“If you’re like me, you love skydiving because it makes you feel alive. If you’re like Todd Love, everything you do is to celebrate the fact that you’re still alive and you live your life to the fullest. 25 October 2010 is what Todd calls his “Alive Day.”
This is the day he survived stepping on an IED in Afghanistan, which cost him both of his legs and his left arm below the elbow. This is a story best told in his own words, so please watch:
During his recover at Walter Reed Army Medical Center Todd joined Team X-T.R.E.M.E. (now known as Operation Enduring Warrior), which is an organization dedicated to the empowerment, rehabilitation, and motivation of wounded service members. Todd has been able to inspire thousands through his participation in events like the Spartan Race as part of the Operation Enduring Warrior team.
Todd has been determined to not let his injuries get in the way of any of his dreams, which includes skydiving. After completing his first tandem skydive with Mike Elliott into the start of the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship in Hawaii he was hooked! And since “impossible” and “can’t” are not part of Todd’s vocabulary, his teammates at Operation Enduring Warrior have been determined to find a way to make his dream of solo skydiving come true.
First step, was enlisting the help of the experts. Mike Elliott and the All Veterans Parachute Team are the team’s go to tandem experts and demonstration team. Mike has now performed a total of 4 tandem jumps with Todd. Due to the extent of Todd’s amputations, Mike had to manufacture a custom tandem harness in order to make the tandem jump possible. For a solo jump, Todd would need a completely custom system. The team turned to AXIS Flight School for consultation, and without hesitation Brianne’s answer to who can make this equipment was: “You want UPT and PD.” Not only was she confident that she was directing us to industry’s best manufacturers, but Brianne knew that the people behind the United Parachute Technologies (UPT) and Performance Designs (PD) brands would support this veteran’s quest. Brianne was right! UPT has put in countless hours of research, development, and manufacturing to provide Todd Love with a unique rig that is specifically designed to enable him to skydive solo. PD came through by providing the main and reserve canopies for this rig. Soon, two more sponsors joined the team: JOIN Skydiving Apparel and Green Light, both of which are passionate about the cause of helping wounded warriors realize their skydiving dreams. JOIN is a veteran-owned company that stepped right up to the task of creating a custom jumpsuit for Todd and the other students. Green Light has been team’s go to for all skydiving instrumentation and accessories.
Before Todd could enter AFF, he would need to demonstrate the ability to control his body and control a canopy. The canopy control was demonstrated on another tandem jump performed by Mike Elliott, where Todd was able to turn and flare the canopy.
For body flight, the team again turned to the experts: James “Pun” Flaherty at Paraclete XP and AXIS Flight School at Skyventure Arizona. Can you ask for better?! Paraclete donated approximately 30 minutes to Todd’s training and Skyventure Arizona donated 2 hours. Pun, Nik, and Brianne donated their instructor time in and out of the tunnel.
I recently sat down with Nik and Brianne to discuss Todd’s training. My first question was: What was your biggest concern before you began training Todd?
“We needed to make sure that Todd would be able to fly with other people so his fall rate and stability were our biggest concerns. One of the first questions that had to be answered is where is his center of gravity located and how that would affect his flying surfaces. We even entertained the ideas of additional equipment like a drogue or a “bird tail” of sorts to compensate for the reduced surface area when Todd is on his belly. As instructors, the biggest challenge was trying to put ourselves in his shoes and trying to imagine what it would be like to try to fly without legs.”
However, there was one thing the Axis coaches were not concerned about – his gear: “We have full faith in UPT, and so we knew that gear would not be an issue, because as far as they [UPT] are concerned – where there’s a will, there’s a way!” There has definitely been a lot of “will” in this case, primarily on the part of Todd Love. Everybody that has worked with Todd has been extremely impressed by his attitude: “Todd and his brother Brandon (who traveled with him to AZ for training) were truly inspirational.”
I also asked Nik and Brianne to describe the challenges they faced during Todd’s training at Skyventure Arizona?
“Well, first of all, Pun did a grat job of setting the foundation of Todd’s training during their time at Paraclete XP! We got Todd right at the beginning of the steep part of his learning curve. Our goal during this training was to fully prepare him for AFF. We approached it by putting ourselves in the shoes of his AFF instructors and asking what would be our biggest fear? Student going unstable and out of control to the point where the AFF instructors are not able to get to him is of coarse the biggest fear. This is why we focused on making sure that Todd would be able to recover from any instability and any body position. In addition to barrel rolls and front flips, we incorporated back and head up flying into his training. This way he would be comfortable with different sight pictures and confident he can recover back to belly unassisted. Surprisingly, the loss of his left hand presented a bigger issue than the loss of his legs due to lack of feedback on one of his major control surfaces. Also, one of the early problems Todd had to solve was unassisted entry and exit from the tunnel. He came up with a technique of backing into and out of the tunnel that seems to work great for him.
Todd’s injuries and his unique flight characteristics also lent themselves to unexpected discoveries during training. Todd used a full-face helmet during his tunnel training at Skyventure Arizona and learned that he was able to use it as a significant flight surface as well. After some experimentation, Nik and Brianne determined that for Todd the best method for pulling his main would be to adapt a wingsuit-like style of reaching back with both arms. Todd also pleasantly surprised his coaches with how well he was able to track and the unique techniques that were discovered specifically due to his body shape.
In part due to the fact that Pun, Nik, and Brianne are certifiable wizards and in part because Todd is one of the most coordinated and driven people I know, after a couple hours in the tunnel Todd was not only able to fly stable and practice reaching for handles, but was doing barrel rolls, front flips, and verticals!
You can follow Todd’s progress at facebook.com/OperationXWing”
I would like to thank 90Percent (Italian Skydiving Magazine) for utilizing one of my Arizona Airspeed photographs for the January 2013 cover spot. The photo depicts the U.S. Arizona Airspeed 4-way formation skydiving team’s videographer, Bill Schmitz, filming Thomas Hughes, Josh Hall, Niklas Hemlin and Mark Kirkby as they fly their way to become the 2012 USPA National Skydiving Champions.
Please click here to view the PDF version of the Magazine.