The Kids are Alright
It takes a certain kind of person to jump out of an airplane—some may say adventurous, some may say crazy—but one thing is for sure: Those who jump out of planes routinely ignore biological instincts that scream, “Don’t do this!” So what happens when these people decide to play by nature’s most deeply ingrained rule and reproduce?
Laura Kraus-Germain and Brian Germain
Married for four years to professional canopy test pilot and author Brian Germain, Laura is also an accomplished skydiver who has made more than 1,200 jumps and has set state and world formation skydiving (FS) records. For three years, she was a member of all-female 4-way FS team Fox Force 4. She is now pursuing freeflying and has more than 100 hours in the wind tunnel. Her 2-year-old son, Joshua, made 17 jumps in utero before he was born.
Kraus-Germain says, “I think a lot of women worry that if they have kids, their skydiving lives will be over. That is not the case at all. You do have to slow down for a while, but I was doing sequential 32-way [formation skydives] two months after I had Joshua. It definitely helps to have a supportive father on hand that understands the love and passion of skydiving.
“It’s amazing how many women have come up to me and said, ‘I’ve been thinking about having a baby and wondering how I would manage it, and seeing you at the DZ with your child makes me think I can do it too.’” She continues, “You have to be there for your child, but the way I see it, that doesn’t mean not living my life—I am better as an example that living life to the fullest is worth it. But having a child is not easy—breast-feeding is a challenge for example … It’s important that you are relaxed, and so I really recommend to skydiving mothers that they learn how to meditate. I find being able to consciously control my thoughts and relax my body in any environment is invaluable when breast-feeding and jumping.”
She jokes, “They grow up quickly, and for all the hard work now, I know it will pay off when he gets older and learns to pack!”
Brian Germain remarks, “Some folks seem to think that kids have no business being on the drop zone, but I have always loved their presence. Now that I am a dad, I feel an even stronger conviction that children add value to the situation, even if they aren’t actually skydiving. I think back to my home drop zone in Malone, New York, to a picture on the wall. It was a photograph of a very young Mike Swanson and his brother, Dave, and sister, Mary, all standing in a Cessna 182. How many other kids have been raised on drop zones … [and have] grown up to change the sport forever? They are the leaders of our future. The next time a kid comes running through the packing area and trips over your lines, remember that one day this little tyke may be your pilot, your spotter or the one who is going to teach your kids how to skydive.”
He continues, “The drop zone is the safest place in the world for my kids. It is safer than the outside world, because they are surrounded by happy people who are glad to be where they are. They get to witness people helping people, teaching what they know and sharing beautiful experiences. That is the example I want them to learn from.”
Melody Allen and Erez Yaron
Melody Allen has 300-plus jumps and is married to Erez Yaron, who holds state and world head-down formation skydiving records and has more than 6,500 jumps. They are the parents of 9-month-old Riley and are currently “living the dream”—a nomadic existence traveling in an RV and working at drop zones around the United States.
Allen remarks, “Riley was not planned, and after finding out I was pregnant, I continued to jump for another month. When she was 2-and-a-half months old, I did a BASE jump at Bridge Day, but now … I have become more cautious and timid. I find myself sitting out more often, and I upsized my canopy from a [Performance Designs] Sabre 135 to a Sabre 150.”
About having a baby around the DZ, Allen adds, “We are blessed that Riley is a very easy, happy baby, and people are very welcoming. As she grows older and makes her way out into the world, I am conscious that I will need to educate her that not everyone out there is as friendly as they are at the DZ.”
Allen also comments, “As a skydiving mother, I think I am most nervous about teaching my daughter not to do the things she loves and to have fear. When I go to skydive, I want her to watch me and feel empowered that she can do whatever she wants with her life.”
Yaron adds, “As a parent, the risk assessment is very different now. I got rid of my [cross-braced canopy] and took a canopy course to be as safe as possible. No more swooping for me, and I upsized from a [Precision Aerodynamics] Xaos 83 to an [Icarus] Crossfire 104. I have also decided to no longer take part in world records—I am scared of going too big, because I question the talent. I will continue to do smaller state records, and I am now videographer for a [vertical formation skydiving] team based out of Skydive Houston called Vertex.
“One of the things I have noticed is that Melody and I don’t jump together anymore. Not because we are nervous that both of us are on the plane, but because you need a babysitter!”
