As a 5-year-old girl growing up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, during the 1950s, Carolyn Clay couldn’t understand why she was not allowed to go to the back of the bus where the African American kids were playing. They were laughing and having a great time, and she just wanted to join the party. This was the essence of Carolyn “The Queen” Clay, D-3347, who tragically lost her life in a skydiving accident on May 31. She did not care if you were rich or poor, black or white, young or old … she just wanted to enjoy being with her friends. And make a few skydives along the way. (OK, maybe more than a few.)
Carolyn began skydiving in 1969 while in the Navy and stationed at the Patuxent River Naval Base in Maryland. Skydiving did not come naturally to the tall and thin 20-year-old, who struggled with the bulky military surplus gear. But she stuck it out and finally made her first freefall after 18 static-line jumps. She never looked back. Little did anyone know that she would go on to make more than 19,300 jumps and accumulate more than 324 hours of freefall time during her 49 years in the sport. Along the way she collected dozens of world records and competition medals, as well as the USPA Gold Medal for Meritorious Service in 2015. She had a goal of reaching 20,000 jumps on September 7, 2019, which would have been her 70th birthday and 50th year of skydiving. Sadly, it was not to be.
While her skydiving accomplishments were incredible, it was her humanity and her love of friends and family that made her such an icon in the skydiving world. She was as much fun hanging around the drop zone on a rainy day as she was while sharing the sky at 120 mph. Her legendary status—and her nickname—came from her ability to party hard with the few who could keep up the pace. Not many could hang with this 68-year-old once the sun went down, then make it onto the first load the next day for a skydive. Carolyn Clay will always be The Queen of skydiving.
The February 2016 Parachutist article that detailed Clay's accomplishments is available here: https://parachutistonline.com/p/Article/the-queen-of-skydiving
Clay's 2000 Parachutist "Profile" is available here: https://parachutistonline.com/p/Article/profiles-carolyn-clay
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