The Women in today’s world of parachuting stand on the shoulders of the pioneers before them while at the same time providing a firm foundations for those who follow. Here are just a few of the champions that are setting records and inspiring the future Ladies of Skydiving.
No skydiver in the history of the sport is more accomplished or decorated as Cheryl Stearns.
Her accomplishments include:
● United States Parachute Association Museum’s Hall of Fame Introductory Class, along with Lowell Bachman, Colonel Joseph Kittinger, Tiny Broadwick, Lew Sanborn, Jerry Bird, Gene Paul Thacker, Eilif Ness, Ted Strong, Joe Crane and Bill Ottley.
● Riddle Eagle of Excellence Award, Daytona, Florida.
● Action Maverick Award from STREB, New York.
● Amelia Earhart Pioneering Achievement Award from Atchison, Kansas.
● Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame inductee.
● Riddle Wall of Fame inductee.
● Wiley Post Commission’s Wiley Post Spirit Award recipient.
● Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) Centenary Medal awarded to her for her significant personal contribution to the development of air sports and aviation.
● Leonardo da Vinci, the world’s highest award in aerosports, for her unique achievements in skydiving.
● Two-time Women’s Overall World Champion in style and accuracy parachuting.
● Thirty+ world records in parachuting. At one time held four different world records simultaneously: a feat no other parachutist, man or woman, has matched.
● Army’s elite parachuting team, The Golden Knights- first female member.
● Thirty times U.S. Women’s Parachuting Champion.
● Three time overall women’s style and accuracy champion at the military world championships.
● Guinness World Record holder for the most parachute jumps in 24 hours by a woman – 352 jumps .(Cheryl hit a five-centimeter target a record 188 times: 104 in daytime, 84 at night).
● Over 19,000 skydives.
● Master of Aeronautical Science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
● Captain Airbus 319/320/321, Boeing 737 and Embraer 190
● First Officer on the Boeing 757/767.
● Over 20,000 flying hours in over 75 different types of aircraft
From the International Skydiving Museum website:
“In 1972, at the age of 17, Cheryl Stearns, D-4020, made her first jump in Coolidge, Arizona. In 1975, she moved to Raeford, North Carolina, where Gene Paul Thacker trained her to compete at the highest level. Stearns is now one of the most successful competitive skydivers in the world with countless national titles and multiple world titles in the classic events of style & accuracy. She has made more than 18,000 skydives. Stearns is an airline captain for U.S. Airways and resides in Charlotte, North Carolina.”
“It’s not a natural act to jump from a ‘perfectly good airplane’. Overcoming that fear opened my world to all kinds of possibilities.” – Cheryl Stearns
Brenda was born Barbara Waring in Pretoria, South Africa and was raised in Rhodesia(Zimbabwe).
Brenda started jumping in Pietermaritzburg in 1975, when women did not freefall in S.A. She was forced to perform 29 static line jumps before finally being let off the leash.
“They kept holding me back, I was female and they thought I would kill myself. It was a man’s sport then, and they had the same attitude wherever you went, it was not for women they thought.” After the 29 static line jumps, and with the help of old friend, Art Siviter, Brenda finally made her first free fall jump, after which time “she never looked back”. Less than a year later, she was the Secretary of the Parachuting Section of the Aero Club of South Africa and a year after that had her own sponsored women’s 4-way team, the Carleton Paper Dolls; captaining the team to the Coupe du Monde in 1978. That was just the beginning of her contributions to skydiving.
On December 30, 1980, she married a decorated(Silver Star, Purple Heart) Recon Marine and F.A.A. senior rigger Sandy Reid, and moved to the U.S.
In 1985, using her financial and administrative expertise, Sandy’s deep knowledge(working with innovators such as Bill Booth, Ted Strong, Domina Jalbert and Steve Snyder), with seed money, founded Rigging Innovations, going on the manufacture such iconic rigs as the Talon, Telesis, Voodoo and now the Curve. As a side note, female skydivers can thank Brenda for the idea of redesigning the cheststrap hardware and location to better accommodate the female body.
Brenda Reid’s biggest contribution to skydiving though, has been as a Event’s Judge, getting her rating in 1987, FAI-1991. For the nearly two decades she was a Principal Judge at Nationals and World Cups in the U.S., Spain, Japan, France, Australia and Canada at least sixteen times.
