Following the Second World War, a large number of surplus military parachutes, rigs and jump aircraft became available. Sport parachuting utilizing and modifying this gear and new methods of free-falling stable were developed in France. These concepts soon spread throughout the world. Women were in the forefront.
These are their stories!
Odette Rousseau-Balési was born in Saigon, then the capital of the French colony of Cochinchina. Her first experience with flying was when her engineer father, who flew private planes as a hobby, built a small airplane. Odette’s first contact with parachuting was during the Indochina War, where, she met the men of General Leclerc”s paratroopers; one of them,Vincent Balési, would more than a decade later become her husband.
She went to Paris in 1946 to pursue her studies and then, in 1950 she noticed a poster on a street corner promoting parachuting. She learned to parachute and soon was jumping from the top of a tower located in Choisy, near Paris. Odette joined the Saint-Yan Aeroclub as the only woman. Constantly improving her skills, she obtained her license and by 1953, at the age of 23, during the 1st French Parachuting Championship she became champion in all disciplines and world champion in aerobatics, beating out all the men. She continued by becoming an instructor in 1954; that same year she married Vincent Balési, President of the International Parachuting Commission and one of General Leclerc’s paratroopers.
On August 25, 1955 she broke the free-fall altitude record, held by the Russian Sultanova, by jumping from an altitude of 8700 meters, opening her parachute at only 408 meters.
Odette became very active in the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), where she held the position of Technical Secretary at the FAI Parachuting Commission from 1967 to 1982, taking part in numerous FAI General Conferences, and was elected as a lifetime FAI Companion of Honour.
At the age of 80, she was quoted:”We were the true pioneers. We had to invent everything. The freefall was only in its infancy”. “Seems to me that we were more aware of the danger than today. The jumping conditions were not as optimal as they are now, so we kept in mind the risks of a jump. Today, skydiving has become a true recreational sport, but vigilance and rigor must remain in place . “
On December 7, 2012, Odette Rousseau-Balési passed away.
Bon vol éternel Odette.
Muriel Simbro D-78
“First” Lady of Skydiving
(January 19, 1927)
“First” Lady of Skydiving
(January 19, 1927)
Muriel Simbro was ahead of her time. She entered parachuting in 1960, after first flying as the jump pilot for her husband Hank. Being one of only a couple women, and sometimes the only woman, amongst quite a few men at competitions. It was at these competitions where “I always hit the target.”. She was the first woman to earn a D license (D-78) and the first woman to win a gold medal in a world meet. She won gold in the 1962 World Parachuting Championships, first in the Team Accuracy event with Nona Pond and Carlyn Olsen, first in the Overall Women’s World Team Championship with Kim Emmons, Nona Pond and Carlyn Olsen, and earned top honors in the Overall Woman’s World Championship.
She received the Helms Athlete of the Year Award, made and appearance on the gameshow “To Tell the Truth” on October 1, 1962.
Muriel and her husband Hank were inducted into The International Skydiving Museum ‘s Hall of Fame in 2012.
She appeared on “To Tell the Truth” on Oct. 1, 1962.
Monique Larouche was a French paratrooper. She started jumping at age 16 in 1945 in Porte de Choisy on the 25 meter tower of initiation. In 1949, she was trained at the center in Saint-Yan, where she passed her state certification in 1950 and became the only woman to join the First Paratrooper Brigade SAS, under the command of Commander Jobert Chateau, making her the first woman to integrate a unit of Airborne Troops at the time. The was the first woman to join a parachute battalion in Indochina.
On October 6 , 1951, she set the world record for women’s high altitude jump, exiting from a Morane 230 at 4,235 meters and opening at 400 meters (distance covered in free fall of 3,622 meters); the very first FAI approved parachuting record.
That same year, the first World Parachuting Championships were held at Bled, Yugoslavia (now Slovenia). She became the first world champion in the combined disciplines (men and women together). In 1953 , she was national champion of France, all categories in Saint-Yan (male included). Monique won gold in aerobatics at the second world championships at Saint Yan, France in 1954. She is also one of the first to fall flat in the “french position”. She made the first in the world two-way “coupled ” leap in partnership with Léo Valentin in 1955, remaining a member of the French team until 1960.
