1) What made you decide to start skydiving?
I wanted to do it when I joined the Army in 2002. When I was in boot camp they asked for volunteers for Airborne. I volunteered! They told me I couldn’t do it because I was a computer guy. I ended up being attached to an airborne unit and they yelled at me when I showed up for not being airborne! Go figure. I served with 7th Special Forces Group and after that was attached to a Tier 1 unit with JSOC. During my six years in the Army I did a total of 40 static line jumps out of C17, C130, UH-60 and even one Chinook. I started sport jumping when I got out in 2008.
2) How long have you been a skydiver?
I’ve been jumping since 2008 so I’ve been skydiving for ten years. I started skydiving at Skydive the Farm (STF) so I guess you can say I’m an old school Farm jumper. I jumped there primarily for six years. I started competing for them in 2009. I started my first four way team in 2009, STF Velox. The original members were Raud Guerra, Dave Koons (Video), Greg Siebe, Mike Talerico and myself.
3) How many jumps do you have?
I have just over 1,050.
4) What container and parachute are you currently jumping? What was your progression?
I’m currently jumping a Vector 3 container with a Valkyrie 84 main and an Optimum 113.
I started on Performance Design canopies and stuck with the brand.
Sabre 2 200
Sabre 2 190
Sabre 2 150
Sabre 2 135
Sabre 2 120
5) Have you had any cutaways? How many?
One. It was self induced. I was on jump 500 or 600. I got complacent and pitched in a track. It was on my Katana. Wasn’t very happy.
6) What type of skydiving do you enjoy?
I compete in four way relative work formation skydiving. It’s a five man team: four flyers and a camera person. We exit linked and are judged on how many formations we can successfully build in 35 seconds. We do ten jumps and the team with the highest number of completed formations at the end of ten rounds win. I compete in four way, but I have also competed in eight way and sixteen way. Same concept more people. I don’t do big way because it’s a lot of people and I have a tiny canopy. Okay not exactly true, the biggest skydive I’ve been on was a 66 way. We had one guy off! But we built a 65 way. That was a GA state record attempt.
7) What is it like being “the only one?”
I definitely notice it. People ask me or comment that they don’t get many African American competitors. They ask me my story. I don’t feel out of place at all. I don’t feel tokenized. What I do like to do is fly at a level where people get over their initial reaction that I’m a Black guy and recognize that I’m a good skydiver. People are really supportive in general. It’s a good community.
8) Do you come from an outdoor family? What does your family think of your decision to start skydiving?
I’m third generation military but I wouldn’t consider us an outdoor family really. Not much camping or fishing. I ran around outside and played baseball, kickball, soccer and whatever I could get into. I used to jump off the roof with a towel and see if I could fly. I guess that’s a commonality for a lot of skydivers
My brother thinks I’m insane. My parents see that it makes me happy. They’ve never discouraged me from pursuing skydiving. In general they’re supportive. I took my little brother out to the drop zone once. I’ve taken my brothers to the wind tunnel. I have one older brother, one younger brother. We grew up all over: California, New York, Maryland, Iceland, and Washington DC. My mom settled in N.C. and my dad and brother settled in O.K. My oldest brother settled in upstate N.Y.
9) Have you participated in any record jumps? If so what were they?
Big ways also take too long and it’s one point. I’m used to trying to get increasingly higher scores. It’s a very different mindset from a four way flyer.
10) Most recent Nationals
We competed at Nationals in Eloy AZ in 2017. Vega XP took home the gold out of 40 teams in our category. We set the third highest USPA record for our division: AA or Intermediate. Our team is sponsored by ParacleteXP. We train year round every 2-3 weeks in the wind tunnel. This season we’ll end up doing 15 hours of tunnel training and roughly 200 jumps. Tunnel training is the most efficient way to improve at 4way. What you do in the tunnel can you take pretty much directly to the sky. It’s a big training aid for us as competitors. We do some work with iFly as well. It’s local for 3 of the 4 team members. My other team members are Annie Drennan, Ian Drennan, Julie Kleinwort, Amanda Kubik (Video).
11) What do you like best about skydiving?
Skydiving for me allows me to be in a very calm place. Once I leave the aircraft the only thing I’m focused on in that moment is the dive flow. It really puts me in the moment. Exterior stressors fade away. I’ve tried a lot of different hobbies and nothing does that quite like skydiving.
12) Why is Team Blackstar important?
It’ll be nice to have an ongoing record, even though it may not date back as far as we would like it to. It’s nice to get those stories written down. It’s nice to hear from older Black jumpers and older jumpers of color and create a legacy. For me as a minority it’s easy for people to set expectations for you. It’s nice to break that mold
I remember I was packing one day and a Black tandem student came over and asked to take a picture of me. I think she was an undergraduate from UVA. She said her friends would never believe that there are Black skydivers. It’s nice to be able to demonstrate that you can do other things, try other things—it doesn’t have to be skydiving.
13) What is the most challenging thing you’ve ever done as a skydiver? What was the scariest?
I wasn’t very good early on. I was failing AFF levels. I’m not what you would call a naturally talented skydiver. I had to put a lot of work into it early on. I had to stick with it. I’m also terrified of heights. My girlfriend and I just came back from Chicago. She got us a table by the window on like the 90th floor of this famous skyscraper in Chicago and I was sitting there shaking and she’s like what is wrong with you?
Skydiving doesn’t bother me though. It’s different. Of the people on my four way team, I’m the one closest to the door. I spot and lean out of the door to make sure we have a safe exit. Looking out of the airplane three miles up everything looks like Google Maps. It’s like my brain can’t process. But if you put me like on the third story of a building I won’t go on the balcony. That just seems like really dangerous.
14) Would you ever allow your son to skydive?
The first time my son saw me in the tunnel he was four. He came up the elevator and the elevator opened and he saw me flying in the wind tunnel. He ran up to the glass and tried to get in. For about two years after that he was convinced that I could fly. We’re going to let him start trying the wind tunnel soon. He talks about skydiving a lot and asks me when I’m going to take him jumping. As long as he wants to I won’t stop him. It’s definitely a very personal decision. I will support his choice!