I had the opportunity to do a static line course at South Cerney, when the Silver Stars were running the dropzone there, back in August 2013. I did my first static line jump - and I was petrified!
It was more stubbornness than enthusiasm that’s made me push through it; it wasn’t going to beat me! I carried on, and though sadly I didn’t progress onto free fall during the course, I got myself onto an intermediate course at Netheravon, but I still didn’t qualify! I got myself onto an expedition in California and skipped past qualifying to complete Formation Skydiving 1 (winning a competition in the process) and came back with my B licence.
I loved it – it was a freedom I’d never experienced before – I overcame overwhelming fear in order to succeed, and it turned out to be the beginning of my life’s passion.
When you’re military you’re often faced with things which are out of your comfort zone – it’s a testament to your strength of character that you overcome them. I’m more resilient now because of my commitment to skydiving; I wanted to succeed in this challenge; allowing it to subdue me was never an option. I was not going to rest until I’d reached my goal.
But skydiving is one of those sports that there’s always somewhere further to go, and so I carried on.
I was in the right time and place to get involved in the display team. The chance to be part of a prestigious display team with a lot of history was a really appealing opportunity to me. I am proud to be in the Army, and really proud to be associated with the display team.
You start off on the ground! This involved being able to do commentary, talking about the display team and detailing what was happening thousands of feet above our heads to the crowd, sometimes many thousands of people; clearing arenas and making sure it was safe for the team to jump. Everyone wants to jump, of course, but the conditions to enable this are established by the people on the ground, and you need to be able to do any job. I felt part of the team, but I naturally wanted to be on the jump team!
You have to achieve reliably precise standards to be part of the display jump team. Inherently you will be landing into much smaller areas than you’ll be used to, where there are usually more hazards. You must hold at least a C license, with a minimum of 200 jumps and have to demonstrate that you can consistently land in really tight margins, within 5 metres of a target, compared to a huge landing area at a dropzone! Plus, you’ll be in the public eye, there’s a lot at stake.
I’ve done almost 100 displays now. There are some standout moments. Some because the scenery is spectacular – like Episcopi in Cyprus. In terms of tricky set ups, there’s a display we do every year in Northamptonshire; you’re landing facing a significant block of trees and the air comes over the trees and pushes your canopy into the ground. It doesn’t make for the most elegant of landings!
The most memorable was the first all-female female parachute display in September 2019, it was into Sandhurst during a women’s STEM event. I was the jumpmaster and it was a really proud moment for me.
I’ve been a Category System Instructor since 2017; I teach novice parachutists on the ground before taking them to 3500 ft to despatch them on static line jumps. I’m also a Formation Skydiving coach and a Wingsuit coach.
I have been a guest jumper with other Army Parachute Display Teams, including the Tigers [the skydiving team of the Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment] who are all male. In fact, skydiving as a sport is predominantly male but as for being in the minority gender wise, I don’t notice it that much. I’m used to a male-dominated environment. Being in the Army has given me the confidence to just get on with it.
There is a lack of that representation though within British Skydiving (BS) and I’ve been working with BS with things like workshops for potential instructors and Zoom meetings to discuss experiences as a female in the sport. I hope that I can give confidence to others in the sport. In skydiving, women compete with and against men; it’s one of the few sports where we are all truly equal!
When you’re in the Army, both the environment and those you serve with have a way of shaping and developing you as an individual. It’s given me a robustness and a confidence that I doubt I would have otherwise found. And through the Army I discovered skydiving which, in turn, shaped me too.
I’m now in my last year of military service, and I plan to carry on instructing as a civilian. There’s support for that from my chain of command; naturally they’ve been enthusiastic for my organising of basic courses for my regiment, through the Army Adventurous Training Air Wing. All of the soldiers really enjoyed it – they all jumped, many of them overcoming long-held fears.
That’s the whole point of it –it’s a singular way of putting people under a kind of pressure that really cannot be replicated in any other way. That is the reason for Adventurous Training (AT), I think it is an invaluable way of fostering traits and capabilities that we would seek to maximise in our personnel.
Moral courage, faith, and trust in equipment, instructors, peers - there are so many things that can be demonstrated through this sport. And there are so many ways to progress, in many different disciplines, which take you back to being out of your comfort zone – and take you back to your student fears!
A lot of people talk to me about their perception of skydiving – and people ask me why I’d do something so scary, and of course it is scary. Every skydiver has their own reasons for returning to the skies and so I say to those who ask, “come and find out why!”. Being scared of heights is not a good enough reason!
You can sign up for student training through your local civilian DZ or at the AATAW through the Adventurous Training Group page on Defence Gateway, as an individual or as a syndicate through JSAT Course Applications (mod.uk)