I was a late bloomer making my first jump, a tandem on July 30, 1989—just a couple weeks after my 27th birthday. It was sunset over Flora-Bama on the beautiful Gulf of Mexico. There was no way to know at the time how my life would change.
I made two more tandems then attempted one more and instead watched the Helio Stallion crash at Battleship Park in Alabama (if you know, you know). It took a while, but I started AFF in January 1991, and though weather on the Gulf Coast was horrible, I was finished by April. The following weekend was my first boogie, where I learned to pack from a 12-year-old.
About 100 jumps later, I was thumbing through Parachutist and an event caught my eye—the Wannabe Boogie! This was a trial run by Tom Piras and Rob Laidlaw at Skydive DeLand that eventually became Skydive University. It changed my life by making Skydive DeLand my home drop zone, where I jumped all summer long, not yet realizing how much the locals were really doing for me.
They taught me so much. Carl Daugherty, to name one, taught me more than I could ever thank him for (though mostly out of fear!). Within two years, I was doing 80-ways, with only around 300 jumps, and in 1993 I competed at Nationals in 4-way intermediate formation skydiving. A month later, I had my AFF Jumpmaster [now called AFF Instructor] rating.
While working full-time for the state of Alabama and part-time as an instructor, I earned 14 world records (unofficial and official) and multiple state records. I learned to love big-ways and chased them all over the country and rest of the world. What I didn’t plan on was a life-altering landing accident: a burst fracture of my T12 vertebra.
It was a long recovery process after surgery, which fused five vertebrae, from T10 to L2. But six weeks post-op, I walked a 5k, and after another six weeks, I was jumping again. Five and a half months after surgery, I was as whole again as I was going to be, and went back to work as an AFF instructor. In the meantime, I retired from my full-time job and a year to the day after my surgery, I earned my tandem instructor rating.
I’ve been in multiple airplane accidents and watched things happen from the ground that no one should have to. And I’ve fought to earn multiple ratings and to date am the oldest female tandem instructor. I’ve survived years of changes, adversity and pain, and after 33 years of skydiving, I’m still here. Though my jump total isn’t huge, I’ve done a lot with those skydives, and I was taught early on that jump numbers don’t mean s**t (quality over quantity!); 3,500 is just a number.
As I move forward in the sport as a 60-year-old, I know my age is going to be a factor. I work out hard and eat nutritiously. I stay hydrated and mentally prepared. And if 3,500 is just a number, then so is 60.
Jennifer Jones | D-14659