You wouldn’t think skydiving is an athletic sport, but it is.
They do more than jump out of perfectly good airplanes. Each year, hundreds of skydivers compete nationally and internationally. Meet a few of the aerial athletes who have brought home the gold.
Chicagoan Alexey Galda has turned his passion for flight into gold.
In the summer months, the 35-year-old suits up and trains at Chicagoland Skydiving Center in Rochelle, Illinois. His work has paid off.
In October, Galda earned gold for wingsuit performance flying at the U.S. Parachute National Championships in Arizona. In this format competitors are tested on three skills.
“They try to glide as efficiently as possible, try to stay in the air as long as possible and go as fast as possible,” Galda said.
His day job?
“I am a quantum computing principal scientist,” he said.
Simply put, he’s a math genius. Wingsuit competitors are judged on data collected from a GPS device on their helmets. All those numbers add up for this scientist.
“Analyzing the data a bit more helped me to progress a bit faster,” he said.
Fast enough to medal at every competition since 2015.
Maxine Tate is the current female world record holder in Speed Skydiving.
“Speed Skydiving is a very basic goal,” she said. “It’s to get out of the plane at a certain altitude and to go as fast as you possibly can within the window available.”
During her record-breaking dive at the National’s last October, Tate reached a jaw dropping 285 miles an hour.
She trains at Chicagoland Skydiving Center as well, racking up 400-to-500 jumps in a matter of months.
“You have no idea how much pain I have in my body. it’s a lot on the body,” she said.
Tate has nearly 10,000 jumps. At 53, she is also a coach and a member of an all-female demonstration team promoting social justice.
“I think age is irrelevant. It’s about the mindset,” she said. “It’s about physical and mental health and whatever your dream is, you find a way to make it work for you.”
Jason Russell is the captain of SDC Core based at Skydive Chicago in Ottawa, Illinois. They are masters of vertical flight, one of the most difficult disciplines in the sport.
In vertical formation skydiving, a team of four falling at rate of about 160 miles an hour.
“Being able to fly in really proximity to other people is challenging,” Russel said. “Being able to fly at the same rate at all times is difficult.”
When they can’t train outdoors, they train indoors in a wind tunnel.
The idea is to complete as many points as possible within 35 seconds. Each series of “grips” or formations earns one to two points. SDC Core averages more than 20. They’re one of the most decorated teams in the sport.
We’ve traveled around the world. We’ve met and competed against and most of the time defeated some of the best skydivers in the world,” Russell said.
Whether they’re in formation, flying like a bird or rocketing to earth, these are elite athletes whose skills are tested, not on land, but in the sky.
Nationals will be held on home turf at Skydive Chicago in Ottawa this September.