by Brian Giboney
Jason Russell, D-23161, is a world record holder and a newly crowned Vertical Formation Skydiving World Champion with his SDC Core teammates, one of whom is his wife. Early in his career, he left motocross racing to compete in skydiving and now has made more than 14,000 jumps. Chalk this up as a huge gain to our sport.
Birthplace: Springfield, Missouri
Marital Status: Married to Stephanie Strange
Occupation: Full-time skydiving coach
Education: Bachelor of Arts in psychology, University of Wisconsin—Madison
Pre-Jump Superstitions: None. But several gear checks.
Hobbies: Anything where we can keep score.
Jump Philosophy: I’m taking this from the old [Arizona] Airspeed team room in Eloy: “Teach with passion. Learn always. Assume nothing.”
Team Name: SDC [Skydive Chicago] Core
Sponsors: Airtec; Cookie Composites; iFLY Ogden; Larsen and Brusgaard; Performance Designs; Skydive Chicago in Ottawa, Illinois; Skydive Sebastian in Florida; United Parachute Technologies; Vertical Suits
Container: United Parachute Technologies Vector Micron V303
Main Canopy: Performance Designs Valkyrie 75
Reserve Canopy: Performance Designs
AAD? Absolutely. Airtec CYPRES.
Disciplines: VFS. In the past, artistic freefly, 4-way formation skydiving and canopy piloting
Home Drop Zone: Skydive Chicago in Ottawa, Illinois
First Jump: I did a static line in 1991, then a tandem in 2002 followed days later by AFF.
Licenses and Ratings: A-41135, D-27326, Coach, AFF Instructor, PRO
Championships, Medals and Records: Fédération Aéronautique Internationale World Championships of Vertical Formation Skydiving: gold in 2016 (first U.S. team to do this); silver in 2012
FAI World Cup of VFS: gold in 2012 and 2013
USPA National Championships of VFS: gold in 2016, first place as a guest team in 2012 and 2013, third place as a guest team in 2011
FAI World Record for Largest Head-Down Formation Skydive: 164-way in 2015, 138-way in 2012, 69-way in 2009
Dubai International Parachuting Championships of VFS: gold in 2013 (with the highest-ever VFS meet average of 26.38 points)
Parachutists Over Phorty Society World Record for Largest Head-Down Formation Skydive: 26-way in 2015
Total Number of Jumps: 14,000-plus VFS: 4,000
Freefly: 4,000 FS: 2,500 AFF: 2,500 Camera: 1,000
Demos: 25 Wingsuit: 15 Balloon: 5
Largest Completed Formation: 164-way
Total Number of Cutaways: 16
Most people don't know this about me: I have
Meniere’s disease. My left ear makes too much fluid. The two fluid-filled sacs in that ear perforated, and the fluid is able to slosh back and forth. It can cause severe vertigo, which I’ve had a couple times, but can also cause a slight spinning sensation when I make transitions, which I have very often.
Of all your skydives, does one jump stand out most?
The first Star Search at Skydive Chicago. Rook [Nelson] invited some big names in the sport, and they were all great jumps, but during the first one when he went around the plane and switched on all our lighted suits—and then after on the jump—were some of the coolest visuals I’ve ever had.
What do you like most about the sport? Being in the moment. Leaving the world behind for one minute and focusing on where you are right now; I’ve found that only in skydiving.
What do you like least about the sport? Any
atmosphere where safety is not a priority. When I first started jumping, I wasn’t really aware of how bad the safety environment was at my DZ. With 75 jumps, I headed down to [Skydive Arizona in] Eloy for my first belly 4-way camp. The next summer, I visited Skydive Chicago. Being at those two large drop zones, where safety is a priority and there is staff out on every jump trying to make the experience as safe as possible, opened my eyes to how unsafe my starting DZ was. Eventually I voted with my money, and I don’t jump there anymore.
Who has been your skydiving mentor?
Mike Swanson. I’ve gotten coaching from him many times over the years, but he’s a mentor in the way he conducts himself around the sport. I’ve never known him to be arrogant or disrespectful to anyone. He always has a positive attitude and a kind word and is about as professional as you can find.
What are your future skydiving goals? My team is committed through the 2018 world meet.
However, the French team, 4Speed, has its name on the VFS trophy at three consecutive world meets. Seems like a streak worth breaking.
What safety item do you think is most important or neglected? The Skyhook or RSL [reserve static line] and the very limited number of reasons jumpers could have for disconnecting them. Too often young jumpers see more experienced people with theirs disconnected and think that it’s some sort of badge of honor to disconnect theirs. Like a lot of people, I have friends who might still be with us if they’d left theirs connected.
Do you have any suggestions for students? Get in the tunnel with a qualified coach as early as you can. It’s the fastest, cheapest, most effective way to improve. Get in a structured canopy course soon after AFF and make it a yearly tradition. It can and will save your life. Get involved in competition. Once you enter the competitive world you start to have a greater definition to your jumps. Competing will crystallize what you can and can’t do, point you in directions you might not have thought of and introduce you to some of the most passionate people in the sport. Whether it’s a weekend competition at your home DZ or the world meet, the anticipation, excitement and increased focus on performance will make your jumps better. I started in the tunnel with 25 jumps and in competition with 50 jumps, and I’m very thankful that I got started when I did.
If you could do a fantasy 2-way with anybody, whom would it be with? I honestly get to make
awesome jumps almost every day of training with my wife and three good friends. Fantasy 2-way seems like a small group.
The toughest thing to do in the sport of skydiving is:
Not letting it take over your whole life. I failed at that one.
Do you have any suggestions for USPA?
Term limits for board members.
What has been your best skydiving moment? Round four at the 2016 world championships. We had a terrible round three and a tough night thinking about it. We came out the second day and had a great round four. I was super proud of my team for bouncing back, and we finished the meet very strong.
What drives your competitive spirit? It’s just
always been there. I’ve seen other people who can do things only for the enjoyment of doing them. I don’t know how they do that. As soon as I start something, I want to be better at it than anyone else.
How did you become interested in VFS?
I was on a belly team for the fifth year in a row, feeling like I wanted more out of my teams. I knew I wanted to either get onto a team like [Arizona] Airspeed, where I could really push myself, or I was going to start freeflying. I took the latter, and then when I saw the VFS test event at Skydive Perris (in maybe 2007), I knew I had found my home.