In 1992, she earned her Private Pilot’s license and in 1996-97, wrote the Manual for the I.P.C. Judges Training Program that was subsequently adopted by the I.P.C. in 1998. She was appointed U.S.P.A. delegate to the I.P.C. and served as National Director of the U.S.P.A.(in two stints) for seven years, she as served as Chair to the Judges Committee, Collegiate Committee and Competition Committee.
In 2005 Brenda was awarded the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale Gold Medal for “almost two decades of support and leadership as a National and International skydiving competition judge and her years of service as a United States Delegate to the International Parachuting Commission.”
Brenda retired from jumping and judging in 2004 and continues in her role as “Boss” at R.I. and is still sought after for her advice and insight into competition judging.
On October 3, 2015, Brenda Reid was inducted into the class of 2015 Skydiving Hall of Fame, receiving her “Blue Blazer” from Larry Bagley at the International Skydiving Museum’s Celebration Dinner in Windsor, Connecticut.
“Women have kind of an advantage in skydiving because of their center of gravity, for guys it’s across the chest but for women it’s in the hips,” -Brenda Reid
Kathryn (Kate) Cooper-Jensen was born in Washington D. C. and attended high school in Shenandoah Valley Virginia. Kate is a professional skydiver, big-way organizer & coach, co-founder of Square 1 gear store and the holder of multiple FAI world records, including the first ever Women’s Head Down record, the first Women’s Sequential record (a 2 point 117 way) and the September 26, 2009 Jump for the Cause event where 181 women from 31 countries jumped in formation raising over $900,000 for City of Hope cancer-care center.
Kate made her first of over 13,500 skydives in 1978, just before her eighteenth birthday in West Point, Virginia, out of a Cessna 182 from 3,000 feet. She started jumping surplus military canopies, finally moving up to a square with just under a hundred jumps. Kate’s early mentors were Carolyn Clay, Tom Pirus and Guy Manos. After graduating with a degree in geology from the College of William and Mary in 1982, she moved to Perris, California, at first living in the back of a bread truck in the parking lot of the d.z.
She travels the world organizing and coaching, for example: Ubatuba, Brazil, Voss Norway, Skydive Teuge in the Netherlands, BASE jumping from the 3000 foot cliff Kjerag in Norway, organizing the Polish National Large Formation Skydiving record and representing Denmark at the World Competition in Dubai with the “Danish Divas”.
In 2006 Kate married Carsten Jensen and moved to Copenhagen, Denmark, where she divides her time between there and Menifee, California near Perris Valley Skydiving. Now she can add Carsten’s son (Kate’s step son) Aslak to her skydiving family as he now has 130 jumps or so.
Kathryn (Kate) Cooper-Jensen along with nine other skydiving greats will be inducted into 2019 class of the International Skydiving Hall of Fame at Perris Valley Skydiving on Saturday October 19th in Perris California.
“The reward for me is the absolute joy I see in people’s eyes when they see how fun big ways can be.”-Kate Cooper-Jensen
Kate is the foremost big way organizer in the world. Her camps and events are the crème de la crème for large way formation jumpers.
I first met Kate in the late ’90s, right after she had just landed and walked in Square One at Perris. She had a god-awful and fresh gash in her forehead from a collision. I did not know Kate at the time, but being new to Perris, I did know that she was “one of the big kids”. I was somewhat horrified by the cut but her megawatt smile put me at ease. Kate is still one of the big kids. A world traveler, highly intelligent and very humorous and kind but don’t let that lure you into thinking that she is a pushover; anyone who has been “set down” by Kate can tell you that she is not. Her ability to judge a jumper’s skill and his or her place in the formation is unmatched. Kate will receive the honor of joining the International Skydiving Hall of Fame during their yearly celebration, this year held at Kate’s home dropzone Perris Valley Skydiving on October 17–19, 2019.
Mary Ellen Weber
(August 24, 1962)
Team Deguello member, world champion skydiver with seventeen National Championship medals, a “big” world record,—the 2002-300-person formation and over 5,000 skydives, Mary Ellen Weber was an Astronaut for ten years and a veteran of two shuttle missions, STS-70 &101; she flew aboard Discovery in 1995 and again in 2000 aboard Atlantis to construct the International Space Station, and she is an instrument-rated pilot. She has held key positions in space operations at NASA Headquarters; she received the NASA Exceptional Service Medal.