To subsidize her jumps (up to 200 per year) Monique made contracts with the national and international air shows. She pulled as low as possible, without an altimeter! When the ground gets very big “.
Monique was made a knight of the Legion of Honor, a decoration given to her by the former CEMA General François Maurin, and decorated with the medal of the aeronautics under the armies.
Her last jump took place in 2002 but she continued to visit the dropzone.
Monique Laroche-Machavoine passed away on January 23, 2016 at the hospital St Antoine of Paris. The funeral was held Friday, January 29 at the crematorium of the Père Lachaise cemetery.
Collette Duval was a French skydiver, actress and high fashion model and a born thrill-seeker. According to her 1986 autobiography S’en Fout La Mort (“I Don’t Give A Damn About Death”) Collette had no intention of being mediocre. “I always managed to be the first. I had to be the best at whatever I did. You have to seek vengeance on mediocrity however you can.”
She showed great promise as a classical dancer in her youth, but her father told her “dancers are whores,” and forced her to take up typing. A fellow typist introduced her to hang gliding, Rogallo had patented the “flexible wing” that same year, ushering in an era of recreational hang gliding. In 1950, soldiers came to train with parachutes at the same facility. “Hang gliding seemed to me extremely dull upon seeing that virile and beautiful action, I learned that several crazy civilians there were trying the sport.”
Colette Duval was born on July 28, 1930 in Ruesnes, Nord, France.
She made her first jump in 1950, finishing her training and receiving her licence in 1951 in Saint-Yan, France at the age of 21. On August 28 , 1955 above Cannes , she jumped about 8,600 meters above sea level. In 1956 , she started a romance with the car stunt Gil Delamare. During the couple’s stay in Brazil that summer, she jumped on May 23rd from a B17 Fortress Flying bomber loaned by the local army over the bay of Rio de Janeiro , at an altitude of more than 37,500 feet (12,080 meters according to the local control tower). She opened her parachute at 250 meters (less than 850 feet) above the ocean, a fall of more than 11,830 meters . Plucked from the Atlantic, her world record was not official, all the regulatory conditions had not been met.
In 1958 , she established a better international performance with eight other skydivers (including Gil Delamare and Andernos Mosconi) in Blida, Algeria jumping from a height of 7,000 meters at night. The same year, she played herself in the movie A Bullet in the Barrel . She will also be cast in The Spy Catcher(1960) A Moonlight in Maubeuge (1962), Dear Inspector (1977), Death of a Corrupt Man (1977) and The Man in a Hurry (1977), and Save, Lola (1986). She was featured in Aviation Magazine International on May 26, 1955, following her exploits in South America.
She died on May 22, 1988 in La Garenne-Colombes, Hauts-de-Seine, France.
She is buried in the cemetery of Saint-Maur-des-Fossés ( Val-de-Marne ) with her companion, the stuntman and actor Gil Delamare.
Lorna Vivian deBlicquy
Lorna deBlicquy was the first female in Canada to make a parachute jump…and the youngest. She was a pioneering Canadian aviator who flew for over 50 years and logged over 1,000 hours. She contributed significantly to improve the working conditions for women pilots. In 2014, she was posthumously inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame.
Lorna Vivian Morcombe was born in Blyth, Ontario on November 30, 1931 to Vivian Morcombe, a bank manager, and Nora Eileen Bray; she was the youngest of four children. When she was 14, Lorna took multiple jobs to pay for flying lessons which included working at a movie theater and for the Royal Canadian Air Force. She learned to fly in a Piper J-3 Cub at the Atlas Aviation Flying School, earning her private pilot licence when she was 16. She also joined the Ottawa Parachute Club; not only was she their youngest member but, at just 16, she was the first Canadian woman to make a parachute jump.
In 1952, while studying at Ottawa’s Carleton University she qualified for her commercial license and took a job at Spartan Air Services as a navigation clerk. The following year she graduated with a B.A. and married fellow student Tony Nichols, a geologist. When her husband found a job in northern Manitoba, they moved to the area near Thomson.
Lorna Nichols became one of the first professional pilots in Manitoba when she flew a Waco biplane for Taylor Airways of Wabowden. She flew passengers such as diamond drillers, fishermen and inspectors to their remote destinations while flying supplies to the northern native reservations. In 1956, the couple moved to Sudbury in northern Ontario where Lorna taught English at high school. She worked part-time for Sudbury Aviation teaching students to fly.
