© Casey Swizzle
Amy Chmelecki jumps at the chance for new world record with Project 19
Combining her love of skydiving and social activism to encourage women and their need to vote, Amy Chmelecki attempts to break a world record.
Amy Chmelecki is a bonafide aerial legend.
After nearly three decades dedicated to perfecting her craft in skydiving, Chmelecki will attempt a new world record this week at Skydive Arizona—Project 19. Her latest passion project will feature a team of 100 women attempting a vertical jump to celebrate the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the right to vote.
More than four years in the making, Project 19 was originally scheduled for 2020 but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Given the current political climate, the timing couldn’t be better.
“It's kind of a really interesting time for women's rights, in general,” Chmelecki said. “So we're happy to carry this message and use skydiving as a tool to bring this message in front of people and use skydiving to start the conversation, to continue the conversation.
“It's extra interesting now, because we're celebrating voting and the history of women's suffrage in the U.S., and the world. (It's) the idea that we have the right to vote—but didn’t in a time not long ago at all—and just honoring that and really encouraging people to use that right and not take it for granted.
“There's still an election going on, we still have the runoff election in Georgia so voting is still happening. It’s just a good reminder to not take that for granted or else other people decide how the world is going to be around you.”
Chmelecki wanted to skydive before she could drive. Unfortunately, that wasn’t an option at age 14. So she immersed herself in sports during high school. Her first jump came four years later, after her freshman year in college. From her earliest days in skydiving, Chmelecki observed a stark “underrepresentation of women—and diversity in general.”
“That was always strange to me and something I was uncomfortable with and wanted to see changed,” Chmelecki said. “As a younger person, I wasn't really organized in my emotional state to really fully understand the concepts or make things happen.
“But I always work towards just getting events organized where it could be a platform for women to build on. As I grew in the sport and became more accomplished, with the kind of the resume to back me up, I was able to get a little bit bolder with my movements and my conversations, which I feel really grateful for.”
That resume includes 15 world records and five world titles. At 46, the Westchester (N.Y.) County native, who now calls Arizona home, is ready to add one more.
In the spring of 2018, the Women's Skydiving Network (WSN) approached Chmelecki about Project 19. WSN is a non-profit whose mission is to increase the number of women in the sport. Over the last year, the percentage rose a point to 14 percent—a small increase but encouraging to Chmelecki nonetheless.
Two years earlier, Chmelecki’s team broke the women’s head-down world record with a 65-way formation. When WSN asked Chmelecki to take the lead on a new 100-way record in conjunction with the celebration of the centennial of the 19th Amendment, she jumped at the chance.
“We had just wrapped up a Red Bull Fly Girls event in 2018,” Chmelecki said. “It was really an amazing, amazing event. It was so beautiful. The Women's Skydiving network saw that and was inspired by that. My accomplishments with Project 19 are very much connected to Red Bull. Red Bull has been such a big part of my previous projects, I don't think it would have happened without Red Bull Fly Girls bringing attention to the Women's Skydiving Network, without them seeing that. They basically approached me with the idea after (that).
“We just really loved the idea so much and we ran with it immediately. We were supposed to do it in 2020, but of course, COVID made us postpone. So we've been working on it now for four years.”
The extra time to train came in handy for Chmelecki, who will ultimately need to marshal 100 women from five planes dropping at 160 miles per hour in a mere 80-seconds.
“I've never really done a jump that big before,” said Chmelecki, who has been a member of the Red Bull Air Force Team since 2013.“ The records are hard because you are going up again and again and again. It's physically demanding on the body. You're in a cold airplane for like 40 minutes on your way up to altitude, kind of jammed in there, and then you're breathing oxygen. The whole situation is intense. And then it's cold when you get out there. It's cold. Hypoxia, we try to prevent that. Obviously, we do everything we can. The last thing we want is hypoxia so we have the oxygen going. Everyone is breathing it.
“Oxygen gets turned on at 11,000 feet and we breathe it all the way up till 19,000 feet. But if there's like one tube that's something's wrong and it's not working as well, then all of a sudden it can be disastrous. So everyone has to really be on top of that and monitor their own physiology, communicating if they feel anything wrong and just maintaining their calmness, staying relaxed and calm.
“We felt like we could make a jump like this because the talent is out there and the ability to do it is out there. It's just a matter of getting all those people together and trained.”
Two months ago, Chmelecki took the 40-way inner core of the formation to CLYMB Abu Dhabi—the world’s largest wind tunnel. The 32-feet diameter tunnel enabled the group to work on formations without the need for planes or parachutes and incorporate team building in the process.
“We started with the small groups in the sections and then we did like half the 40-way, the second-half or and then we did the whole 40-way,” Chmelecki said. “That tunnel, there's nothing like that in the world. That's the only one. The biggest tunnel besides that is 18 feet. That tunnel is 32 feet in diameter. We were able to do 40-ways in there.
“It was insane, a game-changer for world records like this.”
While world records are impressive, they are not what drives Chmelecki. Some jump for the adrenaline rush, others for the recognition. Chmelecki admits there’s the excitement of achieving goals through skydiving, but her true satisfaction comes from bringing people together for the greater purpose of the mission.
“We've been able to really bring this team together in ways that we've never really seen before—their level of commitment,” Chmelecki said. “Everyone has been training this whole time. Just training their physical, they’ve been working out and training and doing jumps and getting mentally prepared, physically prepared. So it's just that little bit of extra motivation it's really meaningful for this whole team.
“It's really the pinnacle of my career getting to use the sport I love to promote messages that are deeply important to me. I’ve noticed the disparity, the gap of not enough women and diversity within sport from a very, very young age. Growing up I was taught... what I was exposed to led me to believe that women really didn't have the ability to be professional athletes or weren't able to be the leader in the room. I believed it as a fact as a child and as a young adult.
“As I started to get older and educated myself and learned more about the world and traveled a bit, I started to realize that a woman can be the most powerful leader in the room. A woman can be an athlete or anything she wants to be. Then slowly, became braver myself to speak up and speak out against things like this, and ultimately to be able to use skydiving to highlight these messages is really just the greatest honor for me. I couldn't be happier about how it all works together.”