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Instructor Spotlight

Wisconsin Skydiving Center Posted by: Wisconsin Skydiving Center 10 years ago

Joel Graves has an amazing story! Having survived a traumatic motorcycle accident, Joel is living life fully! Learn more about Joel in this week’s 10 Questions With…

1. What attracted you to the sport of skydiving?

JG: I can’t specifically point to a single reason. I have always been an avid aviation buff since childhood. I grew up on the south side of Janesville, and often was spotting aircraft on their approach patterns to the Rock County Airport. Back in those days military C-130’s would frequently pass over doing touch and goes and I was always looking up whenever I heard that drone of an aircraft engine to see what it was. I’ve never been the least bit fearful of heights, often building tree forts with the neighborhood kids on the local wood plots. I was very adventurous and fearless in my youth. I think the initial spark was I happened to pass by the dropzone one time and jumpers under canopy caught my eye. From then on I had it stuck in my head that I just had to go skydiving.

2. What influenced you to actually make the phone call to make your first skydive?

JG: I received my first tandem skydive as a birthday present from my then fiancé after we had passed the dropzone. I couldn’t stop talking about wanting to jump. To say I was hooked after that initial tandem is an understatement. Life got in the way and I wasn’t able to get back in the air for a couple of years. Crazy as it may sound, it was a terrible series of events that got me back into the air. Things didn’t work out with the fiancé, and then I was in a very traumatic motorcycle accident that very nearly took my life, put me in the “hardware club” with multiple plates attached to my skull to put it back together, and left my left arm paralyzed for some time due to nerve damage. There was a sudden deep internal drive to get back to the dropzone and get licensed. I wasn’t yet able to pass the strenuous physical tests to get back to work, so had a lot of time to be at the drop zone observing and learning. Eventually Bo put me through some tests to ensure that I could do everything necessary for a safe skydive and the rest is history.

3. What’s the most memorable skydive you’ve ever been on?

JG: My gosh, it’s nearly impossible to pick just one. I have a deep love for night jumps. On my second night jump, looking over at another skydiver and being able to turn points with them in the dark and successfully land was just a mind blower. My first time out of a skyvan (aircraft with a tailgate at the rear), just running through the fusalage and doing a big gainer out the back was so cool. But I get the deep enjoyment from the small stuff like coaching a new student and watching them go out and just rock a jump, overcoming that issue thats been making them tumble their exit or have that weird light spin in freefall. As a videographer I often get to see the precious joy of seeing the elation, pure raw joy, and wonder what people experience after their first jump. I get the biggest kick out of tandem students when they look up and see me in freefall with them, they always just LIGHT UP, as if they are amazed that there is another human being right there in front of them as they are sailing through the sky.

4. Who / What inspires you?

JG: Driven people with free spirits who aren’t particularly fond of following the things that societal pressures tell them they should do…and they make it all work. They are some of the coolest and most laid back people you will meet. They often have the “right” priorities in life, and measure success in their own way with happiness. The skydiving community is full of them! I sometimes think that we are “converting” people to a new kind of happiness through skydiving. Also just raw nature, last year I got to travel a ton for work and saw some very beautiful places.

5. Of the places you have visited – what is your favorite place and why?

JG: I am a pretty hardcore skier, and have taken a number of trips out west to ski the mountains. I love the mountains and hope to some day make my home there. I had never actually done the “tropic” vacation thing, and honestly didn’t think I would like it. But last November I married the love of my life, and we spent our honeymoon in St. Lucia. The week was spent cut-away with no TV, no internet, and just loving life. It was a great experience and now my favorite place I’ve been yet.

6. What other interests do you have outside of skydiving?

JG: I am always learning, always looking for new experiences. I recently cut the cable TV and it was only painful because I was losing the Science Channel, History, and Discovery. But I spend so much time doing other great things I never ever watch TV anymore. When not working or jumping I also love road racing sport bikes at Blackhawk Farms and Road America, mountain biking, hiking, motocross/supercross, ziplining, and back country skiing. I often find myself just trying to find enjoyable things to do with my wife, as we don’t typically see each other much during the week.

7. What is something about you that few people know about?

JG: I still find people constantly surprised to hear that I work as a factory automation guy. I guess they just don’t picture me as the guy sitting at a laptop computer next to a robot. I really like working with automation, electronics and designing machinery. I guess I am one of the few people in the world these days that really does love their work. I also find people surprised at my eclectic music taste. When I have my music on random you will literally have the following sequence come out of my speakers: Beethoven, Slipknot, Eminem, Dean Martin, Pepper, Aaron Lewis, Jerry Goldsmith, on to Tiesto. I have been a drummer since I was 5 years old, and have always just been a huge music lover. If you want to be a good musician you have to know ALL forms of music.

8. If you could meet anyone in the world for a coffee and a chat (alive or deceased) who would you wish to meet with?

JG: My Grandma Lorraine. She passed away in her 80’s while I was in my early 20’s. She was such a nice and intelligent woman. Now that I have matured a lot more, I have so many things I would love to talk to her about and get advice on. The people from that generation LIVED. They went through such tough times and saw so much change in the world. I think there are a lot of lessons they could teach us today if we sat down and listened.

9. What do you do for work? If you could do anything as an occupation – what would it be?

JG: I work for Frito Lay, ensuring people “Get their smile on”. I work on packaging equipment under a pretty wide swath of responsibilities. Everything from writing technical manuals and training folks how to run and fix the equipment, designing, installing, and starting up equipment, commissioning new lines, writing machine programs, and troubleshooting. Of course, like many skydivers, I would love to jump for a living. But unfortunately it’s pretty hard to replace that pension, 401k and health plan the corporate world offers.

10. What are your future goals?

JG: My goals are to continue to work hard at learning new things and performing everything I do at a high level, both inside and outside of jumping. Currently Dan Schultz and I are working with Bo on getting our tandem instructor rating. Soon after I think I will be working on my Accelerated FreeFall Instructor rating.