OEW in the Eloy Enterprise

Disabled veterans learn how to skydive

 

ELOY — Two paraplegic military veterans have taken up a new hobby and recently began their journey of obtaining their skydiving license.

Ryan Newell and Chris Wolff traveled to SkyVenture Arizona from Kansas and Texas for their first training session with AXIS Flight School instructors Brianne Thompson and Niklas Daniel.

Newell and Wolff are part of Operation Enduring Warrior, which is a veteran-founded nonprofit organization that offers various programs including skydiving.

The skydiving program offers an unparalleled sense of freedom of flight and endless mental, physical and emotional rehabilitative solutions in what can feel like a completely new dimension in their lives, often becoming a lifelong hobby, advocates say.

“The concept I tell my children all the time is society says I can’t do this. I can tell them to sit back and watch what’s about to happen,” Wolff said. “It lets them know and understand that the only person that’s going to change you is you, and the only person to hold you back is you. There’s going to be a time when you find a wall that stops you, but what is it? Is it an equipment issue, is it a strength issue? There’s something that goes on that you can break through, but it’s not going to be maybe the way society thinks it’s suppose to be done and that’s the biggest thing we have to look at.”

Wolff had some previous skydiving experience with four tandem jumps, but Newell had no freefall experience.

At SkyVenture Arizona, the two veterans spent many hours in the wind tunnel learning the basics of how to control their body during freefall.

“It’s amazing,” Newell said. “You’re free. It’s like nothing else in that moment matters, it’s just you and the wind. It’s the most incredible feeling to be in there and be free.”

Wolff pointed out that in the wind tunnel there was a different sense of freedom compared to when he did the tandem jumps.

“You’re defying gravity when you’re in the wind tunnel floating above it, but you’re by yourself; you’re not attached to anybody,” Wolff said. “You’re in control of your turns, your rotations, everything that you’re doing you’re not relying on somebody else. It’s kind of like having training wheels and you kick the training wheels off and you don’t have them anymore.”

Wolff spent 10 years in the Air Force and went to Afghanistan as an aerospace maintenance craftsman to disarm weapons. Everything went smoothly and he returned home, he went through the redeployment line and during the medical portion of the process where he got his vaccines and updates, he got a flu shot.

“Nineteen days later I woke up paralyzed from the neck down from a flu vaccine,” Wolff said. “I laid in a hospital bed for 2½ years as a C5 quadriplegic. All I could do was move my neck side to side, I couldn’t talk, couldn’t function anything on my own.”

Then one day Wolff slightly lifted his arm off the bed and 11 years later he’s able to stand up and walk with forearm crutches.

Newell spent eight years in the Army and was in Afghanistan riding in a Humvee when his accident happened.

“I ended up rolling over 100 pounds of homemade explosives that detonated right underneath the truck and it took my right leg instantly,” Newell said. “It broke my left leg femur in half … I don’t remember anything from that portion of it — just what everybody had told me. I was the only survivor out of the Humvee and that’s actually what drives me to all the stuff that I do, it’s because I live for my teammates.”

Newell and Wolff spent five days in Eloy during the first session of their training before traveling back home. They both enjoyed learning from Thompson and Daniel and pointed out that they enjoyed the experience with their instructors as well as the whole skydiving community in Eloy.

“They take the time and they focus on each individual need and they’ll tell you if you’re doing it wrong,” Newell said. “They had me flying on my own during the first session of being in the tunnel. I’ve talked to three other drop zones and even though they have instructors there, they didn’t want to take the risk of training an amputee and these guys didn’t hesitate one bit. These two just flat out go, it doesn’t matter what the injury is, if it’s amputation or paralysis, they will find ways to make us fly and there’s other drop zones that won’t do that.”

Wolff added that he’s also faced the same obstacles at other drop zones, where they don’t want to take that chance on him.

