Raising her voice to new heights: An interview with pro skydiver Melanie Curtis

Photos courtesy of Highlight Pro Skydiving Team.

As women’s history month begins, twelve incredible women are using skydiving as a platform to raise their voice, inspire others, and change the narrative for women in sports. In 2019, professional skydivers Melanie Curtis and Amy Chmelecki came together to create a skydiving demonstration team: the Highlight Pro Skydiving Team. The team is composed of all-female skydivers and has the mission to “inspire all women to live bold, brave lives of their own design in skydiving and beyond.” The Highlight Pro Skydiving Team performs jumps to magnify important messages about equality and inclusion. Their initial jumps in 2020 worked to highlight and commemorate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. These jumps took place in targeted locations connected to the history of the 19th amendment such as Tennessee, which was the last state needed to ratify the amendment. As of 2021, the team will be focusing more on uplifting women in sports.

This Wednesday, March 3rd at 1:00 pm EST, the Highlight Pro Skydiving Team will perform a jump while waving flags and smoke above the Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas, TX in honor of Athletes Unlimited’s new women’s professional volleyball league. Athletes Unlimited, a novel and athlete-driven network of professional sports leagues, has similar missions to those of the Highlight Pro Skydiving team in empowering women and promoting equality in sports. According to the US Parachute Association, only 13% of US skydivers are women. Therefore, Curtis, Chmelecki, and their team are working to increase the representation of women in their sport as well as encourage women to be bold and brave in what they do. I had the wonderful opportunity to interview co-founder Melanie Curtis and hear her thoughts on Highlight Pro Skydiving and its mission. This interview is edited and condensed for clarity.

JB: How did the idea for the creation of the Highlight Pro Skydiving Team come about? What is the goal of this team?

MC: Our initial inspiration was last years’ 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment. We wanted to celebrate and commemorate this monumental event in a powerful way and help continue to mobilize the vote for this year. By using the medium of skydiving, we can capture peoples’ attention and draw eyeballs to our messages about voting and using your voice. Our broad mission is to inspire women and girls to be bold and brave in the world in their own design.

JB: How did you get the team together?

MC: We knew since we would be landing in all different cities in all conditions, we wanted to select the best of the best women skydivers in the world. However, we didn’t just want the best from a skills perspective, as we are a values, mission-driven team; we wanted positive leaders in skydiving and the world. We wanted leaders who were positive and inclusive allies that took part in elevated conversations. These leaders who were selected were very receptive to our mission in calling for social justice, inclusion, and equality, and it has been a dream come true to work with many friends in this collaborative team experience.

JB: What is the preparation before a jump like? How have you been preparing for your most recent jump to honor Athletes Unlimited’s new professional women’s volleyball league?

MC: In addition to over 25 years of experience, before our jumps, we do training jumps. After connecting with the organization we have partnered with, we decide what we want each show to look like.  We practice using the specific gear and work on the timing of when to drop a flag or fly smoke in the air.  For the jump for Athletes Unlimited, each jumper will have a flag and smoke in the colors of the four teams of Athlete’s Unlimited new women’s volleyball league, and one jumper will fly in a game ball to the new captains for that week. 

JB: How has Covid affected how you operate?

MC: Usually, we jump into places where there is a large crowd, and so we are able to feel the energy around us as we jump.  Taking Covid precautions, we now create live streams broadcasting the jumps, which has ironically helped us reach and inspire more people.

JB: How did you first get involved with skydiving? 

MC: I grew up around aviation. My dad is a pilot, and we technically had an airport at my house. My dad and his best friend opened a drop zone in the backyard, and so it was natural for me to get involved. After being afraid for a little while, I eventually took my first jump. When I landed for the first time, I was forever changed, as I fell in love with the feelings skydiving gave me. Taking that jump helped me adventure into new things such as traveling abroad in college or becoming an entrepreneur.

JB: What do you think the future of pro skydiving will look like?

MC: If we achieve our goals of inspiring women and girts to be bold and brave in their own design, we will significantly impact the number of women who join skydiving and inspire women to come out and give skydiving and this welcoming and loving community a shot.

JB: How did your partnership with Athletes Unlimited form? What message are you trying to send with this upcoming jump?

MC: Our focus in 2021 is women in sports. We had already connected with Kat Adams, a professional tennis player, leader,  advocate, and executive board member of Athletes Unlimited because she had worked as a commentator for one of our live stream jumps. We loved how Athletes Unlimited is working to elevate fringe women’s sports to the mainstream level and taking a radically different approach in doing so. They are changing the game by being brave enough to stand apart from what has always been done in professional sports and are bold enough to radically alter and improve sports for female athletes. In skydiving, people may think it isn’t possible for them. We want to show that women can take that jump, and once you land, it alters your mind and opens doors to see what’s possible—and Athletes Unlimited embodies just that. 

JB: Anything else you wanted to add? 

MC: We are excited this year to continue to change the narrative on what’s possible in women’s sports and continue to increase the representation of women in sports, government, or media and potentially provide much more women with a new community of skydivers.

Junior Jamie Belfer is the Sports Editor. Her email is jbelfer@fandm.edu.

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