Each year the International Skydiving Museum inducts a select few men and women who have “defined, promoted, inspired and advanced the sport at the highest levels” into its Hall of Fame. This year’s class of five is the smallest since 2017, but the individual inductees—Omar Alhegelan, Ian Bobo, Lesley Gale, Patrice Girardin and Roger Nelson—are larger than life. Despite its small size, the 2021 class of elite honorees is still traditionally international. One is Scottish, another is Saudi Arabian, another is French and two are American. They will join the 2020 class of inductees, whose planned ceremony last year was canceled due to COVID, for a gala October 7-9 at Skydive Perris in California.
The celebration will also honor 4-way formation skydiving team Arizona Airspeed as its 2021 Path of Excellence Award recipient. The original Airspeed team formed with the goal of bringing the world championship sword “Excalibur” back to the USA. They accomplished this, but that wasn’t all. They also shared their training regimen with their strongest competitors and any skydivers who wanted coaching. Today, 4-way FS competition reigns as a premier worldwide event. Few sports can claim an elite team that was this generous with their skills.
The event will also honor Para Gear Equipment Co. with the museum’s newest award, the Pioneers of Excellence. This award goes to groups, companies, organizations or teams that made significant contributions of enduring value to the world of skydiving in the 1970s or earlier. Para Gear, founded in 1960 by Lowell Bachman in his parents’ basement, is now in its 61st year of serving the skydiving community worldwide.
The museum will honor the two classes of inductees and the excellence award winners at the Saturday night banquet at March Field Air Museum in Riverside, California, a short distance from the drop zone. The incoming members of the 11th and 12th class of honorees bring this exclusive group to a total of 89 outstanding representatives of sport parachuting.
Below are the biographies of the 2021 honorees, in alphabetical order.
With more than 20,000 jumps in just shy of three decades, Alhegelan has the distinction of being one of the early organizers of freefly skydiving along with Charles Bryan, Stefania Martinengo, Mike Vail and Olav Zipser. Together they formed the legendary group The FreeFly Clowns that inspired thousands to learn to fly in 3D. Alhegelan was instrumental in getting freefly recognized by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), the governing body of world air sports. He, along with teammate Orly King, took gold at the first freestyle FAI World Championships, World Games and World Air Games. His other national and world medals in freestyle and freefly—not to mention skysurfing—are too numerous to list. He is also a multi-time record setter, among them the first three head-down world records, including the 108-way FAI World Record for Largest Head-Down Formation Skydive.
He has jumped on all seven continents, including numerous HALO jumps over the Mount Everest region since 2008, as well the geographic North Pole. He also led an expedition that opened skydiving in Union Glacier, Antarctica. He has made BASE jumps from many locations, including the world’s tallest building in Dubai. Omar’s aerial stunt work has taken him from Hollywood to Bollywood, working with industry greats Greg Gasson, Joe Jennings and Tom Sanders and stars like George Clooney, Shah Ruk Khan and Edward James Olmos. Perhaps most importantly, he mentors and coaches skydivers to improve and reach goals, not only in freeflying but in life, as well. He takes pride in being what he calls a “modern, nomadic renaissance man.”
On hearing of his election to the Hall of Fame, Alhegelan said, “This level of recognition is humbling (to say the least), and it feeds the ego rather well. But at the end of the day, it is not about winning medals. It is not about how great you can fly. It is not about how many records you’ve broken. What truly matters is your love, passion and dedication to our sport. The willingness to assist and educate all around you to become better flyers, safer flyers, and beyond that, better people all around. It is about mentoring and sharing! Your fellow skydivers are what matter most, not the accolades.”
Ian Bobo is one of the select few in the sport to have won world championships in two disciplines: formation skydiving and canopy piloting. As a member of the Georgia Tech Sport Parachute Club in the early 1990s, Bobo was on the 4-way formation skydiving team that won gold at the Collegiate National Championships for three consecutive years, defeating perennial championship teams from the Air Force and Army. He went on to compete in FS nationally and internationally, while also competing in CP. He was a powerhouse in both, having multiple podium finishes over 25 years, including the overall gold at the 2005 FAI World Cup of Canopy Piloting and gold at the 2006 FAI 4-Way Formation Skydiving World Championships.
Bobo is still an active member of the Performance Designs Factory Team, which he co-founded in 1998, and was also the co-founder in 2006 of Flight-1, a worldwide educational company that teaches canopy techniques to both recreational skydivers and military personnel. Bobo has imagined and realized revolutionary new products and has taught thousands of skydivers to be safer canopy pilots. He has led teams and businesses to the highest echelons of success, and after 30 years of parachuting, he still jumps and promotes the sport.
On hearing of his selection, Bobo said, “I’m totally humbled and proud to be in the conversation with so many of my mentors already in the Hall of Fame. My gratitude is only exceeded by my desire to nominate those mentors who have been overlooked or passed over to date. What an honor to be recognized this way in the sport I love so much.”