Lorna divorced Nichols in 1962 and moved to Ottawa where she became a flight instructor for Bradley Air Services and at Carp and Kingston in Ontario. Lorna was on her own again, barnstorming her way through the backwoods of Quebec in an Aeronca Champ. Then, a whirlwind relationship began in 1963 with Dick DeBlicquy, a well-known Canadian pilot who flew for Weldy Phipps in the Arctic; they married later that year. Lorna kept busy teaching at the Montreal and Ottawa Flying Clubs and the two spent the next two winters in New Zealand where Lorna served as a flight instructor at the Wellington and Marlborough clubs; she also took up gliding. In 1967, they moved to Resolute Bay where Lorna worked for Atlas Aviation, flying a de Havilland Beaver. In 1970, Lorna earned a commercial helicopter license flying a Bell 47 and qualified as a Class I flight instructor. She also won an Amelia Earhart Award from the Ninety-Nines, an international women pilots organization.
Lorna flew in several competitive Air Races in the 1950s and 1970s (Powder Puffs and Angel Derbies). She was a talented writer and very much in demand as a key note speaker.
In 1985 Lorna added a DC-3 endorsement to her qualifications, flying air freight from Ottawa to Syracuse, N.Y. for Bradley First Air. In 1986 the deBlicquy’s went to Ethiopia to fly Twin Otters on a famine relief project.
In 1994, Lorna deBlicquy was awarded the Order of Ontario. The following year, she was given the Order of Canada, was inducted into the Women in Aviation International Hall of Fame in 1996 and posthumously named into the Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame in 2014. She also received the Trans-Canada (McKee) Trophy and the Governor General’s Award.
Lorna and Dick deBlicquy were divorced in 1995. The couple had one daughter, Elaine, born in 1966.
Lorna deBlicquy retired after a long and colorful career in 1999 and settled near Carp, Ontario. She had flown for over 50 years, logging 10,478 hours in the air, about half of them as a flight instructor.
On Saturday March 21, 2009, Lorna Vivian deBlicquy died peacefully from Alzheimer’s disease while taking a nap after dinner at her home in Beaverton, Ontario.
Lorna was an Honorary Life Member of the 99s and the Ottawa Flying Club.
She was a member of The Whirly Girls, COPA and on several advisory committees, including the National Aviation Museum, Algonquin College, and the Air Transport Association of Canada.
Lorna deBlicquy was a trailblazer, one of Canada’s best known women pilots and one of the most experienced. She overcame many barriers and was tireless in her efforts to advance the cause for women in Canadian aviation.
“How is it fair that there are programs like air cadets which will pay for young men to fly but that girls like me have to pay our own way?”
Valentina “Valya” Tereshkova
Callsign-Chaika (Seagull), Valentina Tereshkova was a skydiver, the first woman Cosmonaut and first woman to fly in space. Trained in skydiving at Yaroslavl Air Sports Club and making her first jump at age 22 on May 21, 1959. It was her expertise in skydiving (126 jumps) that led to her selection as a Cosmonaut. On June 16, 1963, at the age of 26, Valya became the only woman ever to solo a space mission, orbiting the Earth 48 times in 3 days. She landed, under parachute in the Altay region near Kazakhstan-Mongolia-China border. Villagers helped Valya out of her spacesuit and she joined them for dinner. Doctor Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova is regarded as a hero in Russia and much of the world.
Born on March 6, in the village of Maslennikovo to Vladimir Tereshkov, a tractor driver and Elena Fyodorovna, Valentina, nicknamed Valya, was two when her father was killed during the Nazi invasion of the U.S.S.R. Her mother went to work at the Krasny Perekop cotton mill and single-handedly raised Valentina, her brother Vladimir, and sister Ludmilla; Valentina helped her mother at home and did not start school until she was ten. She went to work at a tire factory at age 16 and in 1955 she joined her mother and sister at the cotton mill, joining the mill’s Komsomol (Young Communist League).
