Highlight Pro Skydiving Team

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Think of a badass female US skydiver and she’s probably on this newly-formed demo team. The Highlight Pro skydiving team unites 11 leading lights with an average of 20 years in the sport, and over 200,000 jumps between them.

Impressive demo flying by Maxine Tate
Photo by Mike McGowan

Here’s how their website describes the genesis of the team…

“The idea for Highlight was born learning about the tenacious and fierce women who led the women’s suffrage movement 100 years ago securing the right to vote for women in America (the 19th amendment). A brainstorming call with the Women’s Skydiving Network got us on the track of doing one big demonstration jump in Nashville on August 18th, 2020, 100 years to the day that passage of the 19th amendment came down to one vote. This original idea then expanded with fire and purpose to become the elite all-female skydiving demonstration team that exists today.”

Highlight Pro Skydiving Team members (L to R): Kaz Sheekey, Hanna Albrecht , Melissa Nelson Lowe, Karen Lewis Dalton, Alison Reay, Keri Bell, Melanie Curtis, Maxine Tate,  Sara Curtis, Amy Chmelecki… and Hannah Betts (not pictured)
Photo by Samantha Schwann

We caught up with Amy Chmelecki –team leader, World Champion, National Champion, World Record organizer and Red Bull Air Force member – to find out a bit more…

You have eleven kickass women on your team, from all over the US and excelling in many different disciplines. How did you choose your team, what was the most important qualification?

Amy Chmelecki in demo mode, photo by Samantha Schwann

The Women’s Skydiving Network put together an application process for anyone that wanted to apply to be part of the team. The application process was shared mostly via social media outlets. There were several minimum qualifications for people to apply including the following: 

            •          Current USPA Pro Rating, Minimum 3000 jumps

            •          Demo experience in the last 2 years including: work with pyrotechnics, flags, smoke, challenging landing areas

           •          Significant experience in one or more of the following disciplines: CRW, canopy piloting, canopy formation, wing suiting, video, competitive skydiving, instruction

We had about 30 women apply.

The main criteria we used to base our selection was experience! We really want the team to have very high levels of experience. Demos can be some of the most technical and challenging types of jumps you can do. You need experience to do them well.

As a team we are always interested in expanding and growing. We encourage any one interested in applying for our team who meets the qualifications to apply. We have an application process on our website, please get in touch!

What do all these women have in common?

All of the women on our team have over a decade of skydiving experience, most of us have over 2 decades. We all also have lots of experience with “high pressure” skydives like world records, competitions, demos and AFF instruction. It is good to know that your demo team is filled with a group of people that have 2 decades worth of preforming well under pressure.

What events are you doing?

Our focus for 2020 is to Commemorate the centennial of the 19th amendment to the US Constitution. This is the amendment in which women received the right to vote in the US. We have 4 demos planed over the next month in locations that were a big part of the history to Women’s Suffrage in the USA.

In 2021 our plan is to focus on Pride events.

How can we follow your demos? 

The original plan for these demonstration jumps was to do them in front of large crowds and in the midst of massive celebrations, but due to obvious reasons we are 100% focused of doing a live feed production of each demo. These live feeds will be broadcasted on our team Facebook page Highlight Skydiving.

How did you choose which events to do?

We choose events that align with messages that we stand for. Our main team mission is to “Encourage women and girls to live bold brave lives of their own design.” We stand for women’s equality and equality at large.

Our main team mission is to “Encourage women and girls to live bold brave lives of their own design”.”

Arizona Demo Jump
Photo by Willy Boeykens

Don’t you think you will also empower men and boys? Why single out the female sex?

I grew up thinking that a career as a professional athlete was mostly for men. I saw women in the Olympics, but never on professional sports teams. For so many people, seeing is believing. We believe by simply doing our sport it will plant seeds in the minds of people and help create the change we want to see.

What’s the most important event? 

Our biggest event of the summer is in Nashville, Tennessee on August 18th. All 11 team members will be jumping into the city on the exact day of the 100-year anniversary. For an amendment to be ratified is takes 2/3 of the state legislators to pass it. Nashville, TN was the state that tipped the scales for the 19th amendment to pass in the US. 

