Catching up with Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld

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Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld has been World Champion many times in 4 and 8-way, and was a founding member of Airspeed, still the best 4-way team in the world 20 years later. He overcame incredible obstacles to fulfil his goals. Dan and 2 of his teammates were severely injured in an aircraft accident that killed their fourth teammate and many of their friends. Yet Dan still achieved his aims. His motivational speeches could make plants get up and walk. His book, Above All Else, is about having the courage to risk losing everything so you can experience what it really means to win.

How many jumps, of what sort?

25,000 plus. I have no idea of the breakdown. I’ve done plenty of CRW and FF. But we did it on RW jumps. We’d often freefly at break off and do CRW after getting open. That was a normal skydive back in the day. We wanted to be sure we got all we could out of every jump.

How long in the sport?

34 years in April.

Dan and Kristi after the crash

What equipment do you jump?

I currently jump a Javelin, PD Katana 107, PD 113 Reserve, Vigil, Flite suit. 

Skydiving achievements

DZO at 22, World Record Organizer, P3 Event organizer, PIA Symposium keynote speaker, coach of many National and World Champion teams, a SL, AFF and Tandem Instructor, Pro rated, USPA Safety and Training Advisor, FAA Parachute Rigger, Single and Multi Engine Pilot and have a bag full of assorted medals lying in the closet.

Favorite skydiving moment

Hitting the air on every exit. 

What do you do at Skydive Perris?

I’ve been Manager at Skydive Perris for over ten years now. It’s the greatest job in the world. I’m treated as a partner by the owners and as one of the gang by all of the jumpers. Skydive Perris is a busy DZ with lots of activity. My main job is to keep the place running safely and smoothly even with so much going on. But we have great people working here and I don’t have to micromanage anything which means I get to play a lot. The way I see it, it is my responsibility as DZ Manager to be sure no one has more fun than me. So I try to be as involved with everything as possible. It’s not uncommon for a day to include doing a couple of student jumps, organizing a few loads and filling in for one of the teams. I’ve even had a little air time this year flying a wing suit, freeflying and doing CRW. Try to have more fun than that!

Storm win 2008 World Meet, coached by Dan

How long was your book, Above All Else, in the making?

The idea first came when I was coaching the Russian National 8-Way Team. The sponsor of the team told me that they had been coached by a lot of people but none had ever told them what I was telling them. He asked me to put it all in a book. I asked what exactly he wanted the book to be about and he said “How to win the world meet.” I told him how to win the world meet is only about 10% skydiving. The other 90% is the same as how to succeed, win or be the best you can be at anything.What started out as a competition skydiving book evolved from there. It took 5 years from the time I first put words on the page until I had a published book in my hand.

How did you get it published?

When I was finally finished writing (seemed like it took forever) I was going back and forth between self publishing and trying with a real publishing company. I decided to spend the first month trying to have it published. The same night I finished writing I sent out 30 query letters to agents. Within two weeks I had an agent and two weeks after that Skyhorse Publishing Company in New York had sent me a contract.

It’s definitely not about skydiving. It’s about having passion for the things you do and the people you share your life with.

Do you think it has a wider appeal than skydivers?

I definitely think it does and the New York publishing house wanting it shows they thought so as well. I didn’t write it for skydivers in particular. I knew skydivers would be able to relate so I did my best to write it specially for the non-skydiver. It’s definitely not about skydiving. It’s about having passion for the things you do and the people you share your life with. It’s about going after the things that inspire you and about risking losing so that you can experience what it really means to win. I wrote it for anyone from 15 to 115 who wants to find the confidence in themselves and the faith in the world to go after their dreams. 

What is the appeal?

I’m told it has hit home with so many people because it is very down to earth and is presented in a way that nearly everyone who has read it could relate to. And that it comes from someone who has lived it not learned it in a classroom.

Was it hard to share such personal thoughts and memories? Did you feel naked?

Writing the book was about a five year process. For the first three years or so I included very few personal stories. After finishing what I thought was a first draft I let several people read it. (One of which was you Lesley.) You have to be careful getting feedback on something you’re writing. Everyone has their own opinion and for the most part they didn’t agree on much. But there was one thing they did agree on. Every person that read it loved the couple of personal stories that I had included. They said those stories drew them in and helped make the point so much better than those chapters that didn’t include stories.

At that point I decided to go back and include every experience I had which helped me to become someone who was willing to risk it all to go after his dreams, someone who was willing to put it all on the line to comeback after an accident like that. It was difficult to write and even harder to share. It did feel like I was baring my soul. But I meant every word from the bottom of my heart. And if my truth could be useful to my friends and others than what the hell, why not share it. And now that I’m 52 I’ve stopped being embarrassed about my shortcomings so it was easier, even humorous to share them.

Martial Ferré and Dan BC

How did you feel reading Martial Ferré’s review?

