Original article posted on skydivemag.com
Original article posted on skydivemag.com
Back in September 2021, Operation Enduring Warrior (OEW Skydive) sent Jonathon to AXIS Flight School at Skydive Arizona to get them ready for their custom Accelerated Freefall (AFF) program. Over the course of three days, Jonathon trained with Brianne Thompson, Niklas Daniel, and Joost Luijsterburg, getting him through his First Jump Course (FJC), flying 15 minutes in the Skyventure Arizona wind tunnel, and completing two succesful skydives.
What follows is a pictoral of Jonathon’s progress.
Unfortunately we got weathered out by strong winds and were unable to continue jumping.
We look forward to flying with Jonathon again in early March, completeing his A-Licesene and beyond.
In celebration of our ‘tin anniversary‘, we reflect on some of our favorite highlights and exploits over the past decade and give thanks to our Students, Sponsors, Team Mates, and Skydive Arizona. Without you, we would not be living the dream.
We also want to give a special shout out to the various skydiving magazines who have spent many hours editing and publishing our work with the community.
November 2010 – AXIS Flight School® sets up shop at Skydive Arizona.
April 2011 – AXIS published its first Foundations of Flight article in Parachutist Magazine.
July 2011 – Nik performs his first canopy burn for the music video 4 years by Kid Savant.
September 2011 – AXIS organizes at MOAB.
October 2011 – Nik makes an appearance in the ESPN Body issue with his team mates on Arizona Arsenal.
March 2012 – Nik wins the 10th Annual Freefly Money Meet.
April 2012 – AXIS coaches and organizes at the Skydive Expo in Deland Florida.
May 2012 – AXIS offers canopy flocking courses at Skydive Arizona.
August 2012 – AXIS coaches and organizes in Europe during the summer. Several more trips follow in the future.
June 2013 – AXIS trains the first Operation Enduring Warrior AFF student Todd Love. Many more wounded veterans join the program to receive their USPA A-License and go beyond.
September 2013 – AXIS Flight School’s swoop and slide footage airs on VH1’s 40 greatest viral videos.
September 2013 – Nik wins his first US National title in 4-way VFS while on Arizona Arsenal.
December 2013 – Nik is the primary videographer for the Women’s Vertical World Record 63-way over Skydive Arizona.
December 2013 – Nik performs “The Huckleberry”.
February 2014 – AXIS jumps with Cory Remsburg during the Tee it up for the Troops golf outing in Scottsdale, Arizona.
June 2014 – AXIS skydiving video is featured on the TV show Jeopardy.
September 2014 – Nik wins silver at the 21st FAI World Formation Skydiving Championships in 4-way VFS while on Arizona Arsenal.
September 2014 – Nik wins his second US National title in 4-way VFS while on Arizona Arsenal.
September 2014 – Arizona X-FORCE competes at its first USPA Nationals at Skydive Chicago. The team went on to compete and medal (2 silver, 3 bronze) at five consecutive USPA Nationals, in addition to medaling at several indoor skydiving competitions (bronze at USIS). AZ X-FORCE participated in two FAI World Cups, earning bronze in 2019. Peak performances for outdoor included: 17.8 average, 24points single highest scoring round. Peak performances for indoor included: 26.1 average, 46points single highest scoring round.
March 2015 – Brianne receives the Chesley H. Judy USPA Safety Award.
March 2015 – AXIS releases YouTube video “A Case of the Mondays”.
July 2015 – Nik captures epic video footage with a RED camera for Rockhouse Motion.
September 2015 – Ben Lowe joins AXIS Flight School under the label X-Ratings to offer rating courses.
October 2015 – Arizona X-FORCE takes 3rd at the USPA Nationals.
November 2015 – Brianne’s burning parachute jump video goes viral, reaching more than 1M views.
April 2016 – First 3-way XRW night jump over Skydive Arizona.
October 2016 – Arizona X-FORCE takes 3rd at the USPA Nationals.
December 2016 – Skydive Mag publishes Nik’s Body-flight Theory paper in four installments.
February 2017 – Nik’s aerial photography is featured on FOX 10 News.
March 2017 – Nik receives the Chesley H. Judy USPA Safety Award.
April 2017 – AXIS installs a personal weather station as Skydive Arizona and broadcast info online for locals.
April 2017 – AXIS coaches placed 3rd with their player coach team X-Defy at the iFly Virginia Beach Indoor Nationals in 4-way Formation Skydiving.
August 2017 – Arizona X-FORCE takes 4th at the 21st FAI World Cup in Germany.
September 2017 – Arizona X-FORCE takes 2nd at the USPA Nationals.
September 2017 – Brianne sets World Female Performance Record, as well as North American Female Competition and Performance Records in Speed Skydiving.
February 2018 – Brianne and Nik receive their pilots license (ASEL).
March 2018 – AXIS collaborates with the IBA to produce video tutorials.
March 2018 – Nik receives his IBA Trainer Level 4 sign off.
September 2018 – Arizona X-FORCE takes 2nd at the USPA Nationals.
January 2019 – Arizona X-FORCE takes 3rd at the USIS Nationals.
July 2019 – AXIS published its 100th Foundations of Flight in Parachutist Magazine.
August 2019 – AXIS introduces its Merit System.
September 2019 – Arizona X-FORCE takes 2nd at the USPA Nationals.
October 2019 – Brianne is the first American to medal in FS and VFS at the same World level competition.
October 2019 – Arizona X-FORCE takes 3rd at the 22nd FAI World Cup in Eloy.
December 2019 – AXIS collaborates with Good Goblin Games to produce the AXIS Skydiving App.
September 2020 – AXIS hosts its first Crucible Indoor Tournament.
October 2020 – AXIS builds a home studio to produce high quality educational videos.
November 2020 – AXIS continues to support the OEW Skydiving project.
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.”
Being competitors at heart, Niklas and Brianne do their best to improve on a daily basis. This applies not only to competitions, but also their business and life’s work – AXIS Flight School. AXIS has gone through an incredible online transformation, which could be called a “Cyber Grand Re-opening”. These changes have been taking place behind the scenes for over two years.
The AXIS website has always been packed with lots of useful tools and information. In order to make the site more user friendly and to keep up with the times more than a facelift was needed. In fact, we started over. Major improvements include a color coded menu system which is easy to navigate, condensed information on every page, and not to be overlooked – The AXIS Skydiving Repository. Here we developed a digital sorting system that categorizes all or our articles and reference materials for faster recall. Now users can search for categories such as solo skills, canopy, camera, and much more to find what you are looking for.
In addition, AXIS Flight School now uses sig.ma, a platform on which you can keep track of accomplishments, IDs, licenses, merits, etc. in a digital form. This allows us to send merits to students who have demonstrated their proficiency to our AXIS Coaches™ and acknowledge their achievements. Available Merits are displayed at the top of each web page, and their colors correspond to the new menu system.