The history is fascinating!!!! It is filled with bravery, perseverance, complex strategies, the Spanish flu pandemic, the first ever peaceful protests in Washington, arrests and so much more. Here is one really fun fact: Thanks to a young mans’ love and respect for his caring mother, the 19th amendment was passed. Let me explain… A 24 year young reprehensive from East Tennessee was known to be part of the good old boys’ club that was not in favour of women’s suffrage. The vote was 48 in favour and 48 not in favour. The last person left to vote was the young Harry Burn. Everyone in the house assumed he was going to vote not in favour, as he was wearing a red rose on his suit, which was a symbol of the anti-suffrage movement. But what people did not know, was that morning he had received a letter from his mother that read “be a good boy and help Mrs Catt” [a well know suffragist of the time]. To the shock of everyone in the room, the young man raised his hand in approval of the ratification of the 19th amendment, history was made, and women were allowed to vote.

With so many demo teams out there, how do you make your show special?

The fact that we are all women definitely makes us stand out. We are not the only all-female demo team, but it definitely is rare. I have done dozens of air shows with my other demo team, the Red Bull Air Force, and 95% of the time I am the only women in a room full of hundreds of men during the morning air show briefings. We are very happy to showcase highly experienced women doing technical intense skydiving to the world.

What has been the reaction so far? 

We have gotten massive amounts of support from the skydive community. It has been wonderful. 

Do you have openings for more demos, if anyone reading this thinks you’re the perfect addition to their show?

Yes! Absolutely! If anyone is interested in having us perform at their event, just reach out via our website.

Highlight Pro Team training at Skydive Arizona
Photo by DSquared

How do you train together, being so geographically separated?

The first step to organizing a training camp is to schedule it. We start by asking the entire team to provide us with their available days. From there we pick blocks of dates where the majority of us are available. Then we strategically pick a DZ to train at that will work best for all of us. Being persistent and dedicated to the behind-the-scenes organization is crucial to pulling off a team like this. It is the not-so-glamorous part that most people never see or even realise is there. Anyone who has ever been in charge of a huge skydiving event will understand!

How long will the team continue?

This is just the beginning for us! We plan to continue and to grow.

You’re sponsored by the Women’s Skydiving Network, what is that?

The Women’s Skydiving Network is a non-profit organization that has the same goals and motivations as our team. They are currently our sole supporter. The WSN does so many amazing things for our sport. They are the non-profit behind the Project 19 mission which is a Women’s Vertical World Record 101 way attempt in celebration of the 101 year anniversary of the passing of the 19th amendment. 

How did the sponsorship come about and what do the Women’s Skydiving Network want you to achieve in return?

The WSN shares the same ideas as our team and all our teammates. We all would like to see more women in the sport of skydiving. We also care deeply about equality at large. We want underrepresented groups to be more involved in things they may dream of. Another joint goal of the WSN, Highlight and Project 19 in 2020 is to encourage people to use their vote!

One of Highlight Pro Team’s missions is to encourage everyone to use their vote
Photo by DSquared

Unlike many team sports we do not generally separate the sexes, what do you think about this?

I genuinely love that part of skydiving. I have competed and won with and against men for over 25 years now. It is a super-special part of our sport.

Why do you think our sport is only 13% female in experienced skydivers whereas the ratio of the sexes doing tandems is virtually equal?

I have thought about this question for a long time. To me the most obvious reason more women do not get skydiving licences and continue on in the sport is childbirth and all the traditions surrounding who generally raises the children. It is difficult to skydive when you are pregnant and breast-feeding. I have seen women skydive while breast feeding and it always amazes me! I applaud those women. Generally, it takes a very supportive partner on the ground. I decided at a very young age that I would not have children and I am not entirely sure what my career would look like if I had.

I was very close with my Grandma. I spent as much time as I possibly could with her. I loved telling her about the projects I did and showing her my videos. She would look up at me, above her readers and she would always say the same thing “I was born too soon!” When she grew up women had children, stayed home to take care of them and the men went to work. She believed this as if it was fact! Today things are much different. People’s minds are generally more open than they used to be. However, I think we still have a long way to go.