In 1959 “Valya joined the Yaroslavl Air Sports Club and became a skilled parachutist,“I did night jumps, too, on to land and water – the Volga river.” The Soviet space program was seeking parachutists because cosmonauts had to parachute from their capsules after returning to Earth’s atmosphere; she was recruited for the space program “It was hard for her to master rocket techniques, study spaceship designs and equipment, but she tackled the job stubbornly and devoted much of her own time to study, poring over books and notes in the evening.”-Yuri Gagarin.
At 12:30 P.M. on June 16, 1963, Junior Lieutenant Tereshkova, rocketing solo in Vostok VI, became the first woman in space. Using her radio callsign, Chaika (Seagull), “I see the horizon. A light blue, a beautiful band. This is the Earth. How beautiful it is! All goes well.” she completed forty-eight orbits (1,200,000 miles, 70 hours, 50 minutes) and performed a near rendezvous (3.1 miles) with the previously launched Vostok V. Named a Hero of the Soviet Union by Chairman Khrushchev and decorated with the Order of Lenin and the Gold Star Medal, Valentina Tereshkova married fellow Cosmonaut Colonel Andrian Nikolayev, on November 3, 1963; Nikita Khrushchev officiated at the nuptials. Their daughter, Yelena Adrianovna Nikolayeva, was born the following June. In 1969, Valentina narrowly escaped an assassination attempt on Leonid Brezhnev during a parade; six fired bullets were found under her seat.
Valya, after receiving her Doctorate, continued as an aerospace engineer in the space program. She was deputy to the Supreme Soviet between 1966 and 1989, and people’s deputy from 1989 to 1991. She headed the USSR’s International Cultural and Friendship Union from 1987 to 1991, and later chaired the Russian Association of International Cooperation.
Russian President Putin congratulated her personally on her 70th and 80th birthdays and on April 5, 2008 she was a torchbearer for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Saint Petersburg.
“I think it’s tremendously important to meet people, to establish a connection and tell people about space,” she says gravely. “It can increase trust, and that is something that is so badly needed, today.”
Ilona Helwig ” Ica Berger”
Illona Helwig made her first jump while 14 at Ferihegy, Budapest International Airport after hearing about the sport from a high school friend.
Parachuting was state-sponsored in Hungary and jumps were not easy to come by. In June of 1952, just a few weeks before her 15th birthday, word came that it was her turn to jump.
Jumping from LI-2 cargo aircraft using old army flat-circulars, she had to make six static lines before the first free fall.
By 1954, she was jumping at Dunakeszi out of PN-1 and AN-2 aircraft. By the end of 1954, she had twenty jumps and began to think of national and international competitions. By 1955, she had logged enough jumps to compete at the Nationals. Ilona remembers: “I practiced hard and concentrated as best I could, and managed to become the National Woman’s Champion.”
In the summer of 1956, the Third World Championships were held in Moscow. There were eight women’s teams and Hungary placed fifth. The US only had a men’s team, which included Jacques Istel and Lew Sanborn.
Revolution in Hungary broke out in October of 1956, and her jumping came to an abrupt halt. The Soviets had beaten down the revolution by the 10th of November and the next day she took a train to the Austrian frontier where she escaped across the border. Arriving in Canada on the 5th of January, 1957, her story appeared in newspaper article describing her as a skydiver. Glen Masterson, Canada D-1 contacted Ilona. Soon she became a citizen and she tried out for the Canadian Team, competing in both the 1962 Orange and 1964 Leutkirch World Championships.
Ilona is still active in skydiving and made jumps in June, 2010 at Baldwin, Ontario during the Parachute Club of Toronto reunion and on her 74th birthday June 16,2011.
Lynn Chapman -Adler, first woman to jump a gliding parachute, was born on April 10, the oldest of 10 children to Asher Chapman M.D. and Marcia Lynn Drew in Huntington New York. Lynn was an honor student, multi-sports athlete and cheerleader educated at the Quaker preparatory school in Locust Valley NY.
The self-described “experience freak”, in 1962, became attracted to flying and sport parachute jumping. Over the next 15 years she earned her single-engine pilot’s license, became a licensed parachute rigger and instructor, executive assistant at Parachutes Inc, test jumper of experimental parachutes and on April 23, 1966 at Lakewood Sport Parachuting Center in New Jersey became the first woman to jump a gliding parachute, the Barish Sailwing.
