Women in Skydiving
By Ed Scott
Many jumpers are surprised to learn that women make up only about 13 percent of USPA’s membership, because it seems like there are more women than that at their DZs. It could be that the women, though fewer, are more active skydivers, or it could be that their jumps seem to get more visibility.
Women have always been active in skydiving, though at a vastly lower percentage in the early days of the 1950s and ’60s than now. Then, skydiving was a tough sport. In addition to using the same heavy, hard-opening and ground-pounding parachutes that the men used, women had to endure the overt sexism and discrimination that was prevalent in those days. Even so, some women persevered. Women like Muriel Simbro, who in 1961 was the first woman to earn a D license (D-78) and the first U.S. woman to win a gold medal in a world meet. Women like Barbara Roquemore, who in June of 1968 won the women’s overall championship at the U.S. Nationals; Kim Emmons-Knor, who was a member of the first U.S. Women’s Parachute Team, which won gold at the 1962 world meet; and Tee Taylor, who was the overall women’s world champion at the 1964 world meet. Women like Clarice Garrison, who as a member of the Arvin Good Guys team won the first 10-way formation skydiving meet in 1967 (and changed the lexicon of “10-man” to “10-way”). And women like Fritzie Cox, Garrison, Linda Padgett and Donna Wardean, who were the first four women to earn their Star Crest Recipient Awards for building an 8-way or larger formation. (Garrison was the first woman in a formation with more than seven skydivers.)
Over the years, more women became skydivers, and they became even more active in competition, record and demonstration jumps. Cheryl Stearns began her reign as a style and accuracy champion in 1976 and is currently a 33-time national champion … and counting. Sandy Williams formed the all-female Misty Blues demo team in 1984, and the team continues booking shows around the country today. World-record-breaking all-female formation skydives began with 1974’s 16-way, which grew to a 48-way by 1984, a 100-way by 1992 and a 181-way by 2009 (a record that still stands today). Today, all-female freeflyers are busy setting head-down and head-up formation records. The USPA Nationals is seeing an upswing in all-women competitive teams. And USPA’s Sisters in Skydiving campaign is now eight years old and growing.
The involvement of women in our sport continues. In 2016, Christy Frikken and JaNette Lefkowitz founded the Women’s Skydiving Network (originally the Women’s Skydiving Leadership Network) to increase the number of women skydivers in leadership roles through mentorship and training. The network now comprises more than 3,000 women. In recent months, it debuted the WSN Pro Demonstration Team, an all-female skydiving demonstration team that opened the recent Fédération Aéronautique Internationale World Cup hosted by Skydive Arizona in Eloy.
As 2020 unfolds, you’ll hear more about Project 19, a privately funded effort to have women skydivers help celebrate the centennial of the 19th amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which granted women the right to vote. Among the commemorative activities planned are all-female demonstration jumps by the WSN Pro Team at events around the U.S. Also as part of Project 19, in July the Women’s Skydiving Network will fully sponsor attempts to build a 100-way FAI Women’s World Record for Largest Head-Down Formation Skydive.
Even if no one has officially designated 2020 as the Year of the Woman Skydiver, it sure should be. Let’s each take some time this year to recognize all the women who have participated in skydiving, whether as a first-jump customer, a champion skydiver or a fun jumper. They all make our sport truly unique.