“In the adaptive world is where we have a lot of roadblocks,” Wolff said. “Finding people that are willing to take what is considered abnormal, but to us is normal life and pushing the limitations of what was considered the norm to this new type of adaptive skydiving, that’s not really adaptive. We’re a skydiver just like everybody else. Adapting is one of the biggest hurdles in trying to find that person that’s willing to just consider.”

Wolff’s end goal is to be able to continue being an example for other people who are trying to break through barriers and to also change the thought process of those who may unintentionally set those barriers. An added bonus is that he has found an activity that he can enjoy with his daughter.

“I always look at what my daughter can do,” Wolff said. “From playing with a soccer ball to riding her bike or something like that and being able to see something that her and I can do together. That my injury isn’t considered the problem of why we can’t do it but the availability to do it or it’s something we have to work together to do. I don’t have to worry about that barrier anymore.”

Newell’s goal is to eventually have enough people go through the training to establish a skydiving demonstration team.

“We want to be able to show not only everybody here in the U.S. but the whole world with a disabled demonstration team,” Newell said. “To show them that we came to AXIS Flight School and they taught us from Day 1, and go all the way to become a demonstration team of wounded warriors or even wounded individuals in general. Show the world, hey. Get out there and do something. It’s not the disability, it’s the ability.”

OEW tunnel intensive January 2020

f877696cd2a2eaa654dd5513b046876cChris Wolff and Ryan Newell just completed flying with AXIS Flight School at the Skyventure AZ tunnel. Having flown 3.5 hours each over the course of four days, Chris and Ryan are part of the January 2020 Operation Enduring Warrior Skydive class. The goal of this training camp was to best prepare Chris and Ryan for eventual AFF and skydive training in the near future; aiming for March. Both excelled at learning body-flight in the tunnel and exceeded their own expectations. Before jump training can commence, there are still a few equipment hurdles that need to be taken care of. AXIS Flight School instructors Brianne and Nik feel confident that Chris and Ryan will take to the sky without hesitation and are happy to welcome them to the skydiving community.
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From left to right: Brianne Thompson, Chris Wolff, Ryan Newell, and Niklas Daniel. Photo by Kay Robinson.

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Ryan learning to back-fly.

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Chris and Ryan flying together in formation.

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Chris working on a leg awareness drill.

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Chris receiving instructions from Brianne.

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Ryan practicing arm movements to deploy a parachute.

 

AXIS Flight School in cooperation with Operation Enduring Warrior

Skydive training for Wounded Veterans 

AZ X-Force takes 2nd at the 2018 USPA Nationals.

 

IMG_5475After nearly two full days on the ground due to weather, the first events wrapped up at the 2018 USPA National Skydiving Championships at Chicagoland Skydiving Center in Rochelle, Illinois. The vertical formation skydiving event completed five of 10 scheduled rounds, with five teams in each division.

 

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In the open class, SDC Core once again took the gold, 30 points ahead of second place. Arizona X-Force won silver, and Golden Knights VFS took bronze.

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In the advanced division, Skydive Midwest Chemtrails won gold, with Dynasty in second and STF Pickle Ricks in third. This year’s Nationals included an intermediate-class test event, with ECLIPTIK taking the top spot.

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Arizona X-Force would like to thank all of its sponsors and supporters for making a successful 2018 season possible. Placing second, the team finished the USPA Nationals at CSC with a new personal best (17.8 avg).
X-Force would also like to thank and congratulate its fellow competitors for a great competition. A special shout out to all who participated in the intermediate test event. We welcome the new devision and look forward to having increased participation.
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Down for 50

Annette O’Neil and Joel Strickland made their skydive jump over Arizona, performing an incredible air dance before pulling their chutes. They also completed jumps in New Mexico, are currently headed to Nevada, and eventually, they plan on making skydives in all 50 states (even Alaska and Hawaii) over the next six months, making it the first time the challenge has been completed in one fell swoop.