Lynn did an “Actionware” commercial at Lakewood; using a very plush DC-3 that resembled an expensive New York apartment inside, dressed from head to toe in blue with white lace, blue boots, a blue Security Cross-Bow pig and a red wig, with Lee Guilfoyle filming, she made 3 jumps.
The sixty second TV commercial was aired on “The First Carol Burnett Special” .
In 1970 Lynn married Naval officer Don Grant, divorcing in 1978.
Lynn was a sportswoman and competent sailor, had lived full time aboard her own powerboat, and later a sailboat, in New England from 1980 until 1988. In 1988 Lynn Chapman married Michael Adler. Lynn Chapman-Adler and her husband moved ashore to a lakeside property in Guilford, CT and toured the Northeast and the Canadian Maritime Provinces in a 1963 Austin Healey, that they had restored. She earned her MS degree in Recreational Therapy at Southern Connecticut State University, served five years in the psychiatric ward at Yale New Haven Hospital as Resident Recreational Therapist, retiring in 1997. Lynn realized another goal by first swimming with dolphins and later volunteering in a massive dolphin rescue operation in Key Largo Florida.
Diagnosed with cancer in 2006, she documented her struggle in a blog. 2006 Lynn’s account of her illness
Lynn always believed that a balanced life must combine inner spirituality with healthy physical activity and community service, serving as Director on the North Branford, CT Chamber of Commerce, Vice-President of the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling, Chair Person of the AARP Community Service Committee, and several other community organizations.
In February 2010, Lynn was inducted into the Parachuting Hall Of Fame in Felicity, California, making her 650th jump to celebrate that great honor.
On November 30th 2011, Lynn Chapman-Adler passed away peacefully at her home in Kilmarnock VA after a six year battle with cancer; she was 73.
July 11, 1938
Barbara Roquemore was “scared of everything“. She didn’t even drive a car when she started parachuting. “I thought if I could deal with the fear of jumping out of an airplane, I could do anything.”
In 1965 while living in Santa Monica, California, she traveled to Elsinore and did her first jump at the age of 26; “I arranged for someone else to raise our daughter. I was sure I would die. “ She was too afraid to release her grip on the strut and the plane was forced to do a go-around before, after multiple threats from the instructor, she finally let go.
“It was the most frightening thing I’ve ever done in my life.” Her instructor, a Marine D.I., even tried to bribe Barbara’s husband Jerry with a $50 bill to have her not return for more lessons. Barbara “loved it” and was determined to continue. It took Barbara 100 jumps, attached to a static line, before she was let off the leash. Unable to become stable she finally consulted a freefall instructor who helped her with a harness jump, forcing her into a stable position which did the trick; “Once I had the feeling of being stable I never lost it again. I never exited any plane that I was not stable.“
By 1967, Barbara Roquemore, 28, already had logged 550 jumps and was California State Champion. At the Western Skydiving Championships in Henderson, NV. that same year, she beat seven other women and 73 men (including her husband Jerry) in winning overall honors taking firsts in both accuracy and style.
At the National Parachute Championships at Marana Air Base AZ in June of 1968 , she won the women’s national title. Gold in Accuracy, Silver in Style and Gold Overall. She went on to work with Bob Sinclair, training jumpers and celebrities such as Julie Newmar.
Barbara is a beloved figure in the sport of parachuting to this day, continuing to appear at reunions and is a big supporter of the international skydiving Museum.
Kim Emmons Knor
Growing up in Cadillac, Michigan as Snook Emmons, Kim Emmons Knor was hooked on parachuting at 5 years of age when her uncle, returning from World War II, brought home a parachute. He told the story about how it had saved his life when he had to bail from the aircraft that he was piloting.
She traveled to Germany in 1956 as an AFS student and started college at Michigan State University in 1957. Then on December 13, 1959, “The first opportunity I got, I forged my parents’ signatures and made that first jump with great determination.“
She had left college and was living in Chicago when she heard U.S. Army reserve soldier Jim Stoyas talking about starting a jump team. She eagerly joined; eighteen months later, Kim made her first competition jump, #29. She made five jumps that day, packing her blank gore Army surplus and her “super” competition accuracy T w/derry slots chutes. At the ’61 National Championships at Ft. Bragg, she was only one of two women competing; Joe Crane signed off her 71st jump. “All the competitions that I went to — in Kansas, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and Pennsylvania — there were no women in any jump club that I jumped with.”