With more than 5,000 jumps over the past 35 years, Gale has been a key organizer for 20 women’s world, national and European records. But don’t think she’s just an accomplished “lady skydiver.” She has been a sector captain and load organizer on numerous general big-way record skydives, and was a participant in the 400-way FAI World Record for Largest Formation Skydive that World Team set in Thailand in 2006. (This record still stands, and the World Team was last year’s recipient of the museum’s Path of Excellence Award.) In all, Gale has been on 34 world and British national record skydives.
Gale has also won more than 100 medals at national and international meets. Along the way, she devoted significant time to increase the skills and participation of female skydivers. She captained Brit Chicks 8, the only all-female national 8-way team, from 2007-2018. Brit Chicks events raised $120,000 for charities and generated $500,000 in publicity for the Red Cross. Gale was the editor of the British Parachute Association (now British Skydiving) magazine Skydive the Mag from 1996 to 2010, receiving the Royal Aero Club Nexus Trophy for Aviation Journalism in 2009. In 2013, she launched her own online magazine,
Skydivemag.com, an invaluable resource for the worldwide community.
On hearing of her selection, Gale said, “Hands down this is the biggest honor ever. I’m still in a bit of shock, in all honesty. When I see my name listed next to heroes and heroines in this sport, I feel proud and humble in equal measures.”
Patrice Girardin made his first jump in September 1979 while serving with the French Air Force. He was quickly drawn to canopy formation and earned a slot on the French national team. As a successful competitor, he earned four FAI CF World Championships and two golds and a silver at FAI World Cups. Girardin has been at the top of the European skydiving podium four times and has won 25 French National Championships. He’s earned five world records, and built the world’s first 36-way diamond canopy formation with his team in 1988. He has also managed the French Style and Accuracy Team.
In addition to his competitive accomplishments, he is an active event organizer. Over 25 years he has been in charge of numerous FAI World Championships, World Air Games, European championships and indoor skydiving events, as well as French National Championships. After he left the military, he joined the Ministry of Youth and Sport and worked for the French Parachute Federation. He was elected president of the International Skydiving Commission of the FAI from 2003 to 2007. His biggest pride is to have relaunched the project of the “Mondial de Parachutisme” (all-events championships) in 2003, a project which is still alive and kicking. (Russia is hosting the fourth Mondial this year, postponed from 2020.) In addition, he’s managed numerous projects, including the Olympic Project Paris 2024, which hopes to introduce indoor skydiving as an Olympic sport. He loves to coach younger people in the sport, including his children.
Roger Nelson (posthumously)
The son of a paratrooper, Nelson had the requisite DNA to make his first jump at 16 years old in 1971. In a three-decade-plus career of more than 9,100 skydives, he was a major influence in the sport on multiple levels: modernizing student training, operating two large DZs, captaining several 10-way speed formation skydiving teams that won national championships and organizing several big-way FS records.
Nelson was a USPA National Director from 2001-2002. As a DZO, his contributions were threefold: as an instructor, he modified student training gear and developed teaching techniques that improved safety; after he built Skydive Chicago into a world-class destination, he threw the legendary World Freefall Convention boogies that featured all kinds of aircraft; and he held seminars to teach owners and operators how to run successful DZs. In freefall, Nelson was a mainstay in developing back-flying (authoring a book on it with his brother Carl), which he first popularized as “freak flying.” His 10-way teams at the nationals were nothing less than fearsome, medaling nine times with three titles. As a load organizer or participant, he was on eight official or unofficial world record formation skydives ranging from 50-ways to a 246-way. Nelson died in 2003 at 47.
“Over the years Roger had become a controversial character,” wrote his daughter, Melissa Lowe, now a USPA National Director like her father. “There’s no doubt about his passions,” she said, adding, “Roger was a man who did not believe in ‘good enough’... he was great at welcoming new people to the sport.”
Per tradition, the 2020 and 2021 inductees will don blue blazers signifying the honor at the Saturday night gala during the three-day event. It is expected to attract 500 guests from across the globe. Skydive Perris—one of the world’s premier drop zones—last hosted the celebration weekend in 2019. In its fleet, the DZ has three Twin Otters, five Skyvans and a DC-3 (which it often brings out for sunset loads), so attendees will have plenty of opportunities to jump. A mass night pyro demo jump will light up the DZ and the Perris exurbs after the Friday night barbecue. The rest of the weekend will again include the Star Wars no-show 10-way speedstar competition (a fun competition open to any team that pays the modest entry fee) and a classic accuracy competition. In addition, the DZ will host the Pioneers’ Luncheon and a number of forums, and several skydiving authors will be on hand to sign books.
2020 Hall of Fame Inductees
The International Skydiving Museum will induct the 2020 class alongside the 2021 class. Biographies of each of these inductees is available in the article “A New Decade” in the July 2020 issue of Parachutist or visit 2020 Hall of Fame Inductees.
More information on attending the celebration is available at skydivingmuseum.org.
About the Author
Doug Garr, D-2791, is an author and journalist and has written every Hall of Fame article for Parachutist since the first, 12 years ago. He made his first jump in 1969. Garr is now active with Skydivers Over Sixty, the Skydivers Resurrection Award group and the International Skydiving Museum & Hall of Fame.