Mary Ellen was born in Cleveland, Ohio and raised in Bedford Heights, Ohio. She graduated from Bedford High School in 1980; received a B.S. in 1984 in chemical engineering with honors at Purdue University where, in 1983 she started skydiving using round parachutes with a “static line” and belly-mount reserves. Since those days, she has logged nearly 6,000 skydives.
Mary Ellen received a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley in 1988; and an M.B.A. from Southern Methodist University in 2002.
Mary Ellen Weber was vice president for nine years at the renowned research center, hospital, and medical school, the UT Southwestern Medical Center.
She is married to Dr. Jerome Elkind, originally from Bayonne, New Jersey and founder of Stellar Generation, LLC. Mary Ellen is currently with STELLAR Strategies, LLC, providing consulting services in strategies for operations in high-stakes business ventures, technology communications, and legislative strategy. She is also a speaker, with a wide range of audiences and venues.
CoP: D330, USPA D-12041
Eileen Vaughn beat all of the boys in Accuracy at the Nationals for the opportunity to be part of 1988 Seoul Olympic Skydiving Exhibition Team. She was the Canadian representative on the CIP Accuracy Team part of the event. “We were 22 national champions from 22 countries.” “Landing into the stadium was technically easy for accuracy jumpers… but the world was watching! No one wanted to mess up.”
Following the Korean Team and preceding the Rings Team into the stadium Eileen flew “with precision and joy!”
The entire SOSET group pulled off the biggest demo of their generation and showed their stuff to the world!
The Pathway to Excellence Award was bestowed upon Eileen Vaughn and entire SOSET group on November 10. 2018.
Born October 1, 1958 in Halifax Nova Scotia Canada, the youngest of 7, Eileen was competitive from a very young age; her personal motto is “Don’t tell me I can’t!” Too little, a girl, too short, or even too old, those comments usually served to make her more determined to participate, to succeed, to win, to overcome. “I have “terrier-like qualities”.
Her first jump was in November 1978 during her one year at the University of North Texas. “I played many sports and like most jumpers I only set out to try it once” but she was hooked. Returning to Canada to complete her final year of university, Eileen became a jumpmaster, instructor, rigger and soon discovered Style and Accuracy and the National Team. Her first World Meet was 1982 where she won a silver medal in Women’s Team Accuracy. Joining the Canadian military in 1985, as a 2nd Lt. with the single goal of joining the Sky Hawks, Canadian Forces Parachute Team, Eileen completed the Basic Parachutist course even though she had 2250 jumps and was a member of the national team. “It took only 3 days until I was ratted out as an experienced skydiver and then it was game on!” “They couldn’t make me quit and I proudly earned my jump wings and went to the SkyHawks in 1986 as the second woman to ever make the team.” (the first woman, Gail Toupin, made the team in 1978 but was cut after her first demo). “Being from the civilian skydiving world, I was treated with some suspicion in that first year, then tolerated the next year, and finally by my 3rd season in 1989, I was part if the ‘Airborne family’. I believe that I set the conditions for other female team members to follow in later years and I’m proud of my time with the team.”
Eileen later became part of The SkyHawks Competition Team and she competed in 3 CISM (military world championships) events in 1996, 97 and 2004 and one US Nationals in 2001. Eileen competed in 7 more WPCs finishing often in the top 10. Eileen’s personal bests were in 1990 at 4th overall for women (combined style and accuracy scores) and then 2001 with a silver medal in women’s individual accuracy. Coaching military Search and Rescue Technicians (SAR Techs) on precision landing in Winnipeg in 200, Eileen also coached the S&A team in Dubai at the 2012 WPC.
With “rickety knees and other injuries” Eileen moved on to conquer golf courses, making her last jump was in 2015. “Never say never to a jump in the future but not so likely.”
Married to Jump Pilot Rick Robinson in June 1991 , Eileen considers her greatest achievement to be her 3 adult children, Darcy, Viveca and Holly and her first grandchild Quinn born just this month. (November 2018). Capping off a 33 year military career and retiring at the rank of Major (Oct 2018) with 4 overseas deployments.
“I am forever grateful to have been a part of the Olympic jump in 1988 and more grateful for sharing the skies with the best in the world and calling them my friends.The Pathway to Excellence Award last week was an incredible reunion of SOSET and a chance to relive those glory days in Seoul. I’m a lucky woman.”
more to come…….