In February 1962, during a hard landing she suffered a vertebrate fracture in her neck, two compression fractures in her spine and four broken ribs; “Well, I don’t have any insurance, I can’t go to the hospital, and I don’t want to tell my parents.” “So I just didn’t say anything to anyone and I went to California” There, Kim Emmons teamed with Carlyn Olsen, Muriel Simbro and Nona Pond to become the first U.S. Women’s Parachute Team. That team won gold medals at the ’62 SixthWorld Parachuting Championships in Orange, Mass. “Our coaches were the Army parachute team—Jim Arender, Jerry Bourquin, Loy Brydon, Dick Fortenberry and Phil VanderWeg—all amazing skydivers!”
During the 1962 championships, Kim met the head of the Yugoslavian team Milan Knor. “Max” would slip away and spend hours with Kim and her U.S. friends. Three times, the commissar caught and rebuked Milan. Deciding to defect during competition awards ceremony, Milan Knor escaped his handlers and went into hiding. “Parachuting in those days was such a small group, it was like a very close fraternity and he would hear about me in California, and I would hear occasionally about him.”
In 1965, Kim sold everything she had to travel, ski, skydive and “find a husband” in Europe. Within nine months, she was broke and returned home to Cadillac, Mich. She took a job in Washington, D.C., where she met Milan again, but he had to return home to Connecticut. “Every day, we talked, and every weekend, either I went up there or he came to Washington.” Like her parents before her she married on Christmas Day(1966). “He defected; we married and had two amazing daughters and four incredible grandkids.”
After severely injured himself testing a parachute for Pioneer they decided to put parachuting behind them.
Milan Knor died of a brain hemorrhage in 1997 at the age 57.
Kim reunited with her parachuting community and became an organizer of the Pioneers of Sport Parachuting Reunions. At a reunion in 2002, Jerry Bourquin, persuaded her to jump again.
Kim is living in Denver with her family and is planning the 2018 Pioneers of Sport Parachuting Reunions for March 8-11.
Zhanna Dmitriyevna Yorkina
Zhanna Dmitriyevna Yorkin was a Russian Soviet Cosmonaut and parachutist. In February 1962, Yorkina was selected as a member of a group of five female cosmonauts to be trained for a solo spaceflight in a Vostok spacecraft. Like several others in the group, she was an amateur parachutist.
In 1963, she married Valeri N. Sergeychik, which whom she had two children, Valeri V. and Svetlana V, in violation of Korolyov’s rule that female cosmonauts must put off having children and dedicate themselves to the space program.
Following cancellation of the Voskhod Program, Yorkina worked at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, and was one of the cosmonauts involved in development of the Spiral spaceplane. She retired from the space program on 1 October 1969, and from active military duty in 1989.
Thelma Tee Taylor
Tee Taylor made her first jump in 1961 after seeing an article in the newspaper about some people who made outlaw parachute landings on the University of Arizona campus; she was 20 years old.
“At that time, there wasn’t even a club. When we made jumps, a group of people would rent an airplane, find a pilot and a place you could land, and go make parachute jumps.”
She worked as a flight attendant for American Airlines and after a move to Dallas, continued jumping and began entering competitions.
She was the eighth woman in America to earn a class D license (D-462).
In 1963, she won a spot on the U.S. Parachute Team. The next year, she traveled to Leutkirch, Germany to compete in the world championships, and became the 1964 Women’s World Style Champion and Overall World Champion.
Tee married “her best friend” Loy Brydon D-12, a member of the Green Berets, Korean and Vietnam veteran, purple heart recipient and founding member of the Army Golden Knights, a U.S.P.A. Lifetime Achievement Award holder and patent holder for the “Conquistador”, one of the first steerable parachutes. Loy passed in 2009.
In 1994, Tee traveled to China as head of the delegation with the U.S. Parachute Team .
In 2011 Tee was inducted into the Skydiving Museum’s Hall of Fame along with Jacques Istel, Uwe Beckmann, Bill Booth, Len Potts, and Steve Snyder.
She was also knighted as an Honorary Golden Knight in 2011.