But they’re not just making these jumps to set a record, they’re also raising money for Operation Enduring Warrior (OEW). The organization’s goal is to honor, empower, and motivate wounded vets. To tell us more, Annette and Joel joined our RTM hosts in the studio, along with Brianne Thompson from Axis Flight School, who partners with OEW to teach veterans to skydive.

If you’d like to know more or donate, please head over to DownFor50.org

FOX 10 News Camera flying interview

PICTURE PERFECT: Man takes pictures, 15,000 feet up in the air

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“Skydiving, as one can imagine, is dangerous enough, but try to imagine the added element of trying to capture the perfect picture, 12,000 feet up in the air. One photographer does exactly that, as a career.

“As a kid, I’ve always been pretty active, always enjoyed extreme sports, whether it was doing the skateboarding thing or riding bicycles,” said Niklas Daniel. “In this case, this was just another thing I wanted to experiment with.”

One can call Daniel a skydiving expert. To date, Daniel has made more than 10,000 jumps, and counting, and he is now known as one of the best behind the camera, at 12,000 feet.

Daniel’s love for photography began at an early age, and after falling in love with skydiving, he blended his two passions.

“The moment is very fleeting,” said Daniel. “So, if you have a shot in your head that you would like to create, it takes a lot of practice, a lot of training, also a little engineering to try and put that together.”

Daniel also described the difference between photography works that take place on terra firma, and those that take place up in the air.

“If you’re taking a photograph on the ground, depending on the subject, you maybe have the ability to take a test shot, take a look at the settings, and then be able to adjust until you get that right shot,” said Daniel. “Skydiving is more of sport photography, where they’re trying to get that perfect shot and it’s not something that you can recreate necessarily.”

Daniel said in order to be a good aerial photographer, you’d have to be a great skydiver.

“Not is it enough that I have to fly my own body or my parachute for example, but I have to be able to do that without having to think about it that much that I can now focus on the shot,” said Daniel. “In addition to that, I have to be very aware of my closing speeds with other people, the distance I’m away from them and I also have to remain altitude aware. I can’t look at my altimeter constantly, because that would ruin the shot.”

Equipment is also important. Daniel’s helmet works as his rig, and his tripod is his own body.

Over the years, Daniel has documented other people’s jumps, along with the formation of skydiving teams. He has also produced training video. Daniel said some of his favorite pictures to take are during competition with his team.

“I really enjoy the pressure of having to get a specific shot, and then being able to present that to the judges,” said Daniel. “That’s been my expertise, but I also really enjoy the off-the-wall projects, so whether someone wants to light a parachute on fire or something kind of more in that direction. Something you don’t see everyday.”

Besides doing what he loves everyday, Daniel also gets to share his passion with others who might not get the chance to. He and his wife, Brianne, support “Operation Enduring Warrior” by donating their time to help wounded veterans enter the sport of skydiving.

Skydiving, one could say, is a sport that has taken Daniel to heights he never could have imagined.” – reported by Danielle Miller of FOX 10 News

For more information on skydiving photography, please click here, and check out the PictureCorrect interview by Richard Schneider.

 

Arizona X-FORCE on local newspaper cover

The Eloy Enterprise – words by Tanner Clinch, photo courtesy of Kevin Mitchell

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4-way VFS Team Arizona X-Force exits the Dentri (formation M of the IPC dive pool) over Skydive Arizona. 

 

As the clock struck noon on a recent Sunday, the four-man vertical formation skydiving team at Skydive Arizona was 10 minutes from taking off for its 12th jump of the day. As members walked over to the shuttle that would take them to the plane, they took the last few moments to practice their formations, rotating around each other and grabbing various arms and legs with machine-like precision

This is one of about 30 days that the team of Johnny Gunn, Niklas Daniel, Seth Studer, Brianne Thompson and their videographer, Kevin Mitchell, practice for their competitions.

“When you can get four people that are jiving on the same page with a really good video guy like we have, it’s impressive to get four people to do the things that we do in the same time, in the same space in the sky,” Gunn said.

