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Catching up with… SDC Core

SDC Core, indoor and outdoor World Champions, talk frankly about their team dynamics and what it takes to be a success…

SDC Core win the World Cup of Indoor Skydiving 2016 – will they do it again?
SDC Core win the World Cup of Indoor Skydiving 2016 – will they do it again?

Who is on the team, how old, jump numbers and where from?

  • Jason Russell, 46 yrs, 16000, Appleton Wisconsin
  • Stephanie Strange, 34 yrs, 10500, Calhan Colorado
  • Dusty Hanks, 42 yrs, 12000, Bonners Ferry, Idaho
  • Jake Jensen, 27 yrs, 7500, Ogden Utah
  • Rook Nelson, 38, 25,000, Sandwich, Illinois
  • Sam Lendle, 33 yrs, 4000, Berkeley CA or Winston-Salem NC – This is the answer he actually gave for where he’s from. Maybe he has two personalities?

What does each person bring to the team?

Each person brings their strengths, and sometimes weaknesses to the team, and it’s an ongoing relationship that we all work to maintain. We’re unified by a common desire to be better, and the hope that our efforts toward that will also involve winning from time to time. Individually, Steph runs the show, organizing everything. Jake is comic relief, as well as head chef. JRuss is the spokesperson, sometimes the hammer. Dusty is the family man who keeps the drama down. Rook brings airplanes, a healthy dose of sarcasm, and some really long arms. Sam Lendle (alternate) is runner up for comic relief, keeping it light and helping us remember we’re just falling out of planes. Blythe Jordan (packer/ master rigger) does all the things we need to stay safe.

How long has SDC Core been going and how long with the current line-up?

Steph and JRuss were on a team in Dubai, and when we returned to the US, wanted to continue chasing VFS dreams. Tim McMaster and Derek Cox had been on that team and also moved back to the US at the same time, but were ready to move on to other endeavors. SDC Core picked up Dusty Hanks, and shortly after Ryan Risburg. Ryan was with the team about 1.5 years, but was forced to step back after a swooping injury. At that point we picked up Kai Kai Buckholz, who was with us for about a year, during which we won the 2016 World Meet. The debrief of that meet included a discussion from Kai that his new daughter needed more dad time, and so our alternate, Rook Nelson, stepped into a full time role. We’ve have this iteration since late 2016.

List SDC’s Skydiving achievements

  • Gold, 2015 US Nationals
  • Gold, 2016 Mondial (World Meet)
  • Gold, 2016 Indoor US Nationals
  • Gold, 2017 World Cup
  • Silver, 2017 Indoor World Championships

We’ve all done some level of stunt work for film, but Rook probably has the most, recently helping film for The Rock’s new movie, Rampage.

Describe your team philosophy

Try to hold the train wreck together long enough for the next comp. Which is only kind of a joke. Officially, we’re all on a quest to improve our flying, help grow the discipline, and slug it out with some of the best flyers in the world. We hope some of those encounters leave us victorious.

SDC Core Exit at Skydive Chicago
SDC Core Exit at Skydive Chicago

Why did you choose VFS as an area of excellence?

Collectively, we feel that VFS is the most challenging discipline in skydiving, so naturally that’s where we’d like to test ourselves. VFS offers an opportunity to be objectively judged on well defined criteria, while still allowing for creativity in engineering.

Are you all full time skydivers? How does your year look ?

Everyone works in the industry, although I can’t say we’re all full time jumpers. Dusty runs a tunnel in Utah, Rook runs Skydive Chicago. Jake, Steph, and JRuss all coach full time. Finding time for training is a challenge, and our schedules fill up pretty fast. But that’s the way we all like it. Our year is very busy. We spent the winter running head-down warm up and tryout camps, we started team training again at the end of May. Between now and Australia we have 10 days of team training each month, a sequential world record attempt, night demo at Oshkosh Air Show (the USA’s biggest airshow), 200 way headdown world record attempts, Summerfest Boogie organizing, US Nationals, Skydive Chicago Rookiefest, and then off to Australia.

What is your secret to staying at the top of the world for so long?

A lot of training, a healthy dose of talent, and an ongoing desire to test ourselves against other good flyers.

How important is keeping the same line-up to that success?

There’s definitely something to be said for just showing up. Keeping a team together is, at times, work. If you look at some of the top teams over the years, they’ve found a way to keep turnover to a minimum. Once you have a winning team, any change will be a big step back, no matter how strong the replacement flyer is. Keeping the same line up is a huge consideration.

SDC Core at 2017 US Nationals
SDC Core at 2017 US Nationals

Any tips on keeping a team together?