Tee continues to jump and is very active with the Skydiving Museum and Hall of Fame.
Besides riding her motorcycle, SCUBA diving, hiking, and an occasional game of golf, she also enjoys spending time with her sons, grandchildren and great-granddaughter.
Born in war, on August 27, in the suburbs of Paris during the city’s liberation by the Allies, Catherine Leroy was a multi-award honored war photographer, the first news-person, male or female, to parachute into combat with US forces, and the first to photograph the Vietcong behind their own lines, one of only two women photojournalists during the early years of the Vietnam conflict.
She attended a Catholic boarding school and in 1963, at the age of 18, to impress her boyfriend, she earned a parachutist’s license and had logged 84 jumps by 1966.
With no contracts and very few of published photos, she purchased a one-way ticket from her native France to Laos in 1966. With just her Leica M2 and $200 in her pocket, she decided to travel to Vietnam to “give war a human face.”
At first impression, she was an un-intimidating, five-foot-tall, pig-tailed girl, but when fully loaded with pack, boots, cameras, and close to her bodyweight of 85lbs of gear, she proved that women could tough it out in the field and spew notorious obscenities with the toughest Marine. In 1967, she was hit by a mortar burst, her chest was ripped open; the shrapnel that would have killed her, was only stopped by her Nikon F-2. During the Tet offensive, in early 1968, she was captured by the North Vietnamese Army. Explaining that she was a journalist, the soldiers were charmed into letting her go, and were persuaded to let her take photos, saying that it was important because only one side of the story was being seen. The photos ran in Life magazine; she wrote the cover story herself.
In 1975, with America leaving Indochina, Leroy moved on to Lebanon, where the civil war was just beginning, to continue her work. During the Israeli siege of Beirut in 1982, her stunning pictures began to change, less of battle dead and dying and more were of the living, such as a father with his one-legged daughter; her leg has been blown off in the siege, a young warrior cradling a kitten and crippled and demented patients abandoned in a bombed-out mental hospital. Beirut was considered the high watermark of her career as a combat photographer: “I was there for Newsweek magazine and we documented our experiences in the book God Cried (1983).”
Leroy never promoted herself or her work but still won numerous honors, including in 1967 George Polk Award for the Picture of the Year. She was the first woman to receive the Robert Capa Gold Medal Award – “best published photographic reporting from abroad requiring exceptional courage and enterprise” – for her coverage of the civil war in Lebanon, in 1976. In 1997, she was the recipient of an Honor Award for Distinguished Service in Journalism from the University of Missouri. “I’ve always found that it was very exhilarating to be shot at without result.” “It’s the biggest high of all, a massive rush of adrenaline. The high you experience in times of great danger is a high that you cannot experience anywhere else.”
By the 1980’s, the physical and psychological traumatic stress of combat photography had begun to change Leroy; she grew sick of war and the job of photographing it. She turned to fashion photography in Japan, looking like a tiny and very lethal Ninja, clad entirely in a black Yoji Yamamoto creation, wearing black wrap-round sunglasses.
After hanging up her camera, she moved to Los Angeles and opened Piece Unique, selling used haute couture.
Catherine Leroy died July 8 2006 in Santa Monica, California, just a week after her lung cancer was diagnosed.
Skydiving and board diving didn’t thrill her enough, so in 1976, Kitty O’Neil became the fastest female on land by hitting 512.71mph in the Alvord desert, Oregon; a record that still stands today. Also becoming the fastest woman on water, skiing at 104.85mph in 1970 and piloting the boat Captain Crazy at 275mph in 1977. She broke her own 1979 women’s highest fall record, the Wonder Woman Leap, by jumping 180ft from a helicopter on to an air bag…and Kitty had been deaf since she was four months old after contracting measles and smallpox.
Adversity and struggle just seem to drive Kitty’s desire for excitement. Her mother taught her to lip-read and how to speak clearly. Kitty learned to play the piano and cello by feeling the subtle vibrations.
At 12, Kitty, already an excellent swimmer, took up diving and won local and state competitions. In 1962, she trained with Olympic gold medalist Sammy Lee while attending Savanna high school. She won the 1964 Amateur diving national championships, but a broken wrist and spinal meningitis derailed her place in the 1968 Olympics.
