Blue Skies

Published May 2, 2013

By Cierra Briana Colón

Casey free falling from the plane.

Casey free falling from the plane.

Beer pong, never have I ever, kings, flip cup and bet your liver are only a few drinking games many college students play on Friday nights. Students are usually tired from the previous night’s festivities and spend Saturday morning, or afternoon, catching up on sleep. However, Casey Hawley wakes up at five a.m. to spend her Saturdays jumping 14,000 ft. out of a plane.

Hawley, a Towson University junior, is the current president of Towson University’s Skydiving Club.  She has completed 146 skydives in the past four years.

For her birthday, July 26, 2010, Hawley went tandem skydiving for the first time. During a tandem skydive the instructor wears a dual harness parachute and is connected to the student. The instructor guides the student during the entire jump. Tandem skydives are suggested for students who are jumping for the first time.

That fall season, Hawley started college at Towson University. She said she joined the Towson skydiving club because she wanted to share her first time skydiving experience by offering students discounts to jump.

Hawley said her favorite thing about being a member of the skydiving club is to watch people’s faces when they skydive for the first time. Annelise Thifault, a Towson University junior, had her firs jump.

Like Hawley, Thifault decided to go skydiving for her birthday. Now, Thifault loves the sport and wants to continue skydiving in the future.

“I don’t see how people can only go once,” Thifault said. “I keep looking on LivingSocial and Groupon for nearby discounts because I don’t want to wait until the next club trip.”

Chelsey Anderson founded the club in 2008. She said the club was very small with very few female members. Anderson said she wanted to get more females interested in the sport.

“Originally the club was a bunch of guys,” said Anderson. “Unfortunately, there’s not many females in the skydiving community.”

Annelise Thifault and I before our tandem skydive.

Annelise Thifault and I before our tandem skydive.

Anderson’s graduation was approaching, so, she said she formed a relationship with Hawley because she wanted her to eventually become president of the club. Anderson said Hawley was extremely committed to the group.

“Casey helped the club meet community service hours almost every Friday,” Anderson said. “That was impressive because freshmen usually want to spend all their free time partying.”

Community service continues to be important to Hawley because without it the club can’t exist. Towson’s skydiving club is a tier three group, which requires a minimum of 150 service hours. If the hours aren’t completed then the sports club committee will not fund the club.

The funds allocated to the club provide students with the opportunity to go skydiving at Skydive Delmarva for a discounted price of $125. Normally a jump at Skydive Delmarva is between $205-$225 per person.

Skydive Delmarva

Skydive Delmarva offers other perks to Towson’s skydiving club besides discounted prices. Kevin Grishkot, a retired instructor at Skydive Delmarva, said Delmarva is the only location in Maryland and Delaware that has an 18 passenger aircraft. Other centers within the two states can only take two people skydiving at a time.

In addition, Delmarva is the only drop location where the pilot flies above 11,000 ft. at 13,500 ft. for a longer free fall.

Grishkot said other drop zones only offer tandem jumps. However, Delmarva offers tandem jumps and the AFF (Accelerated Freefall) program.

“At Skydive Delmarva there’s an emphasis on educating students as much as possible about the sport,” Grishkot said. “They’re interested in the big picture.”

AFF program

The AFF program allows students to skydive using their own parachute. The program is a seven step process, which allows students to become certified skydivers and jump on their own.

Nursing major and secretary of Towson’s Skydiving Club, Cyndi Glennon, is starting the AFF process this Saturday with a six hour ground course session. Glennon said she became interested in the AFF program after her instructor flipped her during her first tandem skydive. However, she said she wasn’t satisfied with one flip. Now she wants to do backflips during the entire jump.

Though Glennon is excited to begin AFF training, she said she’s nervous about jumping on her own.

“I don’t know how I’m going to make my toes leave the plane,” Glennon said.

During spring break Glennon went rock climbing, bungee jumping, zip lining and indoor skydiving to help her overcome her fear of jumping from heights by herself. She chose to go indoor skydiving to work on her formation during free fall and to become better acquainted with her body.

Glennon said she’s most nervous about finding the landing zone.

“I need to learn how to trust my equipment,” Glennon said. “If I do pass out the parachute will deploy on its own.”

Hawley is excited that Glennon is starting the certification process. On June 3, 2011 she graduated the AFF program.

Hawley used all of her tip money from waitressing in the summer to pay for her $51 jumps. It’s $26 for a plane ticket and $21 for gear.

Recently the prices for jumps has decreased for Hawley. After receiving a ROTC scholarship, Hawley’s dad bought her a $3,500 rig, which Hawley said is cheap. A rig is an entire system which includes a parachute, reserve parachute, container, and other equipment essential to completing a successful skydive.

Future Visions for Towson’s Skydiving Club

Hawley wants more members of the club to become AFF certified. She said she realizes it’s an expensive process. But she’s frustrated because people in the past have paid for AFF and didn’t follow through with the process.

The idea of jumping out of the plane and free falling alone intimidates people, Hawley said. However, she wants to assure people that instructors are helping and communicating through a radio while students are completing the jumps alone.

She said students should only concentrate on focusing and being aware of traffic, which is the space between your parachute and the other canopies nearby.

Grishkot, who has completed over 1,000 skydives since 1987, said he’s also frustrated with people’s fears. Grishkot said skydiving is as safe as walking across the street.

“The fatality rates in skydiving is one in 225,000,” Grishkot said. “The fatality rate in treadmills is one in 10,000.”

Grishkot said he understand why people fear skydiving. However, he said that if skydiving was as dangerous as people think it wouldn’t be allowed.

Skydiving is one of the best ways to spend free time, Grishkot said.

“It’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on,” he said.

Grishkot and Hawley want more people to become involved in the sport. Hawley has short and long term goals to increase interest and awareness.

Currently, Hawley said people only know about the skydiving club through hearsay and word of mouth. She hopes advertising through flyers and skydiving club apparel will draw more attention and get more people involved with the club.

My instructor and I during my first tandem skydive.

My instructor and I during my first tandem skydive.

Another problem Hawley wants to fix is membership involvement. She said people don’t make an effort to attend the weekly club meetings. Hawley said she realizes that everyone has different class schedules and can’t attend every meeting. However, she knows that some people only do the minimum of participating in one community service event, which is the only requirement of members being able to go on the discounted skydiving trips through the club.

“It’s important for people to make the meetings,” Hawley said. “Coming to meetings creates a family atmosphere and allows our trips to run smoothly.”

The third short term goal Hawley would like to achieve is getting more members to take leadership positions by becoming club officers to help plan events and trips.

Hawley’s ultimate long term goal is to get more members interested in the AFF program so that the club can one day have a competitive skydiving team. Hawley said she’s willing to offer rides, free of charge, to the drop zone on Saturday mornings so people can complete the program.

Though Hawley is extremely passionate about skydiving, she has no desire to become a skydiving instructor. She said she doesn’t want to be responsible for another person’s life. Instead, she’s interested in becoming a videographer skydiver. These skydivers jump alone and take pictures and videos of tandem skydives.

Hawley said she takes pride in not being a typical college student.

“Drinking is typical,” Hawley said. “Flying is not.”

One day Hawley wants to end up living at a dropzone. She said she doesn’t have a goal of how many skydives she wants to complete during her lifetime. However, she said she plans to skydive forever.

One Response to “Blue Skies”

  1. jbroadwater Says:

    Skydiving looks so exciting.

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