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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

US Nationals Review

US Nationals Review

This past week, I had the privilege to attend the US Nationals (which is still underway) at Skydive Spaceland. This was my fourth Nationals and one of the most rewarding I've attended. Firstly, I must recognize the amazing people at Skydive Spaceland. I know how the staff at Skydive Carolina feels after a big boogie that lasts several days.....I can't fathom how exhausted the staff will be by the end of this week at Spaceland. Spaceland battled countless weather issues that continually grounded competitors - it took three full days just to complete the 4-way competition. They did a marvelous job and made everyone feel welcome as they showcased themselves to the skydiving world. If you get the opportunity to visit Spaceland - do so!

In terms of the competition, the result in 4-way couldn't have been scripted any better. In the intermediate class (which had 34 teams competing) VTSD (Virginia Tech Space Dockers) and Carolina Ice finished first and second respectively! Many at the Nationals were wondering what's in the water at Skydive answer - hard work!

Undoubtedly, the talk of the Nationals was VTSD. No one had heard of these kids (ranging in age from 20-24) and they quite literally surprised everyone with their good attitudes, team chemistry and ignorance to the fact that they were not supposed to have done what they did.

Carolina Kaboom's effort at Nationals struck a chord with me. In their division, which had five teams, Kaboom finished last but, their experience resonated with me more than any other team. Kaboom came to Nationals with so much promise and excitement....months of training with so many highs with each week showing continued improvement. They arrived at Nationals with the right frame of mind - confident and ready to do their best. No sooner was competition underway before disaster struck. Videographer, Eric Bobenhausen had a premature deployment halfway through the routine in round one. Fortunately Eric was okay, but everyone was shaken.
Before the team could gather themselves, round two was on call. By the time the team was on the plane, the clarity of mind needed to perform wasn't there...the team was still processing the events of round one and it showed in their performance. After landing from round two, the competition was now moving at a fast paced blur.....nothing was going the way as envisioned.
What impressed me most is the team kept moving. They gathered themselves and got on with it. Rounds three, four and five brought marked improvement....smiles began to show as they settled in to the competition and slowly started to move up the leaderboard until round six of the teammates mistimed the count and literally fell off the plane. Near tears upon landing, the team came together and vowed they would simply do their best in their final round - results notwithstanding. Round seven would be for themselves only.....and they nailed it.

No competitor in any sport ever gets to their goal without struggle. I couldn't help but feel that this was a poignant time for Kaboom and the team's future. Had this team experienced great success, I doubt that their hunger and desire for the future would be as resolute. The struggle of this year's Nationals was a huge building block for what is to come. The worst happened at Nationals, and after it was all said and done they realized that they were okay. When they were clicking, their scores were on par with the best teams in their division. Eliminate the mistakes, have calm in the storm and Kaboom will be a force in 2010.

In closing, I was amazed by two dynamic teams at the Nationals which competed in VFS 4-way. Arizona Arsenal and Chicago Standard. Both teams were neck and neck for the gold until Arsenal pulled it out in the last two rounds. I think many were stunned at the skill levels of these two teams. The skill level is unlike anything we had seen or thought possible in skydiving. These teams were turning more than 20 points in a round while head down. Most remarkably, the videographers fly outside and below these teams to capture the routines....absolutely inexplicable!!! The USPA Nationals is a great experience. I'd recommend that skydivers consider going to the Nationals, even if not competing. Take in the sights and the vibe of it all and meet the greats in our sport whom we read about every month in Parachutist.

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