If you could guarantee one thing about skydiving, it's that breaking a world record is not easy. This was ever the case when Amy Chmelecki and her all-women skydiving team set out to break the women's vertical, head down, world record, 18,000 feet above the Arizona desert. After 15 attempts, it was lucky number 16 that secured a 65-person skydive record.
Over the course of the week the women dealt with exploding sinuses, nearly broken bones, mid-air head kicks, hypoxia, turbulence and extreme freezing temperatures of as low as 5 F as they attempted to break the world record over and over again.
After nearly every jump, Chmelecki repeated herself to the ladies, "Making a world record is not easy. It's not going to be given to us, we have to work really hard for this."
Behind the scenes
Over 90 women descended upon the small town of Eloy, Arizona, to break the record, alongside Chmelecki and skydiving legends Anna Moxnes, Melissa Lowe, Sara Curtis, Domi Kiger and Sharon Har-noy Pilcher. The week included two training days, followed by three solid days of jumping and a weather day, just in case.
The intention was never to use the weather day, however, in the end, it was the last possible jump on the weather day that finally secured the world record.
Chmelecki and the team's leaders had to first design the formation, then submit it to the judges and, finally, the divers had to keep to that specific formation.
"Each girl is like a piece of a puzzle, and we have to figure out how they go together in this formation," Chmelecki said. "We have to figure out what piece goes where, and how each girl is going to be able to perform her best."
During the week, it was often the case that the team would have a stellar jump, nearly making it, only to follow with a shocking jump. "It's a common phenomena to have a great jump followed by a bad jump," Chmelecki said. "So don't beat yourself up. Don't let your head drop, breathe, stay calm and stay in the zone."
Throughout the week, despite all efforts by the jumpers to stay calm and focused, there was defnitely the thought that the record might not happen. "The record is not guaranteed, and everyone knows that," Australian diver Jill Grantham said. "Attempts happen all the time and they're not successful, but this has been two years of planning with 12 months of camp training — you had to be approved to be here, so there's a lot more on the line."
Just one picture
It all came down to capturing one frame for the judges to mark and submit as the new world record — one photograph where the puzzle comes together for a fraction of a second. As the women jumped out of the planes on the 16th attempt and linked together, it wasn't just for a fraction of a frame, it was for a long time.
At the end of it all, despite the success of the world record it turned into so much more than the record itself. It was about the adventure, the challenge and the experience of bringing together dozens of women from around the world to defy gravity and inspire the next generation of female skydivers.