Skydiving with Anemia: Just DON’T!!

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Christy West describes a potentially life-threatening condition that could happen to anyone: jumping with anemia…

We all have days when we don’t feel quite as good as others. We didn’t get enough sleep, eat well, or work out enough. But sometimes we really do have a medical issue we should consider, especially when we’re skydiving.


If you’ve been noticing that you’re consistently more tired than usual, especially when it comes to lifting weights or doing a cardio workout, please consider anemia as a potential issue. Anemia is a lower-than-normal level of red blood cells in your body, which is significant because the hemoglobin protein in red blood cells (RBC) carries oxygen to all of your body’s tissues. Not enough RBC/hemoglobin means not enough oxygen for energy metabolism. Since we operate in an already low-oxygen environment when we’re jumping, this is a big deal. There are a lot of conditions that can cause anemia.

Having had recent firsthand experience with the condition, may I just say… DO NOT skydive if you suspect (or know) you have anemia. Simply put, it might kill you. Not directly, but by making you so tired you don’t perform at critical times.

DO NOT skydive if you suspect you have anemia… it might kill you 

I want to tell you my story on this… but first, here’s a little about me. I’ve been skydiving for about 25 years, mostly competitive FS. I’ve represented the United States twice in international 4-way competition, which is pretty cool. I’m used to being able to fly at a reasonably high level without health issues being any question.

Christy on fine form, representing USA at the World Championships 2021, with 4-way female team Aviatrixx


This year, however, was different. I was working my way through a second round of cancer (what fun) and chemotherapy, this time with slightly different drugs, and this time it made me anemic. Not having had the condition before, I thought perhaps I wasn’t working out consistently enough and that was resulting in my fatigue. Maybe I was just getting older. 😳 But when I suddenly couldn’t even manage 5 minutes jogging or do a normal set of 15 reps of my usual weights without stopping to catch my breath, I had to take notice. That was too sharp of a decline, too quickly.

Low hemoglobin

It turned out that my hemoglobin level was (depending on which reference range you use) 10-16% below the low end of the normal range at the last blood test before my team’s first training camp; it had been decreasing from the start of chemo. In a way I was glad; at least there was a reason! (And hopefully it was temporary!) However, it certainly wasn’t great that my hemoglobin level was low enough that an emergency room doc would have had some questions, and especially considering a skydiver’s need for MORE oxygen carrying capacity than the average person, rather than less!

Side note: Should you end up in any sort of similar situation, pay close attention to your test results and advocate for yourself. All the docs really cared about in my tests was white blood cells because they get knocked down a lot with chemo and they protect you from infection… but given what I do the anemia was a more immediate threat to my life and I had to be the one to recognize it given the symptoms and test results. No offense to the docs – most of their patients aren’t active skydivers! 

I was lucky; my anemia came on quickly and had a defined cause. Other conditions that cause anemia could have a much slower, more insidious onset that someone might not notice as easily, especially if their blood is not getting tested so often. 

Christy with Dallas Disturbance 8-way
Photo by Ron Shipp

Training Camp

I wasn’t jumping a lot at the time as my current teams hadn’t started training for the season yet and I obviously had a bit going on, but for sure I was nervous for the first camp. I had informed my team captains early on of what I was dealing with (and somehow they didn’t cut me despite being given the opportunity).

I had done some right seat riding and a little jumping to make sure I could jump at all, and crossed my fingers it would work out. I’ve been quite lucky throughout my skydiving career to skydive with some amazing humans who did not let my rare health issues get in the way, for which I am extremely thankful. One of the best things for someone going through a hard health situation is to feel normal, and to me competitive skydiving training is normal. 🙂 Thank you all! 

Christy showing signs of tiredness
Photo by Ron Shipp

Our first camp went well in many ways, but not great in others. I was set to do 8way on Thursday and 16way Friday to Sunday, on a 4-day jump weekend. The jumps in freefall were GREAT, with very little impact from the anemia – unless it was a skydive that required some wrestling, which should never happen anyway! I did feel muscle fatigue on those few ‘muscle-it’ jumps.  

Dallas Disturbance 16-way team
Image by Norris Gearhart

Canopy flight issues

The biggest problem was canopy flight. Having experienced it, I feel like the best way to think of anemia is that it reduces your body’s oxygen capacity for work. So, essentially your ‘fuel tank’ for exercise that usually replenishes constantly just doesn’t refill so quickly any more. I was okay in freefall, but the work of the skydive plus the harder sustained physical work of tracking hard after being at altitude (especially if there were go-arounds) wore me all the way out. I found myself focusing on deep breathing for the whole ride to altitude after day 1, which helped for sure. 

 I absolutely knew I had to flare, but I was almost too exhausted to be bothered

Christy was exhausted under canopy
Photo by Ron Shipp

After deploying, I found myself so physically tired that maneuvering around other canopies after rare off-heading openings was seriously physically hard (actually almost not possible) where it never had been at all hard before. I quit taking off my booties under canopy after the first couple of jumps, because it was a nonessential task cutting into my already very low fuel tank at that point. I had to save my energy to flare. Seriously. Front riser turns went out the window, because my muscles just wouldn’t effing do it. (Review: 1/10, do NOT recommend)

The scariest thing was that I found myself on final after one jump, at maybe 300 feet, thinking, “I could seriously close my eyes and take a nap RIGHT NOW.” I absolutely knew I had to flare, but I was almost too exhausted to be bothered. Soooo not good. I did flare and land safely, but it sure wasn’t always pretty. 


Yet after landing and walking in, relaxing a bit, I felt OK so I’d do it again, with similar results. I didn’t want to let the team down, and I am stubborn as hell (ask anyone), but I still wouldn’t do that again. I made it through that camp, but the day after that camp at the next blood test, I was 18% below the minimum normal range for hemoglobin/RBC. Obviously I felt it! 

Back to normal

The good news is that since then, chemo is over and I feel a lot better with better endurance. My latest blood test puts me solidly in the normal range for RBC and hemoglobin. Flying my PD Sabre3 is fun again and I really, really missed that! 🙂

Christy back to her usual self !
Photo from US Nationals 2022, by Skydive Chicago

Stupid shit

Part of my job working for the Skydive Spaceland family of dropzones is to write safety articles to try to help keep people from doing stupid shit. This qualified as stupid shit, but I didn’t know that until I was in the situation, so hopefully this helps keep anyone in a similar situation from doing the same stupid shit. 

This qualified as stupid shit, but I didn’t know that

Thank you!

Thanks to Performance Designs for making the Sabre3 that flies amazingly well even when my physical condition sucks, Sun Path Products for making a solid AF container that doesn’t care if I slide in a landing, LBAltimeters for making an altimeter that’s super tough and easy to read, Cookie Helmets for providing solid head protection just in case, Cypres for an AAD I’m really glad I didn’t need, and my teams for putting up with me! Love y’all! 

Christy West by Mike McGowan
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Meet: Christy West

Christy is Marketing Director for Skydive Spaceland and loves to write informative articles, especially for newer jumpers. She enjoys many aspects of the sport, especially 4-way and 8-way. Christy has been instrumental in developing Spaceland programs to nurture newcomers to the sport.

She was outside center for Aviatrixx, the US women's 4-way formation skydiving team for the 2021 World Meet.

Christy is proud to be sponsored by Sun Path, Cookie, Performance Designs, LB Altimeters, and Tony Suits

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