8-way Block 5
The secrets of 8-way Block 5, by World Champion Martial Ferré
Jennifer Davidson is a mighty force! She is dedicated, talented, proven, hardworking, amazing – and truly humble, a born competitor. She has only been skydiving for 10 years but has reached the dizzy heights of World Champion. Jen has won eight world gold medals and two silvers with the Golden Knights Female 4-way team. GKF4 are the first and only all-female team to win a medal at US Nationals in the Open competition, impressively taking bronze in 2012, 2013, 2014 & 2015. Jen competed this year in an Open Golden Knight team, again taking bronze – this time with no training! She also flew slot in GK's 10-way and 16-way, winning both events and the FS Overall.
Jen has just been offered a coveted slot on the Golden Knights 8-way team, previously all-male, a testament to her skill and a fantastic example to other women, within and without the sport.
Hardworking, resilient, dedicated, empathetic, adventurous
GKF4 was put together in 2011 with the idea of winning the World Championship in 4-6 years. We were lucky enough to keep the same lineup until a few months before the World Meet this past year, which helped us with consistency in training. We picked up Solly Williams as our coach after Nationals in 2013, which also helped us to focus our training.
Being a world champion has been my dream since I started skydiving, though it’s taken different forms. VFS, open 4way, women’s 4way, and 8way have all been a part of the dream at one time or another. Now, after winning in women’s 4way, I’m really excited to learn another discipline.
At the time that the team was put together, I was very interested in putting together a VFS team, and freeflying in general. I initially made an attempt to continue doing that as well, but it was really hard to do mentally, when I wasn’t able to put as much time and effort into it as I would’ve liked. I decided that I would put it aside for the time being, to focus on the goal of winning the World Meet. In addition to that, it’s no secret that training hard in skydiving takes a toll physically, and we all put up with a lot of aches and pains. Standing on the podium can be glamorous, but the hard work and training behind the scenes definitely isn’t.
Training alongside the guys that have been on the team for a long time is very humbling. There’s always so much to learn, and it can get very frustrating. In the long run though, I think it’s important to surround yourself by people that are better than you, so that performing at a high level is the norm, and there’s no room for complacency. I also learned a lot about what it means to be on a team, and to train to win as a team. To work to be your best and to bring out the best in your teammates, because the better they are, the better your team is.
Going into the World Meet, I don’t think anyone (including us) knew exactly what to expect. Replacing a teammate so close to the end isn’t something that any team wants to do. We were lucky enough to have JaNette [Lefkowvitz] as an option, and she fit into the team really well. We hit our groove at the meet and the scores were close enough that no one could let their guard down, giving everyone the opportunity to perform at their best. Expanding our lead toward the end of the meet allowed us to keep our heads level and our performances smooth. We’ve been on the other side of the situation, and it can be hard to stay calm when you’re trying to catch up.
It would be an insult to our competition to say that I was confident we would win throughout the whole lineup change process. Once we knew that JaNette would be joining us, I was sure that we would have the best chance possible given the circumstances, and that we were doing everything within our power to be as prepared as we could be. JaNette continued to train with Rhythm, but otherwise gave us as much of her time as she could. We trained with her on those days, and got as much jumping with other people filling in as we could get on other days. In addition to the line up change, this year was full of other injuries as well, so we were grateful just to make it to the World Meet with the training that we managed to get. We were forced to train smartly, and make everything that we did count.
One of the biggest challenges was time. We had to stay flexible to be available whenever JaNette was able to make it out to train in order to maximize our time as much as possible. JaNette had done a higher average than any of the four of us, so she brought a lot to the table, and we were able to use her experience to maximize our training. One benefit that I personally got out of the year was being able to train with a lot of different piece partners. Having really only done 4way with one person is great for team training, but training with several different people makes you stronger as an individual, especially when the people are so different. I flew a lot with Solly this past year, and being able to adapt is a good skill to hone.
I think it’s important to be driven, and focused, but also adaptable and resilient. Both in the actual jumps, and also in the circumstances around the training and competition, you have to be able to mentally and emotionally handle any situation that is thrown your way.
The French girls have always worked hard and I absolutely respect them as competition. It’s great to have teams that continue to push each other to the next level, because it’s really hard to get there without that push. It seemed like we were constantly on the verge of a jumpoff with them. The World Air Games was a memorable competition because it showed exactly how much things can change unexpectedly, and that you have to be able to roll with whatever gets thrown your way. In the middle of the competition, I found out that my grandfather had suddenly passed away, and I had to figure out how to deal with those emotions and whether I should even stay to finish the meet. I talked to several people about it, and decided that I needed to stay. A couple rounds later, we went from 4 down to 5 up in one round. It was an emotional rollercoaster, and an experience that made me stronger as a competitor and as a person.
You can learn a lot about yourself in competition. It brings out great things in some, and some not so great things in others. Being able to handle the pressure of competition to perform at your best and the emotions of both winning and losing is a good life skill. For me, competition taught me to trust myself. I knew that the nerves I was feeling would help me to perform, and that once I got out of the plane, my training would take over.
