two people skydiving, with one standing on the other's shoulders

A Leap of Faith

Taking the Next Step in Your Life

Where you are in your life will help you determine what kind of leap you wish to make. Perhaps it’s taking a walk down the aisle and marrying the love of your life. Maybe it’s selling your house and moving somewhere completely new or starting a whole new career that you are passionate about. Only you can figure out what would qualify as a leap in your own life and only you can make it happen.

This is the story of three of our very own locals who took the leap of a lifetime. Faith McKeen, Darin McKeen and Ryan Jenkins set out to make their mark in the world of competitive skydiving. After intense training at Skydive DeLand and training through the nights at the Orlando wind tunnel, iFly Orlando, the three were anxious to try their luck at the National Parachuting Competitions in Perris, California. Their hard work paid off and they finished with the silver medal and a spot representing the USA at the World Parachuting Championships in Gold Coast, Queensland.

team USA at world parachuting competition in australia in front of American flag

Local Skydiving Legends

On October 2, 2018, Faith, Darin, Ryan and his wife, Jenn, flew a total of 19.5 hours, across the international dateline and landed in Brisbane, Australia. They made it. This was the big one – the event most skydivers only dream of competing at. There were 21 countries representing the world’s finest skydivers and they were among them.

I asked the group to give me some input that I could share with you to explain how this whole thing goes down. It’s like the Olympics for skydivers. There is an opening ceremony and an official beginning of the event with all the countries wearing their official team uniforms for photos. They all marched through Surfers Paradise and on to Gold Coast City, where the City Council, Mayor and other prominent individuals were waiting. This was accompanied by an indigenous Australian (Aboriginal) smoke ceremony and display of skydivers jumping in and landing on the Surfers Paradise beach with different countries’ flags.

The next couple of days were spent as official training days and preparation, and then on October 8, when it was their turn to start competing.

two women and two men stand together holding a koala bear

The Team’s Takeaway from Competition

This is where I asked Faith McKeen, originally from Australia, to explain what the competitions were like and how the judges score. Faith stated:

“We competed in three competition jumps this day. A free round, a compulsory called Compulsory A, and another free round. A difficulty and an order is set by the team ahead of time. Judges look for execution of the move, in the order declared. They also look for presentation and synchronization. The free round is like our choreographed dance in the sky. It is subjectively judged based on a difficulty score we were given the day prior. Ryan and I fly this and Darin films. Meanwhile, Darin and I fly the compulsory round while Ryan films. This is an unusual thing to do. Teams don’t usually change roles like this.”

“The next day we completed two more rounds. We did a free round with a little trepidation because we had been deducted points in the day prior for the routine being filmed too close. Darin dropped a flier, either Ryan or I, from the frame for less than a second and we were penalized harshly. We had to make sure it was filmed farther back, which was different than we had done all year – followed by Compulsory B. This is a hard compulsory. Very technical. Extremely hard to fly. It was nerve racking, but we got it done.”

“Unfortunately, our routine fell out of the 45-second time limit for judging beginning from the time our feet leave the door, ending 45 seconds later. We took too long on one move and only got three-quarters of the way through the last move. The boys were devastated. There was a lot of tension. On the very last round, a little sunshine to the somber mood broke through. The last round was our highest scoring round. It was a victory for ourselves.”

two people skydiving

I asked Ryan Jenkins for some thoughts and he said his favorite part was competing alongside the world’s best skydivers who he had been inspired by for years. He plans to compete again. Nationals 2019 is in Raeford, N.C. and Worlds will be in Siberia in 2020. His favorite experience in Australia was seeing things for the first time with his wife, Jenn, who never traveled outside of the country before.

Jenn Jenkins said this was an unforgettable experience. She was grateful to be the USA Artistic Free Fly team coach. Some of her responsibilities were keeping the teams in order, on the same page, and getting them on the right bus to their plane. Jenn says, “We had two extra weeks after competitions to explore the Gold Coast side of Australia – from Brisbane to Byron Bay. I loved visiting the wildlife sanctuary where I got to hold a koala bear (pictured above), pet a kangaroo, and see all the Aussie animals you could imagine.”

Congratulations to Ryan Jenkins, Darin McKeen and Faith McKeen, our USA team who took a leap of faith and brought home a top 10 placement in the 2018 World Parachuting Championships!

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