Undeterred, she took up skydiving, water skiing, car and motorcycle racing; she lost two fingers in a bike accident in 1972. Introduced to the stunt coordinator Hal Needham, she joined his racing team and trained as a stunt”man”.
Performing dangerous stunts on Airport 1975, Airport ’77, and the Omen, Kitty also performed many car and motorcycle crashes and stunts in films such as The Blues Brothers and Smokey and the Bandit II. She was even set on fire during a film in 1977babout James Dean.
Speed records of all types were Kitty’s catnip. Mattel honoured her with a Kitty O’Neil action figure; the TV movie Silent Victory: The Kitty O’Neil Story 1979, with Stockard Channing as Kitty, but the real Kitty was her own stunt double!
Kitty O’Neil retired from performing in 1982 and then lived with Ky Michaelson, designer of rocket-powered cars in Minneapolis. In 1993 she moved to Eureka, South Dakota, with Raymond Wald, who died in 2009.
Kitty Linn O’Neil, stunt performer and bad-ass was born March 24, 1946 and passed peacefully from pneumonia and heart failure on November 2, 2018 at the age of 72.
“I’m not afraid of anything, just do it. It feels good when you finish, you made it”
Jacqueline “Jackie” Smith
Jackie Smith of Great Britain, as a serving soldier in 1971, was the first female to join the British Army Parachute Regiment’s Freefall Team, The Red Devils, as a full time member.
She represented the Parachute Regiment full time for six years at military competitions around the world, along with civilian competitions and British National Championships, winning many competitions for the Regiment, becoming National Champion multiple times-Ladies Style Champion 1973-77,79 and 81, Overall Team Champions 1973 w/ the Red Devils, 1977 w/Symbiosis and also representing her nation at 7 World Championships in all disciplines, style, accuracy, 4-way and 8-way.
She was awarded a silver medal in 4-way at the World RW championships in Chateauroux, France, and another silver in accuracy (on her RW canopy, Pegasus) in Graz, Austria.
She was the first female to be awarded the famous Parachute Regiment’s red beret, presented by Normandy veteran, General Gale when she landed in front of the Dakota at Browning Barracks in 1973.
On Sept 1, 1978 at the World Championships in Zagreb in the former Yugoslavia, Jackie Smith, on a Strato-Star, was the very first person in the world, and still the only, male or female to score ten consecutive dead centers (0.00 cm) on an electronic measuring pad, winning outright ‘gold’ for Great Britain; she is in the Guinness book of World Records for doing so. She was national champion in Accuracy, 4-way and 8-way in 1979.
She has been awarded the Prince of Wales Cup and also the Royal Aero Club’s ‘Gold’ award joining the ranks of the Wright Brothers, Louis Bleriot and Geoffrey de Havilland.
Jackie first trained with the Golden Knights in 1972 jumping and training out at Camp McCall and Laurenburg; stating:
“They taught me to not only skydive but to drink like a fish… I became a Cardinal. ‘Here is to Cardinal Puff for the first time’ lol” and in 1975 became an Honorary Golden Knight, the highest honor the Team awards to people who are not Team members.
In 1980 she worked in Ohio jumping into King’s Island, with four other jumpers; every night they jumped out of the DC 3 Sugar Alpha into an arena the size of a boxing ring.
In 1981 She had the rare opportunity of jumping off the vertical rock formation El Capitan in Yosemite National Park,
In 2013 Jackie Smith became the first British person and to date the only Brit to achieve such a rare and exceptional honour of being inducted into Skydiving’s Hall of Fame for her “lifetime achievements in the sport”.
To ensure that Jackie Smith could personally attend her induction into the Skydiving Hall of Fame in the United States, the British Parachutist Association
governing Council, applauding this public recognition of her outstanding achievements,would provide Jackie Smith with a grant of one thousand pounds towards the cost of attending her induction.
The B.P.A. Vice President John Smyth attended, calling her speech “one of the finest ever from an inductee”.
Jacqueline “Jackie” Smith will be awarded The British Parachute Association’s Jim Crocker Award for “Outstanding Contribution to Sport Parachuting”. The Jim Crocker Sword will be formally presented to Jackie during the Royal Aero Club Awards Ceremony to be held in London in May next year in London.
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