They compete in what’s called four-man vertical formation skydiving (VFS), one of the many disciplines within the sport. It involves the four divers and videographer hopping out of the plane with roughly 35 seconds to pull off all their formations, all while at high speed facing head-first or feet-first toward the Earth. On the ground, the video will be reviewed by judges who base their scores on completion of the formations, precision and style. Different sizes of teams compete in different competitions, from two all the way up to 16-man teams.

Back at the drop-zone, the team finalizes how they will disembark from the plane in a mock-up exit before they are taken to the plane. A team colleague, Justin Price, explains that they will be taken to roughly 13,500 feet in the air before they drop.

As the team pops their canopies following their freefall, it takes members a few minutes before they come zooming into the drop zone from the west side. Despite the fact they are landing into a strong wind on this day, they slide on their feet across the grass for almost 20 feet before coming to a complete stop.

They grab their used parachutes loosely and run around the corner where they return with a freshly packed parachute, and before you know it they’re back on the shuttle for another jump. This round, there’s no time to practice their formations on the ground.

They are practicing for the U.S Parachuting Association Championship, which is slated to take place in Eloy at the Skydive Arizona drop zone in late October. Doing well at this event would qualify them for international events, competing for the U.S. at Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) events across the globe, something that has been a dream of Gunn’s for a while.

“My ultimate goal would be competing at the world meet in 4-VFS,” Gunn said of his favorite discipline of skydiving. “That in conjunction with competing for the U.S. in canopy piloting would definitely be the dream.”

Eloy is a special place when it comes to four-man vertical formation skydiving. The first official U.S. championship for it was held at Skydive Arizona in 2006, and the first ever FAI world cup for VFS was held there in 2008.

While he’s not training with his four-man team, Gunn is training in a different discipline of skydiving called canopy piloting. Just last week, he won best overall in his division at a USPA competition in Florida, and gold in the speed competition.

For Gunn, canopy piloting is a nice break from the team-oriented formation skydiving, something he can practice whenever he feels like it.

“I just love being up in the air, it’s quiet and it’s peaceful,” said Gunn. “It’s just me and my wing doing what I need to do to win.”

In canopy piloting, unlike the freefall disciplines in skydiving, scoring is done on the ground. In a typical meet, such as the one in Florida, there are three events, speed, distance and accuracy.

Speed is self explanatory. Skydivers will guide themselves through gates with their parachutes, and the fastest time wins, with divers sometimes reaching speeds of 90 miles per hour. Distance is measured by how far the divers can go using a technique called climbing in which they manipulate their canopy to give themselves some extra lift to go greater distances.

“Zone accuracy is what separates the men from the boys, for sure.” Gunn said. He placed sixth in accuracy during that particular meet. In this event, divers must drag their feet across four water gates before trying to land on a 3-by-3-foot landing pad, with varying degrees of success.

Competing at such a high level in both freefall and canopy piloting disciplines is uncommon, according to Price, who also competed in the competition in Florida. Unfortunately a botched landing in the event led Price to be on crutches for a few months.

“It’s pretty cool being able to participate in multiple disciplines to that extent,” said Price, who does the same. He shoots video for the belly-down formation skydiving team at Skydive Arizona.

For Gunn competing in skydiving is what he hopes to continue doing for a long time, and hopefully on the international stage following the event in October

“I’m going to keep competing and hopefully be fortunate enough to pay the bills with it because it beats an office job,” Gunn said. “There’s way worse ways to make your money.”

Todd Love featured on German Television Pro 7 Galileo

It has been over a year now since AXIS Flight School got to meet and jump with Todd Love (USMC veteran who lost both of his legs and his left hand to an IED in Afghanistan).  On Saturday 28th February 2015, at 08:15, ProSieben (a German television channel) featured some of Todd’s video footage flying over Skydive Arizona on the show “Galileo Big Picture”.

Unfortunately the segment can not be viewed in the US due to country code laws, but here is a screen grab of Todd rocking out in the head up flying orientation over Eloy.

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Todd on Pro7