Tanya O’Brien is a groundbreaking skysurfer who many regard as unparalleled. Her husband, Craig, is an equally celebrated skydiver and cameraman. They are the parents of two daughters, 8-and-a-half-year-old Delaney and 4-year-old Leah.
O’Brien says, “Craig and I married in 1999 and started competing together in world meets and the X Games that year. Delaney was born in 2002 with about 60 jumps!”
She continues, “When Delaney was 8 months old, I went back to training. Craig and I were training and competing out of Perris Valley, [California], which was very convenient for our family. My training regimen was 800 jumps a year with [a daily] average of six to 12 jumps. In 2004, I cut back and booked a sitter, training once a week, but I increasingly started to not like dropping her at someone’s house so I could go and skydive. … At the 2005 Nationals, I did my last jump.”
Now, O’Brien says, “Our daughters will come to Perris with me to visit their father, and it’s wonderful—the people are what make it so amazing. They have met people from all over the world and country.” But she adds, “Ideally, I do not want them to skydive. If they insisted, I would be supportive, but I hope they don’t. My feelings about skydiving are now mixed.
“We were close friends with Eli Thompson and his family, and now with the recent passing of our dear friend Pat McGowan, I have finally decided to sell my gear and quit jumping altogether. It’s just too close to home for me,” she says. (Thompson died in a BASE accident and McGowan in a landing accident.) “Even though Craig supports our family working in the sport, he has become a more conservative skydiver. He says he misses jumping with me but agrees that my peace of mind in bringing up our family is the greater priority.”
A high-powered Hollywood agent, Collin Reno first jumped out of a plane in 1991 and since then has chocked up 1,000-plus jumps. Working in the cut-throat industry that he does, skydiving is a necessary stress release, and fun jumping is his specialty. Reno and his non-skydiving wife, Andrea, have been married for more than 10 years and are the parents of 4-year-old Sasha and 6-month-old Juliette.
“When I started jumping, I was 19, and the question we asked before jumping was, ‘Is it a good day to die?’” Reno says. “Yes, it was the heady days of the ‘blue skies and black death’ philosophy. There was a sense of bravado that accompanied every jump. Having two children certainly changes that—you are risking more than your own life. But mostly, having a family has impacted the time I can allocate to skydiving—getting out to the drop zone and managing to do a few jumps to make the trip worthwhile becomes a strategic mission.
“That being said, my wife is very supportive and will sometimes insist that I need an ‘air bath’ to clear my head. But since starting a family four years ago, I have made only about 30 jumps.... When the girls were born, I changed my life-insurance policy to one that covers skydiving, and to be honest, I have thought about saving those extra dollars. … But I’d like to think I will always skydive for as long as I am physically capable, so the more expensive policy stays.
“When my daughters reach the age of 18, if they ask me if they can do a tandem, I will be very supportive. I am not nervous about them jumping—more about them hanging out at drop zones at that age!”
Reno goes on to say, “Every skydiver who starts a family can struggle with identity. Who are you going to be? Who are you if you are no longer a skydiver? Are you still a skydiver but just temporarily on hold until the kids get older? To be honest, I don’t know.”
Karin Sako completed AFF in 1995 and now has made 4,000-plus jumps. She’s a big-way formation skydiving record holder, was a member of 8-way team Passion 8 in the ’90s and 4-way team ICE in 2004. She is now the mother of her 4-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Zoelle, and 3-year-old son, Adrian.
“I am now getting back into the sport—fun jumping as opposed to team work and record attempts,” Sako says, adding, “The 15-minute ride to altitude gives one time to reflect upon home life and definitely tugs on my heartstrings as a mother. A bit of anxiety always creeps in when thinking of the many variables involved in a skydive. However, competition experience and being involved in organized jumps aids in managing fear and focusing on the job immediately at hand, which helps to temper that anxiety. Ultimately, I realize that if parachuting is going to continue being a part of my life, the best thing I can do to ensure that I'll be home to tuck my kids into bed at night is to maintain the same level of paranoid non-complacency that I've always held. My responsibilities as a mom will always be my top priority, for the heart simply commands it. But I feel that also continuing to responsibly partake in activities that I enjoy supports my role as a happy mother and person.”
About the Author
Fiona Horne, B-32188, has logged more than 600 jumps and is excited to be celebrating her 45th birthday by taking part in the Parachutists Over Phorty Society (POPS) head-down world record attempts scheduled for July at Skydive Oregon in Molalla.