John Mitchell, D-6462, started skydiving in 1974 and has been a positive presence in the sport since the first day he set foot on a DZ. He is a longtime AFF, static-line and tandem instructor and a weekend fun jumper who is always willing to jump with others, regardless of skill or experience. Over the years, he has encouraged countless jumpers to stick with the sport. He and his wife, Valinda, have also raised thousands to help those with auto-immune disease through their Leap for Lupus boogies. His peers remark that he’s as unselfish as they come and one of the faces that they most look forward to seeing at the drop zone.
Birthplace: Fort Worth, Texas
Marital Status: Married to Valinda
Children: Three daughters—Ryan (30), Mia (28) and Melissa (25)—and son Brett (27)
Occupation: Retired air-traffic controller
Education: Two years of college
Pre-Jump Superstitions: Absolutely none, but I love my “checks of three.” When doing tandems, I lose count of how many gear checks I do on the plane.
Life Philosophy: When things get crazy, bring some calm to the situation.
Jump Philosophy: You have to survive every jump one jump at a time, so please make your decisions accordingly.
Container: Velocity Sports Equipment Infinity
Main Canopy: Performance Designs Stiletto 150
Reserve Canopy: Precision Aerodynamics Raven 1
AAD: Advanced Aerospace Designs Vigil
Disciplines: Belly flying, instructing both AFF and tandems, and freeflying, in that order
Home Drop Zone: Kapowsin Air Sports in Shelton, Washington
Year of First Jump: 1974, a static-line jump under a round
USPA Licenses and Ratings: D-6462; AFF, Tandem and Static-Line Instructor
Records and Medals: The Washington state formation skydiving record 69-way some years back, plus some pick-up teams for local meets here and there
Total Number of Jumps: 7,660
FS: 3,500 Freefly: 300 Wingsuit: 40 Tandem: 2,000 CF: 150 Camera: 30 AFF & SL: 1,500 Accuracy: 50 Demos: 30
Largest Completed Formation: 69-way
Total Number of Cutaways: 16, plus two total malfunctions
Most people don’t know this about me: I went to prep schools as a kid. I can still tie a tie on a moving bus with a bag of books on my lap.
Of all your skydives, does one stand out? I’ll never forget pulling for a jumper who got knocked out on a belly jump at Lost Prairie [a boogie in Marion, Montana] a few years ago. That one was pretty intense. He woke up under canopy and had a safe landing.
What do you like most about the sport? I came for the adrenaline, but I stayed for the people. I know of no other group of people who love a good laugh and a fun time as much as skydivers.
What do you like least about the sport? Losing friends. I’m so happy with the great strides we’ve made in safety the last couple of decades. It’s practically a magnitude safer than when I started. I hope we can continue the trend. It keeps me working hard as an instructor.
Who has been your skydiving mentor? I’ve probably learned something from everyone I’ve met in the sport. But when I was a new instructor, I got great coaching from Jim “J.J.” Johnson and Peter Levy at my old DZ, Cedar Valley in Utah. I stole some of my best instructor material from the two of them. These days, I’m surrounded by experts in practically every discipline of jumping. In most sports you have to go on YouTube or buy the book to get expert advice. I just have to go to the drop zone.
What are your future skydiving goals? I hope to freefly more and improve at that. I’d love to get some skill at head-down. Decades of laying on my belly have not made it easy for me to get the hang of it. I’m super impressed by all the younger jumpers who pick it up so quickly. Also, on every jump, no matter what the jump is, I’m always trying to go faster and be smoother. “Perfect speed is being there.” (Richard Bach)
What safety item do you think is most important? I would say paying attention under canopy is one of the most important. Our skies are more crowded these days, with much faster canopies. The last 1,000 feet of the skydive can be one of the riskiest parts.
If you could do a fantasy 2-way with anybody, whom would it be with? For the last 35 years my favorite person to jump with has been my wife, Valinda. Health issues unrelated to skydiving have kept her on the ground in recent years, but maybe someday she’ll get back in the air. She is such a great flyer and my favorite person to jump with.
The toughest thing to do in the sport of skydiving is: Hold a boogie. My wife and I used to do an annual Leap for Lupus charity boogie at Kapowsin Air Sports to raise money for medical research. Even with the wonderful support of so many of the people and companies in our sport—and even my air-traffic control union, NATCA—the work load was tremendous.
What do you consider your most significant life achievement? Number one would be raising our children, whom we think turned out great. I’m also proud of my career as an air-traffic controller. I have a collection of thank-you notes I received from pilots over the years, which mean more than any plaque or award. As far as skydiving goes, I haven’t set any world records or pioneered any of the new facets in our sport, but I have helped thousands of people accomplish their goal of making that first skydive and helped many become regular jumpers. It is such a privilege to have a front-row seat for what is often a pinnacle moment in so many people’s lives.
What drives your competitive spirit? I work hard at my track on every single jump. That feeling of lifting up and accelerating is one of my favorite parts of the jump. I will admit that as I scan for traffic, I look to see if anyone is out-tracking me. If so, I always try to kick it up a notch. I loved it when my wife and I would break off side by side at the end of a jump. If I tried really hard, I could almost keep up with her, so I guess she was my chief competition.
What’s the best thing about skydiving in the Pacific Northwest? We have those cool summer days when the rest of the country is sweltering. Plus, we’re blessed with some beautiful scenery. Under canopy we have a view of four to five snow-capped volcanoes, the Olympic Peninsula, lakes, inlets, the Pacific Ocean and cool, green forests to enjoy.
Any advice to other leaders on how to encourage up-and-coming skydivers? I think it’s simple to help others in the sport. Look around and see who may be struggling. Ask questions, offer advice, and above all, treat them with respect and maybe take them up for a jump. We all remember those jumps when we finally accomplished a goal and felt so good about our achievements. It’s rewarding helping others do the same. Joy is contagious. I guess I’m still paying it forward. And I’m helping collect cases of beer for the DZ.
Explain John Mitchell in five words or fewer:
Just wants to jump.