It’s so hard to really compare. The draws were very different, with the faster sequences at Nationals. The margins between teams were bigger, so there was a different feeling than when a team is neck and neck with you. The World Meet was something that we had trained for for years, and I knew that it would be the team’s last meet together and our last chance to win. Nationals was all fun. I had a blast flying with the guys.
For me, I felt like tryouts was a long process. It wasn’t just flying with them in the tunnel during official tryouts. It was proving myself through all the competitions that I’d done in the last few years, being available and competent to fill in for the 8way team when the opportunity arose, and showing them that my size was not going to be an issue. I think doing 4way at Nationals with the guys put to rest any lingering thoughts that it would be.
It hasn’t been determined yet which slot I’ll be in. I’ve flown a couple different slots, but none to the extent that I really know what I’m doing. I went to Nationals with an 8way team in 2010 before I went to the competition team. We probably did 50-100 jumps, and ended up with around a 10 average. A lot of skills from 4way will carry over to 8way, though. The body awareness, mental aspect, and basic flying skills that I’ve learned will definitely help me.
I’m a hard worker, and I try my best to have a growth mindset. I am cognizant of accepting my faults or errors and figuring out what I have to do to fix them. As a new guy surrounded by World Champions, I think that will be a pretty useful skill to have, as I have a ton to learn.
I don’t think that that will really be an issue. We all already know each other, and I get along with all of them.
I know a lot of people wouldn’t like to be in that situation, but it works for us! I’m looking forward to sharing this experience with him.
Far from it! But the support that we’ve gotten from the skydiving community has been awesome!
We are all moving on to new directions. I’m the only one that will still be skydiving full time, but we’re all pretty excited about new phases in our lives. As far as the Golden Knight 4way team, we held tryouts and a new team is being formed. It will be an open team starting out with relatively little experience, but they are a great group of guys, and I know they will learn quickly.
I really hope that we were able to make a difference. You’d be surprised how many non jumpers are shocked to find out that women can skydive at all, let alone compete at high level competitions. A huge part of our mission is to bridge the gap between the American public and the Army, and to demonstrate the opportunities and possibilities that are out there.
It was a great feeling and the support from the community was awesome. We worked really hard to get there, and I think it really helped us to consider all the possibilities in our future.
The best outdoor average that GKF4 did was a 22.7. The best outdoor average from any open team is (to my knowledge) a 27.9 at the 2012 World Meet in Dubai. The top teams aren’t scoring that high all of the time, but they’re generally at least in the 25 or 26 range. In the tunnel, we scored a 29.4 in Prague, but usually were looking at a 26 or 27, while the top open teams are scoring 30 or 31. I know my views can be seen as controversial, but I think when a team is going that fast, physical aspects come into play. To be able to find 4 women who can go that fast from the much more limited pool of female skydivers is a lot tougher than finding 4 men to do the same, especially when men are generally stronger and faster in the first place. Now, I am NOT saying that no women can do it, or that no women can beat any men. I am only speaking in general terms. I feel this is becoming more true as the pace speeds up – there are very few women that have done a 26-27 in the sky and/or a 30-31 in the tunnel.
I can’t think of any reason why you would want to get rid of the category. Regardless of your views on the physical aspect of the sport, if you take away the female category, at the top level of competitions, the competitors would be almost all men. Of the women that would remain, most of them would be there after benefitting from the female category. There are no downsides and it is only helping the sport.
I don’t think that I would have this opportunity without the female category being in place. As with many of the women currently in the top of the sport, the female category helped me to get to a level where I could actually be considered. I remember telling someone when I first came to the Golden Knights that I eventually wanted to go to the 8way team (the only competition team at the time), and he told me that that would never happen. I wouldn’t be good enough, I was too small, etc. There are extra battles that women have to fight in a male dominated arena.
I do crossfit 5 days a week and climb once per week to get stronger and faster and I count my macros to stay leaner and to be able to build more muscle. All of that helps me stay at my “fighting weight” where I’ll be able to perform my best. But crossfit and climbing aren’t a chore that I do because I feel I need to. I love doing both of them. I’ve done a couple crossfit competitions and I have a goal to do an Olympic lifting competition eventually. Eating right is a bit more of a chore, but it’s worth it to feel great and have enough energy to do all the things I love to do.
I absolutely love being able to represent the Army and United States from the platform of the Golden Knights. The team has a rich history in the sport and it's truly an honor to both be a part of it and to add to it. There are a lot of different paths in the sport, but taking this one was one of the best choices that I’ve made.
Thinking back to my first tandem, and looking at where I’m at now, it’s been a crazy ride. All the awesome people that I’ve met, and the places that I’ve been able to see, and the opportunities to grow as a person and a teammate have enriched my life like I never would’ve imagined. What an awesome sport that we’re a part of!