I felt quite honored reading Martial’s review of Above All Else. Martial is a good friend of mine. The first year we met was at Airspeed’s first World Cup in 1994. We were going after the French Team and Martial was on Maubeuge, the younger French team. I remember pointing at Martial’s team then and telling my Airspeed teammates that those young French boys were going to be trouble. And I was right.

Do you agree when he says it was your destiny to be a World Champion?

It may have been my destiny to try to win the World Championships, to pour 100% of my heart and soul into it. But I don’t know if it was my destiny to actually win, I wouldn’t go that far. I was just too stupid to know when to quit.  

Have you always been special?

Special? You can’t be serious. My wife Kristi is special. My Mom is special. I’m not special.

Newspaper article on the crash that killed Dan's teammates

Did the airplane crash make you more determined to win?

I don’t think I could have been any more determined to become a world champion than I was before the crash. But realizing how fragile life was did make me appreciate it more. I was so lucky to have lived through that and come away still physically able to go after my dream. That was such a gift it would have been wrong not to keep going for it.

What does it take to be a world champion?

Insane passion, drive and commitment. A great team with a great plan for success. It also takes a DZ that is as driven and passionate about the team’s success as the team. The Hill family was and has been a main driving force behind Airspeed since the beginning. We couldn’t have done it if they weren’t all in 150%.

Airspeed 1995, Mark Kirkby, Jack Jefferies, Dan BC, Kirk Verner

What was the secret of Airspeed? How can one team still lead the world stage after 20 years?

When we first formed Airspeed we put together what we thought were the best 4-way jumpers and cameraman in the country. But the ‘secret’ if you want to call it that, was that we completely set our egos aside. It was all about the team. Don’t get me wrong, for the team to win the World Meet I had to become the best Inside Center the world had ever seen. And I think I was. (The ego is alive and well.) But each of us became the best in our slots so that the team could win. None of us found any value or victory in being the best if the team failed. We needed each other and were there for each other. As it turned out Kirk, Mark, Jack, John and I loved each other and still do to this day. (The other ‘secrets’ are all in the book.)

Does the team today reflect the same spirit?

It is hard for me to say since I am removed from the day to day teamwork. But from what I can see the team has maintained that same spirit throughout the years and continues to now. 

Why do you have a blog?

As a way to share important thoughts when I have them and to help market the book and myself as a speaker. (see DanBrodsky-Chenfeld)

Why did your article Who Are Skydivers Anyway become our Most Liked?

I think it was popular because it went right to the heart of who we are. Skydivers are a unique group of people and there is something very special we all share. It doesn’t matter if you have one jump or 25,000, what discipline you are involved with or what country you’re from. My article went right to the core of who we as a group truly are. And I love us for who we are.

What would you still like to achieve?

In my 34 years I have been involved with many facets of our sport. I am proud to have had the opportunity to contribute to the development and advancement of student training programs, large formation records, FS competition and DZ management. At this point my biggest focus and concern is about safety. With all the great safety advancements in equipment and training too many skydivers have become complacent. The planes and equipment are safer but skydivers aren’t. If there is anything I can do to keep our friends from doing stupid shit and killing themselves it will be my greatest skydiving achievement ever.

Dan BC running a Spring Fling dirt dive at Perris

How can we keep from doing stupid shit and killing ourselves?

Anticipate disaster –  Expect everything that can go wrong to go wrong on every jump. Skydivers don’t react to emergencies as quickly as they need to when they are surprised. Several times I’ve seen people open low and when I asked them about it they said they had a hard pull. That it took them three tries to get it out. Well, if they got it out on the third try it wasn’t that hard! The problem was they didn’t get serious about it until the third try because they expected it to be easy. Expect a hard pull, expect a malfunction, expect canopies to be coming at you after opening. Don’t be surprised and caught off guard.

Review your emergency and safety procedures – to the point that they are muscle memory. It doesn’t do you any good to expect a malfunction but then when you have one need to stop and think about what to do. Review, visualize, practice! The correct response needs to be automatic.

I have over 25,000 jumps and have never been injured skydiving. I’d like to say that is because I’ve always been sharp and completely on top of everything. But the truth is there have been many times I just got lucky. At this point I figure my luck has run out. I follow rules 1 and 2 every jump.

Do you have any advice for newcomers?

Skydiving is a pretty stupid thing to do if you’re not loving it and having the time of your life. So love it and stay safe. 

For More of Dan see DanBrodsky-Chenfeld

TEDx Talk Flanders – Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld – World Skydiving Champion

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Meet: Lesley Gale

Lesley has been in love with skydiving for 35 years. She is a multiple world and national record holder and a coach on 20 successful record events worldwide. She has over 100 competition medals spanning more than 25 years and has been on the British 8-way National team at World events. She started Skydive Mag to spread knowledge, information and passion about our amazing sport.
Lesley is delighted to be sponsored by Performance Designs, Sun Path, Cypres, Cookie, Symbiosis suits and Larsen & Brusgaard

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