Catching up with… Matt Davidson

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Matt Davidson served for 24 years on the Golden Knights 8-way team and played an important part in their finest achievements, three world records in 1997 and 2015. At 45, he recently retired from the Army after 27 years and is now on Airspeed, the National 4-way team. He has more National and World titles than I have fingers and toes.

Matt is a force of nature. He is committed, loyal, hard-working, multi-talented guy, always happy to help others. He has a wonderful presence that enhances every room and a light shining out of his eyes – you know when you meet him that Matt is special.

How many jumps, what type, and how long in the sport Matt?

29 years, 4 months in the sport. Jumps are 22,488 Total – 2,494 Style and Accuracy, 804 Demonstration/demo training, 1,311 Video, 246 AFF Instruction, 36 Tandem Instruction, 5,226 4-way, 12,371 8-way

Would you list your skydiving achievements, too many for me to remember!

▪ Acceptance to the US Army Parachute Team (1993)
▪ Multiple National Medals/Titles (Gold, Silver, Bronze Medals), 4, 8, 10 and 16-way (1996-2017)
▪ 3 x World Cup Champion, 8-way (1998, 2011, 2017)
▪ 5 x World Champion, 8-way (1997, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018)
▪ 2 x World Air Games Champion (1997, 2015)
▪ 3 x World Records, 8-way (1997 as alternate – 31 points, 2015 US Nationals – 32 points, 2015 World Air Games – 33 points)
▪ 2 x World Meet 8-way Silver Medals (2008, 2010)
▪ 1 x CISM Military 4-way World Record (2006)
▪ 1 x CISM Military 4-way World Champion (2006)
▪ 1 x CISM Military 4-way Silver Medal (2007)
▪ 1 x CISM Military 4-way Bronze Medal (2011)

Jen and Matt Davidson at Matt’s retirement ceremony
Image by Sean Capogreco, GK Media Relations

When did you retire from the Army, and why?

I retired from the Army on 31 July of this year. It was a perfect day! I was pleasantly surprised by how many friends, family and teammates were in attendance. I retired because, by regulation, my allowed time in grade (rank) was expiring. I had already applied for and received a one-year extension of service to finish out the 2018 World Championships. I tried to get another extension which was approved by the Golden Knights chain of command but the Human Resources Command turned it down, most likely based on my military occupational specialty being over strength with soldiers of the same rank.

Golden Knights

What are the biggest things you learned from your time with the Golden Knights?

I’ve learned SO much from the team! I made the team when I was 19 years old in 1993 and have basically grown up there. The team is like family to me. The biggest thing I learned was how to be a good teammate. Early in my young adult life, I had tendencies to be somewhat introverted, insecure and self-centered. Being self-centered and having even the slightest feelings of entitlement won’t get you far in any team environment. Through a painful series of life lessons 20 years ago, I learned to take ownership of my actions and constantly strive to be of service to others.

Those painful life lessons 20 years ago involved me being asked to leave the Golden Knights because I’d let too many personal problems seep into my professional life. I was no longer an asset to the team and was told to turn in my gear, pack my bags, and seek employment elsewhere within the Army. Even now, it’s painful to remember and difficult to talk about. I let my teammates down and was totally humiliated and completely ashamed. I stopped skydiving for several months with no plans to return, too ashamed to show my face around the sport’s small community. I was later given the opportunity to jump with the 82nd Airborne Division’s, “All American Free Fall Team.” The opportunity gave me the chance to gain increased levels of responsibility. I was reinvigorated and resolved to make my way back onto the Army Parachute Team. After two years, I was able to rebuild my reputation to the point where I was given a second shot at being a Golden Knight. I’m very fortunate to have had a few friends in the right places who were willing to stick their necks out for me at that time. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them. From that point forward, I’ve been lucky to have had so many opportunities to learn how to be a good teammate from the exemplary and extraordinary Golden Knight team members I was surrounded by.

What advice would you give a new GK8 member?

1. Check your ego at the team room door.
2. Listen more than you talk.
3. Be open to criticism.
4. Strive to remain a consummate student of the discipline even after you think you’ve achieved mastery.
5. Own your mistakes.
6. Celebrate your victories.
7. Remember to have fun along the way and laugh often with your teammates.
8. Embrace the journey.

Airspeed 2019 line-up by David French

What will you do with the second half of your life?

