On February 13, Yong Son Chisholm, a self-described one-time “skydiving student from hell,” made jump number 8,720—a successful 16-way formation skydive with friends and former students—at Skydive Elsinore in California. Afterward, during the celebration and presentation of her USPA Gold Medal for Meritorious Service, she shared drinks, stories and laughter with even more friends and former students, as well as the folks who mentored her during her 24 years in the sport.
Chisholm, D-21693, is a native-born Korean. Her difficulties as a skydiving student hardened her resolve to never quit, and inspired her to become not only an accelerated freefall instructor, but also the first female USPA AFF Examiner. Later, she became an examiner in the static-line and instructor-assisted deployment methods and earned her rating as a USPA Examiner Course Director. On top of that, she earned her Federal Aviation Administration Master Rigger certificate, overcoming language obstacles in the process. To date, she’s run countless first-jump courses and made more than 3,500 jumps with AFF students and about 900 jumps as an evaluator or examiner during rating courses.
A number of achievements make Chisholm’s skydiving career notable. She was a member of three Jump for the Cause teams, which raised money for breast-cancer research while setting Fédération Aéronautique Internationale Women’s World Records for Largest Formation Skydive. Each time, Chishom was a top-five fundraiser. She was also the lead rigger for two of Jay Stokes’ attempts to set the FAI World Record for Most Jumps in 24 Hours.
Skydiving made Chisholm realize what she was at heart: a teacher. She doesn’t have a lot of formal education, but she knows that learning how to do things right starts at the beginning. She understands that skydiving can be unforgiving and that jumpers have to master the basics before advancing to the cool stuff. She focuses on teaching her students how to stay safe. She puts her students on picnic tables and manipulates their bodies so they understand body position. She shows them how the gear works. And she spends time with them—however much is needed—before jumps and while debriefing and reviewing video. Sometimes she just talks and shares her own fears and difficulties.
Chisholm understands that the instructor’s job is a big responsibility. It’s one that she takes very seriously. When running rating courses, she stresses to candidates the need for the right attitude. She tells them that a rating is not something to just show off, and being an instructor is not just a job to pay the bills. An instructor has to really care. If someone has the wrong attitude, she’ll work with them. She has earned a reputation for being firm but fair—no easy passes. As a result, rating candidates from around the world—Brazil, Chile, China, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, Paraguay, Thailand and Venezuela—have sought her out to earn their USPA credentials.
Chisholm has spent the bulk of her professional skydiving life at Skydive Elsinore. She arrived with a new rating and earned her way into the “boy’s club” to become one of the drop zone’s mainstay instructors. She spent time working as an evaluator for Jay Stokes, when he was what was then called an “AFF instructor course director” (which changed to AFF instructor examiner and then to AFF examiner). Chisholm went on to become the first woman to earn the USPA Instructor Examiner rating, and she certified a large percentage of Elsinore’s instructors for many years afterward.
The consummate team player, Chisholm stepped up when Skydive Elsinore needed someone to run its skydiving school, staying in that position for two years. She again stepped up when the DZ needed a rigger to run the loft and maintain school equipment, a position she stayed in for three years until the business was sold.
Finally, and in many ways closest to her heart, Chisholm works with the Korean Parachute Association, using her USPA background to help the growing Korean skydiving community establish guidelines, procedures and policies. She has certified every Korean AFF instructor in accordance with USPA requirements and trained Korean riggers for certification by the FAA.
From very humble beginnings as the “student from hell,” Chisholm has kept her drive, a no excuses attitude and commitment to doing the right thing—qualities that define merit and excellence—all while making solid achievements in the process. The citation on her Gold Medal for Meritorious Service reads, “For being a pioneering female skydiver, instructional rating holder and competitor and for having a standout career marked by selflessness, caring, humility, enormous skill and a commitment to excellence.”
Dean Chisholm | USPA #264958