The drop zone can be a hostile and dangerous place for underrepresented groups. I know that many people are probably shaking their heads in disagreement. It is not easy to feel the burn if you are not close to the fire. The DZ is an amazing place, but it can also be very intimidating. There is a massive commitment to “good vibes” in our sport. This is all good, until it dismisses someone who has been discriminated against, intimidated, assaulted or so on. I personally have had a few situations where my gender had a negative effect on my skydiving journey. There was a time when a relationship I was in did not end the way the man wanted it to. He aggressively and violently was trying to get me to move off the DZ. I was very young, very scared and somehow believed that he had more right to be there than I did. I was living at Skydive Arizona and working as a bar tender at the Bent Prop. Out of fear I decided to move back to home with my parents in NY and restart my life there. I went to tell my boss at the Bent Prop that I was quitting. She knew a little bit about what I was going through. She looked at me and said, “If you run now, you will be running the rest of your life! You love it here and this place loves you. You deserve to stay and we are going to do what it takes to keep you safe.” I stayed and she kept her word, she took action and the DZ made moves that ensured my safety. It was a pivotal moment in my life and my career. I have no idea what things would look like if I left SDAZ during that time. I still call Skydive Arizona my home today!

It is not easy to feel the burn if you are not close to the fire”

Looking back at my entire career, to be totally honest, being a woman has helped me more than it has not. Many people would take this as evidence that being a woman gives you an advantage. However just my experience does not define what it is like for all women in our sport. Often times victims of discrimination and/or assault are silenced in our “good vibes” culture. This is just terrible!!! If we want more underrepresented people in our sport we must address this and be part of the change that creates an environment where underrepresented people feel safe. Again, when you are not close to the fire you do not feel the burn. It is often very difficult to see or understand something if it does not affect you. When I get real honest with myself and look deeply at some of my actions in the past, I know there have been times when I was, unknowingly, part of the problem. This thought is sad and I am truly sorry. The first step to getting better is to acknowledge the problem. Positive change will never happen if people do not see the problem.

Do you think men as well as women would like to see a higher proportion of females in skydiving? 

I think both men and women would like to see more women in the sport. What people generally disagree on is the how. 

We can’t think of any other demo team of this nature, has this helped you get publicity? How effective is this to promote the sport in general? 

There is another all-female demo team. They are called the Misty Blues. They have been around for a long time, they are totally badass and I have admired them for a long time. Demo teams and demo jumps are a GREAT way to promote this sport! It brings the awesomeness of our sport directly to the public. Do you remember what first gave you the idea to skydiving? For me it was hearing about two women that did it. This is what planted the seed that changed my life in the most amazing way. It is hard to say exactly what ripples of effect our team will have, but I believe it will plant some seeds.

Demo jump – inspiring the young
Image by Eric Badcock

It is hard to say exactly what ripples of effect our team will have, but I believe it will plant some seeds

Has the pandemic trashed your 2020 plans, and what action have you taken as a result?

In many ways the pandemic has trashed my plans! It has been a strange year for sure. It has not gone according to plan!

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference”

Dealing with Covid in my life is not my preference, but it is here and we have to deal with it. I and my teams have looked for ways to adapt and move forward with our mission in new ways. There have been a few things that we started doing only because of Covid that I know we will continue to do long after this pandemic has past. We started doing online seminars and discussions to educate people training for Project 19. It has been a really cool way to utilize our time on the ground. We will for sure make this part of our normal training in the future. The other thing we have done, which I mentioned above, is developed a live feed flow for our demonstration jumps. This is such a cool way to reach so many more people! Why have we not done this before?!?!?

Seneca Falls Demo Video

Team Highlight Jumping LIVE into Seneca Falls

Watch Team Highlight jump into Seneca Falls, NY, the birthplace of the women’s rights movement!It was here that Suffragist Elizabeth Cady Staton penned the "Declaration of Sentiments on Women's Rights" and set the wheels in motion on this important movement.This summer marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, securing women's right to vote. They are jumping In honor of this pivotal moment in our history

Posted by Highlight Pro Skydiving Team on Saturday, 18 July 2020

(fast forward to 5 mins in)

You’re also organizing Project 19, the women’s world freefly record, is there a link between that and the Highlight Pro Skydiving Team?

The Women’s Skydiving Network is the link and I would like to take this moment to say thank you to them.

Photo by Samantha Schwann


See the Highlight Pro Skydiving Team website or Facebook page – Follow them to get the live demo broadcasts.

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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.
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