page.
Photo by Elliot Byrd.
About the Author
Lana Pesch, CSPA C-4045, is a Canadian writer, author, editor and speaker. Her next book, “What Happens When Your Parachute Doesn’t Open and Other Failures,” is about reframing failure as learning.