This is my 144th and final Gearing Up column since becoming USPA’s Executive Director in December 2007. Some Gearing Up pieces wrote themselves, others I had to wrestle right up to deadline. All were intended to update you on issues of importance to skydiving or to keep you informed on USPA’s challenges and inner workings. Occasionally, I offered some historical perspective, because I believe you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been.
I’m pleased to be leaving a USPA that is larger, financially stronger and accepted as a partner among other general aviation associations. Skydiving’s safety record continues to improve, and the sport is increasingly welcomed at airports across the U.S. We have overcome some scary challenges, and today skydiving remains relatively unburdened by regulation.
I could not have made the contributions I did without solid help and support along the way, including:
Lt. Col. (U.S. Army Ret.) Edward and Miriam Scott—mom and dad—who encouraged my dreams and taught me to persevere, and who supported my decision to take up skydiving at the age of 19. I look forward to spending more time helping them out on their Tennessee farm.
Those club members who made up the mid-1970’s era Tennessee Tech University Skydivers, who accepted me, taught me and served as true skydiving mentors. Buzz Ansley guided my first descent under a surplus round to a landing within three feet of the pea-gravel target; I knew I had found my calling! Lee Fortier gave me “the talk” that convinced me to take safety seriously. Frank Pate always gave encouragement and good advice. King Morton was on USPA’s board and sparked my interest in USPA’s governance.
Florida DZO Jimmy Godwin, who taught me how to fly jumpers in his Cessna 182 in a safe and professional manner. I now have logged nearly 1,000 hours.
Chris Needels, USPA’s executive director from 1994-2007, who first brought me to USPA in 1996 and whom I succeeded as executive director in 2007. He saw my potential, helped me to excel and reinforced the ideal of always taking the high road even when others go low.
USPA Presidents Glenn Bangs, Jay Stokes, Sherry Butcher and Chuck Akers, whom I served alongside as executive director. Each became an easy partner as we faced the many challenges that came our way. Each taught me important principles about how to manage difficult people, advance good ideas and set and accomplish high goals.
The USPA Headquarters team, who do more for skydiving than most members can imagine. My first two hires—Director of Government Relations Randy Ottinger and Director of Accounting and HR Stephanie Whittaker—are both invaluable and still here. Very little could be accomplished without those in the USPA office; they truly care about exceeding member expectations.
The hundreds—maybe thousands—of skydivers who introduced themselves and shared their ideas, thoughts, gripes and thanks. Many of your words were turned into action. Your thanks were always passed on to the USPA staff and continually motivated me. Thank you.
And finally, my wife Candace, son Trey and daughter Savannah, who endured missed birthdays, anniversaries, soccer games and dance recitals along the way. Our happy home ensured the pressures of the job were left at the office. My wife’s unflinching support and thoughtful counsel inspired me to rise to all occasions. She is truly behind any success I may have achieved.
USPA is in great hands with new Executive Director Albert Berchtold and the headquarters team. As a continuing skydiver and member, I look forward to watching USPA’s stature and influence soar.