Wingsuit Progression Series
A series covering WS skydiving, from your FFC through Exits, Skydiving with Others & Safety, by Matt Gerdes & Taya Weiss...
There’s a name in skydiving that’s synonymous with world-class, a driving force and an inspiration. She has more international medals than fingers and toes yet is one of the humblest people you could ever meet. We caught up with former Arizona Airspeed member, Eliana Rodriguez and found out what life has been like since her return from Dubai…
How old are you, where are you from?
I am 42 years old. I was born in Passaic, New Jersey. Mainly grew up in Connecticut & Rhode Island then moved to Florida for all of high school. My parents are both born and raised in Colombia, and they gave me the gift of being able to speak Spanish, which I learned at home. I have moved a lot in my life, so I feel like I’m from many places. About 9 months ago I moved back to Casa Grande, Arizona after having lived 6 years in Dubai.
What were you like as a kid and do you have any siblings?
For my first 11 years I was an only child and then my brother was born. As a kid I was always the adventurous one in the family. Loved the big roller coaster rides, and big water slides. I was very active, a bit shy and always loved to travel.
What did your family think of you getting into skydiving?
My dad has always been super supportive and he was the one that put a seed into my head about skydiving. One day he asked me if I would jump out of an airplane, if I would go skydiving. I thought about it for a second and said YES!!! I was about 15 years old and immediately called a dz in Florida, they informed me that I needed to be 18 years old to make my first jump and they told me the cost, as a 15 year old with no job it seemed like a lot of money at the time. I forgot about this idea for a few years.
My mom was more concerned and she didn’t stop me from going skydiving but she was definitely worried and thought it was a big risk.
The rest of my family has been pretty supportive, they think it’s cool and they admire that I was able to make it into my career.
What are you looking forward to this year?
I have a few trips planned, but the one I’m looking forward to the most is the one to Italy, it’s one of my favorite countries. We’ll be in the mountains, it’s gorgeous there. I’m also going to Colombia, I’m visiting my 93-year-old grandmother, she’s healthy and doing great!
I’m also looking forward to jumping with my teammates from Airspeed at the US Nationals this year. We are getting the original Airspeed Odyssey line up back together for the 4-way competition. That’s the line up with Craig Girard, Andy Delk, and Brian Johnson. Justin Price will be doing video for us. We haven’t jumped with Brian since he left the team at the end of 2006. It will be a reunion for fun, with minimal training.
What canopy do you choose to fly, container you elect to sit in and all the rest?
My sponsors totally rock! They are the best in the business and they have been incredibly supportive of me and my team for so many years. I can’t thank them enough.
Tell us about your first jump
I made my first jump Oct 1, 1995, in Raeford, NC, a few days before I turned 21. I was in the Army and stationed at Fort Bragg, NC for a year. I was really hoping that the Army would send me to Airborne school but it didn’t work out. Later one of the guys from my unit mentioned that there was a place nearby that you could rent the parachute and go jump. After multiple failed attempts to get a group to go, I decided to go on my own. I thought it was going to be like a rollercoaster ride, something I would do once or twice a year for fun, like going to an amusement park. Little did I know it was so much more and it was going to change my life forever.
I thought it was going to be like a rollercoaster ride... Little did I know it was going to change my life forever.
Upon arriving at Skydive Raeford (now Skydive Paraclete XP) I found out I needed to do a tandem first and that it wasn’t as simple as just renting a parachute and jumping (as I had naively thought). I did my tandem and loved it!
In Feb 1996, I signed up for a static line progression course with the 82nd Freefall Club, a military club where I could take the course for fun, at a discounted rate. It was perfect for me. After about 10 jumps, I switched over from the static line progression to AFF in order to finish before I left the military.
The thing that keeps me in the sport is definitely the people. It’s an amazing blend of people from all walks of life, from all over the world. It’s great to be part of this family.
What's the most memorable jump you’ve ever made?
I’ve had some amazing jumps in my life, but the one that always comes to mind and puts that smile on my face and in my heart is Round 10 at the 2001 World Championships in Spain. It was a life-changer. It was my first world meet and I was competing with Synchronicity women’s 4-way team. We had previously won the World Cup in 2000 in Arizona and we were selected to represent the US at the World Championships, the first world meet for the women’s event. Between the world cup and the world meet it was only about 6 months. We decided to do more training, hire a coach, and really go for it. Up until that point, I had only done about 100 jumps per year, in those six months we did about 300 jumps and lots of tunnel time. We were ready for the competition and felt confident we could win.
