Sharon Calhoun - SDA - Casino Jump 2003.JPG

Sharon C.

1) What made you decide to start skydiving?

It was on my bucket list ever since I was 16. I thought that once I got older I would do it once to say I did it. I finally had the opportunity to do a tandem at Skydive Monroe when I was 24. I went back the next Saturday and did my Accelerated Free-Fall (AFF) class.

Then I spent the next four to five years jumping as much as I could. I had a job that allowed me to travel so I would try to find hotels near drop-zones depending on where I was going. I jumped at The Ranch in Gardiner, NY. I jumped at Skydive Kapowsin in Shelton, Washington and at Skydive Arizona. I took the opportunity to travel and jump as much as possible. When I wasn’t traveling, I jumped at my local drop-zone every weekend, rain or shine. Then I gradually started getting into other things like indoor rock climbing. Eventually my job changed where I wasn’t traveling as much as I used to. After awhile I found myself jumping less.

2) When did you start skydiving?

I started skydiving in 2003. It was the year after I moved back to GA  I jumped for six years from 2003-2009 before my daughter was born. The first 3-4 I was knocking it out; then after that I jumped every so often. I was doing adventurous things other than skydiving. I took a nine year break after I had kids. Then, in 2018 I got recurrent at the Farm, or Skydive Georgia.

3) What was the skydiving scene like in the early aughts?

I jumped out of a King Air at Skydive Monroe. Bill Scott was the owner. For special events, we’d get a CASA. During the week at Monroe we’d jump out of a Cessna. There were a lot of belly flyers—both the old school kind who started skydiving back in the 70s, and the newer kind. My drop-zone was probably seventy percent belly flyers. I also jumped at Skydive Atlanta. They were mostly free flyers back then. Trey owned it and he was also the jump pilot. Back then I thought I’d get into free flying. I still have a vintage free flyer suit, the baggy kind—not like the slick suits you see now.

I jumped a Dolphin container (which I kept) and a Sabre 2 150 (which I sold). I did some 4 way competitions back during that time. They had Georgia Skydiving League events. You could put a team together and compete in intermediate, rookie and open.

Back then popular free flyers were John Pinyon, Eric Deren and Omar Alhegelan. I got to jump with Pinyon. He started off as a tunnel rat in Orlando before getting into skydiving. He was very popular in the southeast where I jumped. Alhegelan was a SAG stuntman from Skydive Arizona. I think he had over 11,000 jumps at the time and was in several movies and commercials.

4) What was your experience as a woman of color in a predominantly white, male sport?

You kinda dealt with people feeling like they can make little racist jokes to you. I feel bad for saying this, but, you kind of just dealt with it. And it wasn’t everyone. The little comments mostly came from older skydivers. They would always make an excuse about this was just how it was. There weren’t very many women jumping back then either but I was lucky in that my drop-zone had a large group of women skydivers and instructors. There were a lot of women, including three female instructors at Skydive Monroe. I didn’t have to deal with sexist comments at least. They were folks who thought, I have a Black friend so it’s okay for me to say this kind of stuff. But for the most part, the majority of folks at my drop-zone were cool.

Sharon Calhoun - Skydive Arizona - Xmas 09.JPG

5) What was it like jumping at a drop-zone with so many other women?

It was great. I got to hang out with a lot of other women skydivers. We started doing other things as well like indoor rock climbing and hiking. I went to the beach for the first time in my twenties even though I had grown up in Florida. We started trying different things and skydiving less.

Some of the women I jumped with back then are now my teammates; Jen DeLong-Lindelow used to be my AFF instructor; Kathleen Floyd-Wright and I used to jump at Skydive Monroe; Becca was the first female tandem instructor I ever met and Chelsea is a newer jumper. We recently competed in 4-way intermediate skydiving at an indoor wind tunnel in North Carolina. We got together during Vega Nights at iFLY Atlanta. Vega XP is a semi-professional team that offers coaching. We were all pretty much grouped together due to a similar interest in 4-way formation skydiving.

6) How were the Indoor Skydiving Championships at ParacleteXP?

As a group, it was our first time competing together. I went last year with a different team and competed in rookie and we got 3rd. We started learning blocks after that and our new lineup—Chelsea, Kathleen, Jen and I decided to compete in Intermediate this time around. We felt like we would learn more.

It was awesome; it was so much fun. I felt like everyone was really helpful and so down to earth. That’s what I loved about it last year. Everyone was really there to see other people succeed. You’d be walking your dive and a team like SDC Rhythm XP or Airspeed would come over and offer tips.

7) What types of outdoor activities did you enjoy growing up?

I lived on a farm. Our house was built in an orange grove where my dad was a foreman. I was a wild child always running through the orange grove. Both of my parents were advanced in years when I was born. They grew up sharecropping.