Just before retirement, I got an unexpected message from Arizona Airspeed’s team captain, Niklas Hemlin. Nik asked if I would like to join their 4-way team to fill in for Ari Perelman who decided to leave for personal reasons. Of course I said, YES!! I’m currently training for the US Nationals and the World Cup with Airspeed at Skydive Arizona through early September. I’ll also start working as the Chief of Media Relations and Public Affairs for the Golden Knights Media Relations section as a government civilian employee. Donna Council currently holds the position and has for over 30 years. I’m truly honored she asked me to take her place when she retires in December. She will be very hard to replace, but I’m excited to take on the challenges of the job and I look forward to showcasing the incredible and exceptional achievements commonly displayed by members of the Golden Knights.

What were your thoughts when Nik offered you the Airspeed slot?

With my Army retirement looming I thought my full-time competition career might be coming to a close. I was SUPER excited yet slightly hesitant for a few reasons. A) I’ve never done 4-way at a 26 average level much less in a slot I haven’t flown in for over 20 years. Normally, not an insurmountable challenge but with only two months to train for Nationals on a US Team selection year, it seems like a tall order at first glance. B) I was planning on starting my new career as the Golden Knights Chief of Media Relations and Public Affairs starting in September at that point. C) My body is starting to rebel as a result of all the punishment I’ve put it through over the years. I have to get a hip replacement soon due to severe arthritis in my right hip joint. I’m able to manage the pain now with Cortisone injections and anti-inflammatory medication, but the old hip will definitely be a limiting factor if left untreated for too long. When I told Jen about the Airspeed opportunity, she could barely contain her excitement! She hopped up and down and exclaimed, “THAT’S SO AWESOME! YOU HAVE TO DO THIS!!!” It’s hard to argue with that. Jen has been so incredibly supportive throughout the entire process. She’s picking up my slack back in North Carolina, taking care of the household and covering down on my parenting responsibilities with Lauren, all while making several jumps a day for her own team training with GK8.

Matt flying with Airspeed – Image by David French

How long is the commitment for and how long do you envisage staying with the team?

Currently, my commitment is through Nationals in September and the World Cup in October. It’s an optimal situation, really. If this old dog can’t learn the new tricks needed to compete in 4-way at World Class level, they have an easy ‘out’ to kick me to the curb! We’ll reevaluate after the World Cup. If Airspeed decides to continue with the current lineup, we’ll have to negotiate some logistical challenges with my upcoming Media Relations commitment and imminent hip surgery.

How will the logistics work, will you become a frequent flyer to AZ?

Airspeed went to Raeford, North Carolina to train at Paraclete XP for the month of July, I trained with them in Arizona for the month of August, then back to Raeford for the Nationals in Septmeber.

How is the training going?

We’re making progress. Things are beginning to fall into place and the pieces are starting to fit together. I felt a bit overwhelmed at first, but with 314 team jumps and several hours of tunnel time to date, the pace is becoming more manageable and the Point slot is more familiar. I’ve had to shift my basic body position from the start, I’m used to arching super hard and flying small in 8-way to help keep the fall rate up in the center. Airspeed members fly in a more buoyant body position, so I’ve had to relearn and adopt that same style of flight to integrate with the team. It seems so normal to me now, I don’t have to actively think about it anymore. My mind is now free to focus on the basics as well as the myriad nuances of 4-way formation flight at that level.

What are the main differences between a GK training day and an Airspeed day?

The biggest difference is in the daily training tempo. Based on our limited training time before Nationals, Airspeed prefers to prep all of the jumps at once, then make all 12-16 jumps without a break. On GK8, we would make four jumps in a row, grab a quick bite while we debrief, prep the next four jumps, rinse and repeat.

Airspeed August 2019
Image by Brian Festi

What do you bring to Airspeed? And what do you feel the team will bring to you?

From my perspective, Airspeed has a lot more to bring to the table than I do at this point. I’m definitely the weakest link. They’ve already given me a wealth of information, and I really appreciate their patience while I learn the ropes. It can be frustrating in the early stages for any team to take on a new and inexperienced team member. If anything, I think I bring competition experience with me, I know and understand the level of commitment, tenacity, focus, and dedication to training necessary to win. I have the rage to learn to master. I sincerely hope that I have the ability to learn quickly in the domain with the limited time remaining. That will be the deciding factor when it comes time to step through the door on round 1.

You’ve done 4-way at a high level, what is the gap in average and technique you have to make up?

The limited success in 4-way I’ve experienced recently with the Golden Knights has been the result of our overall level of formation skydiving experience. We lacked the specific knowledge of the layered and nuanced 4-way block technique and random sequence discipline. 8-way was our bread and butter and is an entirely different animal. We haven’t trained much 4-way since we switched to 8-way in 2009. The last 4-way average I did was with the Golden Knights at this year’s Paraclete XP Outdoor Meet which was a 21.9, I think.

