Sky’s not the limit for University club

by Jake Grovum

A lot of things can run through a person’s mind 13,000 feet off the ground in an airplane.

If the urge to jump out is one of them, the people at Skydive Twin Cities can help.

Less than 50 miles east of Minneapolis, Skydive Twin Cities has been in operation for 30 years and has become the premiere drop zone for the U Skydiving Club.

The club, founded in the 1970s and re-emerging in the ’90s, is intended to allow a setting for students to learn more about skydiving.

Matt Toth, U Skydiving Club vice president and geological engineering senior, has completed 82 jumps and said the group is actively trying to expose more students to the sport.

“We’re trying to introduce it to students, because we’re all students and what do we do as students? We learn, and this is the time to learn,” he said.

Skydive Twin Cities allows first-time jumpers to be attached to an instructor in a tandem jump, or they can go solo, accompanied by two instructors during free fall.

University alumnus Kerry McCauley, part owner and instructor at Skydive Twin Cities, has more than 8,500 jumps and said his experience as tandem master is just as rewarding.

“When we’re doing a tandem, you’re strapped to a person who is probably going to have the most exciting moment in their entire life, and you’re right there for it,” he said.

Zabrina Warzonek, U Skydiving Club president and second-year medical student, has jumped 453 times. She said 250 to 300 people have taken their first jumps alongside the group during her four years in the club.

“I think it’s something everyone should do once, if not 50 times,” she said. “The people that do it are always like, ‘That was awesome! I’m coming back! I’m coming back!’ “

Apart from the rush of skydiving, McCauley said it is the bond between skydivers that makes the sport special.

“It’s just such a social sport, you get to know everybody,” he said. “The cool thing about being a skydiver (is) you go anywhere in the world, find a local drop zone, and they’ll treat you like a brother.”

Tandem instructor Brian Ploszay said the sport can have both social and financial benefits.

“Pretty much once you get in this community, if you need anything done to your house we have a skydiver to do it,” he said, referring to the wide gamut of professional backgrounds in the community.

Despite the positive aspects of skydiving, there are risks involved. In 2006, there were 21 fatalities reported in the United States, and seven so far in 2007.

“Everything’s got its own inherent risk, so does this,” Toth said.

Although many reports about skydiving deaths refer to parachute malfunction as the cause of the accident, Toth said that’s not always the case.

“Most of the fatalities you would hear about in skydiving are under a fully opened canopy,” he said. “People either crashing into each other (or) doing stupid (stuff).”

In 2006, only six of the fatalities were blamed on parachute malfunction, while no such deaths have occurred in 2007.

McCauley said the increased reliability of skydiving equipment has led to a safer sport and more experienced instructors.

“The gear’s gotten so nice and the landings have gotten so nice, and the malfunction rates (are) so low that people stay in the sport longer,” he said.

The average jump master at Twin Cities Skydive has 4,000 jumps completed; the most experienced has nearly 14,000 jumps.

Warzonek said behind the thrill of skydiving there is a great relationship between instructors and students that makes skydiving worthwhile.

“Everybody kind of pays it forward and all the more experienced skydivers help out the younger skydivers,” she said. “That’s the fun part about it, it’s the people, it’s the smiling faces in free fall.”