Go into it knowing that it’s a relationship that you have to invest in to make successful. Give your full attention to not being the defensive person on the team. Accept that you’re going to make mistakes beyond counting, and taking each criticism personally will lead to you being the source of the toxic that kills the team.

taking each criticism personally will lead to you being the source of the toxic that kills the team

What advice do you have for newcomers to VFS?

Don’t be discouraged at how difficult it seems in the beginning.

Is it really as hard as they say?

It is a great deal harder than anything any of us have done in this sport, and between the 6 of us, we’ve done most disciplines.

SDC Core at Gravity wind tunnel, Bahrain — by Gravity Indoor Skydiving
SDC Core at Gravity wind tunnel, Bahrain — by Gravity Indoor Skydiving

How has tunnel changed the accessibility of VFS?

Like all other freefall disciplines, VFS has come a long way due to the tunnel. Skill levels have improved so much for so many people, that VFS can now be something that weekend jumpers can reasonably do and have fun. The 2005 test event had some of the best flyers in the world posting an average around 8. A decade later, averages hover around 22, with a record of 26.38. A lot of that can be credited to tunnel training.

What do you think of the entry level disciplines such as MFS in the USA? What is the most successful way to introduce people to VFS you’ve seen around the world?

The US Nationals this year will feature a test event in intermediate VFS. This category will have only head down flying, with a smaller dive pool and fewer rounds. We’re hoping this will make VFS feel more accessible to more people. If the perception of MFS is that it’s “entry level”, then that’s incorrect. It’s a difficult discipline in it’s own right, and if there’s something simpler about it, I can only say that there’s fewer people on the team [2], and that makes it easier. Intermediate VFS will definitely be easier than advanced or open, and again, that will hopefully bring more people to the discipline. Around the world, there generally aren’t enough people in the discipline to even support more than the open class. We’re hoping that defining a dive pool that’s considered introductory will give a little structure to people hoping to start VFS, and define a pathway that doesn’t make them feel like the discipline is too difficult to begin.

The (outdoor) World Championships is 7 October 2018 and the Indoor soon after on 25th, does the close proximity of the competitions present the team with extra challenges?

For sure. It’s a lot of work to get ready for either of those comps. Both in a short period of time means we won’t be seeing family or friends much, for a couple months. Normal life for us is juggling how we allocate our time, and packing those two events together means we get fairly out of balance for a while.

Does VFS of all disciplines have the biggest variance going from outdoor to indoor?

Certainly we’re biased here, but the transition from being a good VFS tunnel flyer, to being a good VFS skydiver, can be daunting, and seems to be a more difficult transition than some of the other indoor disciplines.

SDC Core at Flight Fighters competition, Gravity — by Gravity Indoor Skydiving
SDC Core at Flight Fighters competition, Gravity — by Gravity Indoor Skydiving

What are your memories from Flight Fighters competition?

We were hoping for a rematch against the French team we had just faced in Montreal, but they weren’t able to attend. It was a well run meet and a great facility, but unfortunately for us, didn’t provide any serious competition. We all greatly enjoyed jumping into the tunnel from the access door they have at the top. Super fun.

What is your training plan to prepare for the World Skydiving Championships in Australia?

Similar to all other competitions. Jump as much as we possibly can. For this meet in particular, put ourselves in the Caravan every day possible.

And the 3rd FAI World Cup of Indoor Skydiving soon afterwards, in Bahrain?

We’re all taking a couple days of vacation right after the World Meet, but then travel to Bahrain and get back to training quickly. We’ve already started flying more tunnel than we normally would at this time of year, to make sure we’re staying fresh on both.

What equipment do you jump, and why?

UPT Micron (4), Sunpath Javelin (1) , PD canopies, Cypres, L&B altimeters, Cookie helmets, Vertical suits, and Liquid Sky suits. After so many years of jumping equipment before being on a sponsored team, we all had feelings about what equipment was the best for us. Our sponsors are a reflection of that experience.

You have sponsorship from Skydive Chicago, how does that work?

In broad terms, our team receives free jumps, up to 1000 per year, and in return, we organize several large events, as well as countless days organizing when we’re not training.

What do you give back?

In addition to organizing, I think we add a presence to the drop zone, which hopefully reflects professionalism and a culture of excellence. We do our best to work with jumpers of all skill levels, sharing with them some of the wisdom we’ve developed, in the hope that they’ll find success with their own goals.

What’s more fun for you, tunnel or sky?

They’re both great. It’s so fast in the tunnel, not wearing a rig allows things to happen at a really exciting pace. However, without doubt all of us would give up tunnel, if forced to choose.

Do you have a favorite SDC Core moment?

After some disagreement, we arrived at round 7 of the 2016 World Meet. It was a very difficult round, but we had trained pretty extensively for that kind of round. It went very well, and was definitely a proud moment for all of us.

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