I have fond memories of my childhood. We’d get home, take off our school clothes and put on our play clothes. Then we’d climb trees; we’d make mud pits or search the ground for mushy, overripe fruit and throw them at each other. We were basically playing war all the time. I also remember my brothers trying to roll down the hill in a tire. I was definitely a country kid. I loved, loved, loved climbing trees.

I remember occasionally I’d go with my mother to pick sweet potatoes. We also kept a few cows, goats and a couple of horses on the farm for breeding. My dad would breed them and sell the offspring.

I grew up in the outdoors and of course I love oranges. There’s a big difference between picking a Valencia orange off the tree and buying any old orange in the grocery store. It’s not the same. The Valencia oranges are meant for juicing. I’m definitely an orange snob.

8) What types of outdoor activities do you enjoy with your kids?

My oldest girl is into soccer, which she absolutely loves. My youngest is into dance and tumbling. She likes the attention so I try to channel it into movement and exercise. We all hike together as a family. We also go to nature centers around here. We go to Piedmont Park, Stone Mountain and Kennesaw Mountain. We go to a lot of festivals and we do 5ks every now and then.  

9) What does your family think of your decision to start skydiving?

My family all thought I was crazy with the exception of my mom who knew I was pretty open to trying new things. She would tell me to be safe but she was completely scared for me until I finally got the opportunity to show her a video of one of my jumps. She saw how much fun I was having and after that she was more accepting. She never got the chance to come out before she passed but the video made a big difference. I brought my oldest brother out to the drop-zone once. He could hear the plane on jump run and watch as tiny black dots representing jumpers fell through the sky and he said it was too much for him.

My girls love the fact that I jump. They think I’m like a superhero! I’ve taken them to iFLY several times. My oldest really likes it. My youngest is still too small to use the full faces rental helmets. She uses the open face helmet and she doesn’t like all the wind. Even still, she says she wants to go back. They enjoy it.

My husband is very much a do-what-makes-you-happy type of person. He came out to the drop-zone a few times and was almost tempted to do a tandem. But when they told him the price he was like, “nah.” Skydiving is not cheap. What if he liked it? Then there would be two skydivers in the household and double the cost of jump tickets and gear rentals!

Sharon Calhoun LICENSED Elliot Byrd - smaller.jpg

10) What do you like best about skydiving?

I like the three day adrenaline high I have after every jump!!! I feel nervous to go up in the plane each time, but what I feel when I get down is a sense of accomplishment. I did this! I did something that most people would be terrified to do. I feel like I’m overcoming something. If I have to choose a single thing I’d say it’s the fact that it’s something for me specifically. This is Sharon’s thing—not me as a mother or as a wife—it’s mine! When I'm in the air or training in the wind tunnel, it’s my thing that’s happening right now.

11) What is the most challenging thing you’ve ever done as a skydiver?

Learning blocks for 4-way skydiving is one of the hardest things I’ve done—learning burble hops and flying my slot. When I first started jumping, it was very different. We’d put a plan together and we’d throw it out of a plane and if the outcome matched the plan—well great! And if it didn’t—well that was great too. We weren’t exactly disciplined.

When I started flying in wind tunnels in 2018 I realized that I had really bad habits. Unlearning bad habits and learning how to fly my body was not easy. It was very frustrating. I almost wanted to give up. I had 400 jumps, so why was it so hard? Now, I recognize that those were mostly fun jumps. Even when I competed in Georgia Skydiving League back in the day, it was fun but we weren’t disciplined or particularly focused. We weren’t really trying to win anything. There were usually two teams and three medals so I knew I was going to medal anyways. Nine years later, learning to fly my body is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done as a skydiver.

I don’t jump outside as much anymore. I’ve only done four jumps in the past 9 months because I’ve been doing so much tunnel stuff. It fits my schedule around the kids’ soccer and dance and recitals. Coming back into the sport after having kids is different. Jumping out of planes is amazing and I love it.

12) What was the scariest moment you experienced as a skydiver?
The scariest moment I had was on a 3-way free fly jump back in the day. We broke off and  tracked away at the end of the jump. On opening, however, I found myself face-to-face with one of the other jumpers. We both did a hard right turn. This was at 2,500 ft. For me that was my scariest moment. It happened not long after someone at Skydive Atlanta had passed away from a canopy collision during a boogie.

13) What advice would you give to women of color who are considering whether or not to try skydiving?

It is hard being the only person of color; but sometimes, you have to seize the opportunity and just get out there and do it—and not worry about whether or not you’ll be the only person who looks like you. You may encourage someone else who is scared. You don’t get the opportunity to try something you really love every day. Do your research on the drop-zone. Go out there and watch. Watch the landings. You can get a vibe about a particular drop-zone just from watching. Just go! Go to the drop-zone. You don’t have to make a commitment just yet. Just go and get a feel for it.