Can skydivers really be fast? Here’s what I learned watching them on camera

Here in DC, you don’t have to trek to Kentucky to see some incredible gymnasts, nor do you have to hitch an air taxi ride to San Francisco, Manchester, and Utica, N.Y., to see some excellent cyclists. In fact, if you’re lucky enough to visit Texas, you might not even see the beach.

As a Texas native, I’m used to the scorching summer months; in Georgetown, the Monday night baseball game is the cooler activity most of us see outside of making barbecue. So when I thought of racing — meaning falling out of a plane— I wondered if you could really be fast at it. Well, the answer is yes.

I recently got to watch six athletes from around the country dive off a tandem skydiving tower over near Austin. The two were a couple and they took part in a competition called Jump For Meaning, a Super Bowl-sized airborne dice game in which the aerodynamics of the skydivers cause the pair to come in fast and shatter any expectations.

Now, I’m not a big skydiver. At one point in my late 20s, I tried it for myself, but was defeated by the fact that my parachute wouldn’t open. Perhaps that’s why I found these athletes’ descent all the more exciting, and not just because of the awe-inspiring slow-motion video they posted to their videos. Yes, I appreciated seeing the massive drop they made and took in, but it was even more impressive just how fast they fell in, and how fast they were landing.

At one point in the race, one of the pairs spun faster than an athlete traveling in a jet car, and at least twice as fast as an Indy Car. What this was teaching me is that athletes can not only fall far, fast, and far enough to touch the ground without getting totally disoriented, but they can do it by themselves. No wacky leap of faith for these teams.

Amazingly, some of these men only jumped twice — once when jumping off a tandem plane and then again when soaring off a plane. On the second jump, they had only their legs to fall from, and when I spoke to their team leader, he said it was as if his gymnast and his tennis player had come out to play the men’s doubles.

That wasn’t the only jaw-dropping experience I had watching the races — one duo, for example, fell so fast they blasted out of the sky while another had some high-stepping backflips in the air. Still, my favorite part of the competition was watching the serious skydivers compete, and talking to some of the guys who came in their last minute. To be honest, if one of those suits had not popped up in mid-dive, I would have had a pretty awful time watching all the flights.

At some point, it was clear that these athletes were just absolutely flying out of the sky, and I couldn’t help but think about how after my own experience, I’ve worked on becoming faster, because I wanted to get out of my own way. You know what I say? It’s called “go harder.”

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