Project19: An Overwhelming Success

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Image by Norman Kent Productions

Fresh off of setting two new world records and I’m still buzzing with energy from the Project 19 Women’s Vertical World Record event in Eloy, Arizona…

It’s been almost 4 years since I received a call to be a regional captain for the women’s vertical world record. The build up has been huge with dates changing and anticipation of the new one. However, the wait was worth it. Hands down, this world record event was the ultimate example of how inspiring an event of this magnitude can be.

Image by Norman Kent Productions

Message

The project 19 record event, mostly organized by Sara Curtis and Amy Chmelecki, had a message rooted in the women’s suffrage movement and that of female empowerment. On top of the deeper meaning behind this project was an incredible press & marketing build-up throughout the years. By the time November 19th hit this year, over 115 women making up the 100-way team and the bench team arrived with excitement and nerves that were palpable. We had 6 days to be able to break a world record, with one of those days being a backup weather day…

Day 1

The way that Curtis and Chmelecki set this up was brilliant. On the first day, the inner 40 practiced multiple plane skydives, getting their 40-way base flying smoothly. The other 60 girls trained a combination of tunnel drills and smaller ‘bigway’ skydives throughout the day. This first day felt like it really set everyone up nicely to start to build some awareness of this particular group’s flying as well as gave us the chance to work on any last minute details. We could see the nerves really start to settle on that first day as we broke the ice at the event with smaller bite sized efforts. 

Image by Norman Kent Productions

Day 2

On the second day, we went straight away for 100-way vertical world record attempts, however these were also not record attempts. For these jumps, the inner 40 built as a ‘base’ taking grips, while the outer 60 flew stadium slots to slots without grips. Sara and Amy aptly called it ‘gathering information’ and what that did was allow 100 women to get used to their slots, the visuals, the nerves, and all the things that might otherwise create a bit of chaos in the beginning. This approach truly let out a lot of the pressure we’d have normally felt going into 100-ways. Instead, you could feel a general soft focus in these efforts and because of that, these jumps felt smooth and quiet. 

Day 3

The third day grips were invited for the outer 60. Changes in the formation were being made and things were definitely getting very real in terms of cuts and pressure. We were not yet making record attempts, but we were very much attempting to build those outer 60 pods and looking to complete the 100 way formation. Slots were changing, the bench team was getting their try at the formation and the heat was on.   

Image by Norman Kent Productions

Day 4

Day four, we made one 100-way skydive in the morning and due to high winds we were weathered out for the remainder of the day. Naturally, although the rest was welcomed, we had some added pressure because of losing one jump day. The hunger to break a new women’s world record was at an all-time high. 

72-way Women’s World Record
Image by Norman Kent

Day 5

On day five, our first jump of the day was a 72-way women’s vertical world record! A sigh of relief was felt across the dropzone as we learned we had broken that record. To know we could at least walk away with that success really helped the 72 feel confident to add more of our friends. Jump two was another record attempt as an 80-way which was completed on the first try. This meant that on jumps 1 & 2 we had world records!!

The energy was absolutely amazing! The 80 inner ladies felt collectively motivated to add 20 more of our friends to the formation. We continued to add girls to the formation, and started going for larger records however we came up just a few grips shy each time. You could really feel the strong desire to get that 100-way.

80-way Women’s World Record
Image by Ewan Cowie

Day 6

On the final day, day 6, we kicked off the morning off with 100-way  women’s vertical world record attempts. On this day we built an impressive and exciting 97-way formation. The girls were absolutely joyous. 

Although, it wasn’t an official women’s vertical world record, we definitely all have a sense of pride on that skydive. We attempted a record 6 times on this day. I am so proud of all of my teammates the most on day 6. It took great amounts of energy, focus and high level performance to fly the record attempt jumps over and over again. We didn’t break another record this day, but the lessons and memories we all gained are more valuable than a third record. 

Image by Norman Kent

The Leadership Team

This record exceeded all hopes & expectations. Sara Curtis and Amy Chmelecki, who have both invested 4 years of their lives to building out and running this event, along with their incredible team, created what was for most of us at the record, an overwhelmingly supportive, energetic, safe event. Sara and Amy had an incredible team around them.

The leadership team scrutinizing a dive
Image by Norman Kent

We had support from Dan BC on site and on video chats with us, as well as motivational speeches by Shannon Har-Noy Pilcher, and the great great granddaughter of Susan B Anthony, American women’s rights activist. The team standing next to Sara and Amy, pitching in in a myriad of ways were Sharon Har-Noy Pilcher, Melanie Curtis, Melissa Nelson Lowe, Domi Kiger and Anna Moxnes.


The camera team: Ewan Cowie, Steve Curtis, Norman Kent and Mike Brewer
Image by Samantha Schwann

The camera team was Norman Kent, Ewan Cowie, Steve Curtis. There was a plethora of ground crew which included press coordinators, content editing, ground shots, lunch deliveries and a crew of skydivers helping fly the bench team. I’m sure I’ve missed some, as this was an incredibly supported event. We can’t forget to mention our silent sponsors who supported the financial side of the record; a generous and incredible gesture that every woman on the record was grateful for.

The women gather for a debrief
Image by Felix Wettenburg

Support

This event was full of support, kindness and teamwork everywhere you turned. “How did my grip feel? Can I do anything better to make it easier for you?” “Was our setup in the door okay for you in the back?” and a myriad of inquiries and united moves to make the formation and event work well as a team were heard constantly at the event. The bench team were supportive and were seen and held as an invaluable part of the 100-way’s efforts and successes. It was impossible for me to see or feel anything but genuine support, love and stoke among all of the women.

Women united from 22 different countries for this event
Image by Norman Kent

What Sara & Amy and their entire team of women sector & plane captains, and the supportive men who joined as inspirational speakers, camera flyers, consultants to Sara and Amy, sponsors, jumpers for the bench team accomplished is something they can be so proud of. Their hard work and devotion these years means we all go home believing in the power of teamwork and the power of sisterhood. It means we go home with deepened friendships and memories that will last a lifetime.

Leah Levy’s view across the 97 way

To every woman on the record jumps and the bench team, you can be proud of how you showed up for yourself, and how much you contributed to the success and atmosphere of this once in a lifetime experience. Thank you to each and everyone who was a part of this record. I’m in humble admiration and gratitude for all and so proud of having two records as a reminder of the efforts and togetherness we all experienced at Project 19. 

More Info

97-way unofficial record (complete but not quite all grips at the same time)
Image by Ewan Cowie
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Meet: Alethia Austin

Alethia is a passionate full time freefly coach. As the creator of LSD Bigway Camps and LSD Angle Camps, she's been running skills camps in skydiving for 6 years around the world. Some of her freefly coaching and LSD camps have taken her to Botswana, Egypt, Central America, North America, Europe and more. Alethia brings her years of yoga teaching, love of good health and healthy living, and energy management into the way she coaches angle flying and vertical flying. Alethia is a regional captain for the Women's Vertical World Record. Her sponsors include UPT, Tonfly, PD, Cypres and LB Altimeters.

You can find her on Instagram at Instagram.com/alethiaja

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