Jim McCormick, D-12379, is a big-way and demo skydiver who has earned 15 world records (including the 400-way Fédération Aéronautique Internationale World Record for Largest Formation Skydive) and jumped over the North Pole. Prior to his first skydive in 1988, McCormick was special assistant to the general counsel in the Reagan administration (the first non-attorney to hold that position). Upon entering the private sector, McCormick began using his business and skydiving experience to write several books, such as “Business Lessons From the Edge” and “The Power of Risk.” In 2013, he founded the Research Institute for Risk Intelligence and now helps CEOs from several Fortune 500 companies improve their risk-taking skills. McCormick proves the theory that skydivers can turn what they learn in the sky into great achievements on the ground.
Birthplace: Denver, Colorado
Pets: Three wonderful cats and a fourth who doesn’t like me
Occupation: Author, organizational consultant and the director of development for the International Skydiving Museum & Hall of Fame
Education: Undergraduate–civil engineering; graduate–MBA in finance and marketing
Pet Peeves: Negative, cynical people
Life Philosophy: Live such that your days alive and your days lived count the same.
Jump Philosophy: Every jump includes a lesson if we pay attention.
Sponsors: Parachute Systems
Container: Parachute Systems Vortex II
Main Canopy: Parachute Systems Volt
Reserve Canopy: Performance Designs Optimum
AAD: Airtec CYPRES
Disciplines: FS—4-way, 8-way, big-ways and demos
Home Drop Zones: Orange Skies Freefall Center in Fort Collins, Colorado, and Mile-Hi Skydiving in Longmont, Colorado
First Jump: An AFF in 1988. I was planning on making one jump and wanted the full experience.
Licenses and Ratings: A-10130, B-13580, C-19551, D-12379 and PRO
Records: Fifteen world records, four national records and five state records
Total Number of Jumps: 4,745 and counting
Who has been your skydiving mentor? Jim Wallace. By pure luck he was my first-jump instructor and has been a close friend ever since. His passion, drive and professionalism set him apart.
What safety item do you think is most neglected? I am a huge believer in AADs. I find it incomprehensible that some jumpers still do not have them.
Do you have any suggestions for students? Ask lots of questions, introduce yourself to more experienced jumpers and know that there will always be more to learn.
If you could do a fantasy 2-way with anybody, whom would it be with and where would it take place? I have met so many amazing pioneers of our sport through the International Skydiving Museum & Hall of Fame. If I had to pick one, it would be Joe Kittinger. It would have to be above New Mexico where he set his [high-altitude] record in 1960. That would be a hoot!
Were you a hard child to raise? Hell yes. Demanding and self-absorbed. A typical skydiver.
What has been your most embarrassing moment in freefall? Flipping head over heels through the middle of an 8-way base while building a big-way above Taft, California. Outcome: empathy.
What kind of skydiving student were you? My first 30 jumps, I flew like a cat in a dryer. I definitely shortened some instructors’ lives.
Do you have any suggestions for USPA? I have been to a number of USPA Board meetings. USPA is led by 22 board members who I am convinced are trying to do their absolute best for all of us. Even if we don’t always agree with their decisions, we owe them a debt of gratitude. It is a tough and at times thankless job. We also have the benefit of an amazingly dedicated and talented USPA staff. We are very fortunate.
What has been your best skydiving moment? The look on the faces of team members when I have had the privilege of being a captain for record events. Being a part of helping them earn something they value so greatly is priceless.
What has been your greatest competition moment? Being invited by Vic Logan to join a 4-way team to compete in the Iron Crank meet at [Skydive] Perris [in California] when I had hardly any jumps.
What has been your worst skydiving moment? The popping sound of a knee injury on a less-than-ideal landing.
What has been your weirdest skydiving moment? Doing a demo dressed as a mushroom.
What is your motivation for participating in big-way records? Initially it was to prove to myself that I could do it. Now it is about the joy of working together as a team to do something we cannot do alone. It is all about putting the team and the goal ahead of ourselves. That can be a challenge for the skydiving personality.
What’s the best thing about big-way skydiving? The multi-color waterfall as you look up at all the jumpers pouring out of the planes on exit. And seeing hundreds of canopies opening around you. Only big-way jumpers get these experiences.
Can you describe your April 1995 jump over the North Pole from a Russian jet flown out of Siberia? We had to accept the very slight possibility of a bad or even tragic outcome. The North Pole jump was challenging to myself in that way and so important that I had to be willing to accept the dangers and issues of an extreme setting that was beyond my control. Otherwise, I could not get in the airplane.
Being in freefall above the polar cap and able to see floating ice all the way to the horizon in every direction was cosmic. It was like freefalling toward another planet. Another memory is the sound of the ice plates of the polar cap as they creaked and groaned as they moved under our feet.
What are the traits skydivers have that can help them with success outside of skydiving? We need to remember two things. The first is that most people think skydiving is a gratuitously foolish recreational activity with no redeeming social value. Don’t press it with those people.
The second is that for the rest of people, skydiving is profoundly inspiring. We are proceeding in the face of fear. That sets us apart. Our ability to manage our fear and function effectively in a demanding and unforgiving environment provides us with insights that can assist others.
What do you consider your most significant life achievement? The privilege of inspiring others through my writings and presentations.
Explain Jim McCormick in five words or fewer: Complex, intense, curious, caring, excited.