In the first round we started off tied for first place and the next two rounds were penalized for some mistakes and lost points, our spirits were very low. In the 4th round, we were scared of losing more points so we lost another round because we were flying so cautiously. After 4 rounds we were down by 5 points, it was going to be difficult to make up. We had a conversation as a team and we decided we were not going to skydive cautiously any more, we were just going to do our thing and we went for it! Round by round we started getting closer to the leaders and gaining momentum. Going into round 10 we were only down by one point. We had an amazing round, we ended up winning by 3 points!!!
Winning this competition felt different, not only because it made me a world champion, but we had invested a lot of money and effort into the training. It was the most I had ever done up until that point, and then we had the battle of our lives. After being down the first half of the meet and having to work our way back up to finish on top that was what really got me totally hooked on competitive skydiving. It was then that I decided I had to figure out a way to do this full time! Changed my life!!
What was your skydiving path that led you to try out and getting onto Arizona Airspeed?
After winning the 2001 World Championships, Arizona Airspeed asked me to try out for the team. They were losing two members and they had been looking around for teammates. Without me knowing, they had already been considering me and had their eye on my performance throughout the world meet. Six months later I went out to Skydive Arizona for tryouts. One month after that, Dec 2001, I had moved to Arizona and was training with the team.
Before Arizona Airspeed I was on the following teams:
Illusions women’s team: Dec 1998- May 1999 (Intermediate 4-way team), we did the Florida Skydiving League and planned on going to the US Nationals but my mother got very sick, so I had to leave the team in May, only a few months into our training.
Deland Tunnel Rage: Jan-Oct 2000 (Intermediate 4-way Champion at US Nationals)
Synchronicity women’s team: Nov 2000- May 2001 (2000 World Cup Champion & 2001 World Champion)
What was it like being the only woman on Airspeed?
I won the lottery with being on Airspeed. Not only was it one of the best skydiving teams in the US and the world, they were a great group of guys. They completely believed in me and made me feel very included and welcomed from the start. They had many talents and skills that made the team great. It was the perfect environment to develop myself as a professional skydiver but also as a person. I was surrounded by great teachers and leaders. One of the missions of the team has always been to share knowledge and be open so that they help improve the level of skydiving worldwide. They were just as open with me, they shared their knowledge and supported me wherever I needed some help. I learned so much from them and from being on team – lessons and skills that extend beyond skydiving.
What was your favorite moment on Airspeed?
Being on the team 9 years I have enjoyed many great moments, lots of laughs throughout our training day. I really loved the 2003 World Championships in Gap, France. It was a beautiful place, my first time in France. It was my first world championship with Airspeed and in 8-way. We only focused on 8-way the whole year and the learning curve was huge for me. It was a blast having everyone together, the previous year we were two 4-way teams and now I got to jump with all of the Airspeed team members. We had an amazing competition and were performing our best. I was once again in a battle for first place, this time with the Russians and it felt good. After 10 rounds we tied the Russians. We went up for an 11th round jump off and we tied it too! Even though we had tied after 11 rounds, we ended up with a silver medal due to the old rules they used for the tiebreaker. I’m still very proud of that silver medal, we had flown our best and given it everything we had. I love that silver medal more than some of my golds. Awesome memories!
I love that silver medal more than some of my golds
When were you on the team, and what were your accomplishments?
From Dec 2001- Dec 2010, in that time my accomplishments with Airspeed are:
NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS GOLD
NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS SILVER
NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS BRONZE
Most people don’t know you were on a Vertical World Record! What inspired you?
Amy Chmelecki was my inspiration for getting on the Vertical World Record, she believed in me. I didn’t feel like I was ready for it, she had done some jumps with me and felt that I could do it. I trusted her and if she said I could do it, then I was going to go for it and she was right!! It was very cool!!
How was the experience?
The experience was pretty amazing. I was way out of my comfort zone and I had to focus and work really hard on every jump. I had total trust in the organizers and got amazing support from the ladies around me. It was good to push myself in a different way and it felt like was a huge accomplishment for me.
How long were you in Dubai and what was your role there?
I was in Dubai for 6 years. I worked as a full-time coach with the National United Arab Emirates (UAE) 4-way and 8-way team. We started from scratch, many team members with very few or no jumps at all. It was a fun and challenging project and the guys became like family to us.
Now that you're back from Dubai, what are your goals?
Even though I’ve been back for a few months, I still feel like I’m in the process of getting settled in the US. My goal is to continue to share the knowledge that I got to learn thru all these years thru coaching, organizing and creating events. I’m also in the process of brainstorming some ideas and events that raise some money for organizations that are doing some good in the US and the world. It’s an idea that’s been on my mind for a long time.
I’m also currently taking a health coaching course. I’ve been curious about health and nutrition for many years, you can say it’s been my hobby to learn and read about it, so I’m taking a step to see if this is something for the future for me.
Article originally published on DropZone.Marketing here.