Pink Skies, Pink Ribbons
By Gulcin Gilbert
Around the world, October is the month dedicated to breast-cancer awareness. For many years, the skydiving community marked this month with Jump for the Cause, an event that brought women together to raise money for breast cancer research and set women’s world record formation skydives. The atmosphere of kindness and caring at these events inspired the documentary film “Pink Skies,” which chronicled the 181-way Féderátion Aéronautique Internationale Women’s World Record for Largest Formation Skydive set at Skydive Perris in California in 2009. (Organized by Kate Cooper-Jensen and Mallory Lewis, the record still stands today.) In addition, “Pink Skies” provided education about breast-cancer prevention. The film stressed the importance of getting regular screenings, but also looked at environmental factors such as food, air, water and home and cosmetic products.
To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the JFTC record, Gulcin Gilbert, the “Pink Skies” filmmaker, invited drop zones around the world to host an event in October. The idea was to create skydiving formations and events that raised breast-cancer awareness, with the details left up to the individual DZs. Several drop zones from around the world participated, each putting its own individual spin on the festivities.
Home of the Record
At Skydive Perris, the home of the 2009 women’s world record, Mary Tortomasi gathered a world-class group of female skydivers to build a Gilbert-designed pink-ribbon formation that then became a heart. Picture dives are difficult, since the jumpers must not only fly the correct formation but also build the correct shape, so Rags Raghanti—an expert at illustrating formation design—developed computer imagery that helped with visualization.
The roster included Skydive Perris DZO Melanie Conatser, who got current just for this dive, and Corrie Veenstra, who initially said she couldn’t make it (because she’d recently had twins) but ultimately couldn’t resist the opportunity and got current, as well. Some participants were veterans of the JFTC world record, and some were new to the sport and very excited to be jumping with the record holders. Tortomasi took on the challenge of finding pink jumpsuits in the correct sizes for the five jumpers who didn’t have them. In the true spirit of kindness, a number of ladies donated theirs to make it happen. B.J. Worth drove down from his home in Montana to support the group and engineer the exit, and Josh Hall provided coaching.
On October 12, the ladies loaded into the Skyvan and completed the 20-way pink ribbon formation on their first attempt! “One and done,” Tortomasi remarked. However, the women weren’t done … they wanted to perform a sequential move and transition to the heart formation. So after receiving Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld’s help engineering, they built both formations on just their second attempt at the two-point formation! Randy Forbes captured all the action on video and in still photos.
Charitable organizations in the Perris area supported the event and provided cancer-prevention information during it. Several recently diagnosed skydivers and survivors were on hand, supporting each other and being supported in turn. The ladies in pink created three magical skydives, all dedicated to them.
Across the U.S.
At Skydive SW Florida Club in Cape Coral, Carli Bounds organized a family-style event that included both men and women. The participants completed some really nice star formation skydives and then focused their efforts on raising funds for a friend who was recently diagnosed with stage-four breast cancer and had to quit her job. Bounds found a number of sponsors for the event, which included a barbecue dinner and beer after the last jump, as well as a raffle that raised more than $600. It was Bounds’ first time organizing an event, and she proved a great success. The event educated participants about breast cancer, raised funds for someone who was really in need and provided great skydives!
Lori Kraemer Clark organized the event at Skydive Arizona in Eloy. Although a number of interested jumpers couldn’t make it due to a scheduling conflict with a regional 4-way competition, six women participated and made their little ribbon perfectly on three jumps in a row. Kraemer Clark said, “On the first two jumps, we had a camera jumper who was not normally an outside video flyer. He had a lot of heart but not enough wing to stay with the girls!” Fortunately, Alex Swindle, a very experienced camera flyer, joined the group for the third jump and was able to capture the very slow-falling formation on film. In addition, participant Wendi Corbin wore a 360-degree camera for the jumps. Innovative Parachute Technologies supported the event and made up goodie bags with a closing loop, pink pull-up cord, pink IPT sticker and a pink Jolly Rancher in each. IPT distributed these to the ribbon participants, as well as the other women on the drop zone who were unable to participate.
Not all Pink Skies events were drop zone-based. In Dallas, Texas, Rachel Reuter organized the three-day Overcoming Adversity Health and Wellness Expo that included a screening of the film, a 5K walkathon, entertainment, education opportunities and vendors. Reuter remarked, “The momentum that this event generated was very exciting. We hope to do it again next year.”
A Record Event in Puerto Rico
At Skydive Puerto Rico in Arecibo, jumper Añgíe Çee-Ėšs inspired the Pink Skies event. Çee-Ėšs recently completed breast cancer treatment and then had a recurrence scare. (Fortunately, the lump was benign.) In recognition of her battle, friend and longtime jumper Karin Anzures organized the first Puerto Rico Women’s Record for Largest Formation Skydive in conjunction with the event. The women—including Valery Muńiz and Rebecca Evarts Gomez, who both had fewer than 65 jumps—set the record with an 8-way. Anzures remarked, “I have participated in some of the big women’s world records, and for me this was also a great experience because we have now started this movement in Puerto Rico. Another big highlight for me was that my daughter, Karin Montaño, was a big part of this effort.”
During the event, the participants sold T-shirts and other items to raise money. The event raised about $2,000, which the women donated to a small local association, Cabecitas Rapadas, which helps cancer patients.
Across the Pond
Debbie Lamsley organized an event at Skydive Buzz in Dunkeswell, United Kingdom, that included a celebrity participant, Ruth Green, who is featured in the documentary “Pink Skies.” Green discovered her breast cancer just after being selected for the JFTC record team and set a goal to complete her treatment and be fit and ready to participate. She not only reached her goal and was part of the 2009 record team, she remains cancer-free today!
The event raised funds for local cancer charities. Participants, the staff of Dunkeswell, photographer Catherine Kempton, photographer and coach Jimmy Carthy, and sponsors David Sawyer, Deb’s FS Coaching, Larsen & Brusgaard, Mikey Lovemore’s Infamous Team, OddBalls and Tony Suits all chipped in with donations and support. Lamsley said, “I had an amazing time organizing this Pink Skies charity event at Skydive Dunkeswell. The flying and progression were brilliant!”
Over at Skydive Langar, also in the U.K., Cat Brown organized fundraising and Laura Hampton of 4-way FS team Chimera organized the jumps at the DZ’s Pink Skies event. Hampton started out with an ambitious plan: first build a 10-way ribbon (to mark 10 years since JFTC) and then the shape of a breast in the air. They managed to build the unusual sequential formations on their first attempt! Jubilant from the immediate success, the group continued with a series of fun jumps and welcomed more people, eventually closing off the weekend with a 14-way sunset jump. Camera flyer Dan Maden produced both stills and video of the jumps. Skydive Langar also hosted an evening quiz and other games to contribute to the fundraising pot. The event ended up raising £500 (about $554) for Macmillan Cancer Support, which provides physical, financial and emotional support for cancer patients in the U.K.
The support of the event showed how skydivers in the U.S. and overseas can come together to show kindness and heart. The event organizers are excited by their success and hope to again put together Pink Skies events in 2020.
About the Author
Gulcin Gilbert, D-16517, is an adventurer, pilot, world-record-holding skydiver, filmmaker and writer. She directed the film “Pink Skies,” which documented the 181-way Féderátion Aéronautique Internationale World Record for Largest Women’s Formation Skydive, with the mission of sharing the joy of flight and educating women about breast-cancer prevention.