How are you going to feel after so many years of fierceloyalty to the Army, competing against GK in a competition?

I’ll be alternate for GK8 at Nationals and they won’t be doing 4-way there so my conscience is clear! I do and will definitely miss flying with them.

Tell me about your podcasts, ‘A Champion’s Journey’ … how did that start and what’s the plan?

One of our newer GK8 team members, Keith Pierce approached me to compile a work in writing. He asked that I pass on stories about previous generations of team members before I retire so future generations of the the team will have a better understanding of the Golden Knight’s and GK8’s rich history. Having spent 24 years with the team, I’ve seen a lot of people come and go, and I was excited about the idea. Then I thought, what better way to hear the team’s history more objectively than from the previous team members themselves in a podcast format! Admittedly, my podcast idea wasn’t totally altruistic. I knew writing would be extremely time-consuming but I had no idea how time-consuming podcasting would be at the time! I’ve loved every second of it so far!

Is this just a great excuse to chat with your heroes or does it serve a wider purpose?

Having the excuse to talk to my heroes is definitely a benefit! Ever since I started jumping, I’ve wanted to ask these great figures of our sport the questions I’m able to ask now. The original idea to start the podcast was to interview previous members of the Golden Knights but there are so many other people in our sport who have incredibly interesting stories which I’d like to share. Lessons learned through their journeys in the sport of skydiving are often universally applicable to any endeavor. Even though I’ve chosen to start with the World and National Champions in our sport, I believe Champions aren’t only those who’ve stood on a podium for the purposes of this podcast. Champions are those who’ve pushed on, defiant in the face of challenge and adversity and have overcome life’s great obstacles. I also look forward to eventually expanding beyond our sport and am excited about the possibility to have conversations with Champions in a wide array of fields and disciplines. I hope listeners of, “A Champion’s Journey,” will be inspired to tackle whatever it is they want to achieve in life.

Over an hour is a long interview, what’s the logic behind that?

Podcasts are great in so many ways. There’s no preprogrammed time slot to fit into. You can listen to them while you’re on a commute or doing mind-numbing chores, etc. Long form interviews are a great way to have relaxed, genuine conversations with guests. Even with the ease of access to an endless barrage of information, often shortening consumer’s attention spans, statistics show a rapidly increasing number of people listening to podcasts, possibly due to the passive way people can listen while they’re actively doing something else.

Matt – Image by Dana Cottingham

What drives Matt to the pinnacle of sporting achievement?

I love this sport and the people in it, the sense of community. I love having the opportunity to constantly push myself past previously perceived limitations. As long as I’ve been in this sport, there’s always something new to learn and master. I love the spirit of competition and the friendships made along the way. There’s no other sport like it!

What’s your pet hate?

I get strangely disturbed when people leave shopping carts out in a parking lot. To me, it shows a disgusting level of laziness and displays a lack of courtesy to others.

Who’s been the biggest influence on your life?

There are so many people who’ve had profound influences in my life. I’m fortunate to have loving parents and step parents. My dad who introduced me to the sport of skydiving and was there to offer support, guidance and mentorship along the way. My mother, who has inspired me to follow my passions and talents all along. My wife, Jen has helped make my life better in so many ways. She’s helped me become a better person and she probably doesn’t realize it and would probably not take credit for it. So many teammates, friends and fellow competitors have influenced me in so many positive ways.

What do you think about when you go to sleep at night?

Jen and Lauren and, lately, 4-way.

What’s one thing you own that you should throw out but probably ever will?

Great question! A Russian aviation helmet complete with drop-down visor and leather communications insert. It smells a bit from being in storage for the last decade and there’s no great place to put it but it reminds me of the CISM military World Championships in Rayazan, Russia in 2006. I traded my Factory Diver with a Russian Spetsnaz Colonel for it.

You seem to have the perfect life – an amazing wife who matches your talent and dedication, a beautiful, smart daughter, champion 4-way team, you’re a DJ and now an interviewer .. is there anything else you wish for?

I am very fortunate and happy to have this situation, thanks! If anything, I wish for a long life of continued health and happiness and to continue having the ability to be relevant and serve others.

Matt would like to thank his sponsors for their support

  • Sunpath Products
  • Skydive Arizona
  • Cookie Helmets
  • Performance Designs
  • Tony Suits
  • Larsen and Brusgaard Altimeters
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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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