Alex Kolacio: The World is Your Oyster

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

If you’ve been to Wisconsin Skydiving Center, you know Alex Kolacio. With a huge smile and incredible generosity of spirit, Alex’s organization and attention to detail radiate throughout the dropzone. 

But did you know that in addition to being co-owner of the dropzone, Alex is a world record holding skydiver, has participated in Jump for the Cause, and has several skydiving ratings, including S&TA, AFF and Static Line Instructor, Coach and PRO? Alex’s skydiving career and achievements read like she’s been jumping since age 18 and yet she was 29 when she made her first skydive. 

Alex lived a whole ’nother life before her initial jump. This is Alex’s story –

Fundraiser at WSC for Jump for the Cause

Buongiorno!

Born in Massachusetts to an Italian mom and Croatian dad, Alex was destined for a life of adventure. Her dad’s career frequently moved the family and, when Alex was just a year old, the Kolacios moved back to Europe.

Over the next 11 years, they lived in one breathtakingly beautiful city after another – Trieste, Vienna, and then Milan. They spoke Italian at home and, always intending to one day return to the US, attended British or American schools to learn English. 

True to plan, Alex’s family moved back across the Atlantic in time for her to attend high school. Finally settled in Sarasota, FL, Alex capitalized on her photographic memory to keep under the radar of the (mean) nuns and to get the grades needed to satisfy her itchy feet. 

Graduation set her loose. Alex was off to New York University to study Marketing and International Business. During her junior year, she applied to study for a semester at Bocconi University in her beloved Milan. It was perfect. So perfect, in fact, she stayed an extra semester. Alex never wanted it to end. New York eventually called her home, but she vowed she’d find her way back …

Life Has A Funny Way

At age 20, Alex found herself in Chicago doing what so many college graduates do: retail. Making bills was tough and the work unrewarding, but her boss – Dianna – was phenomenal. Alex left retail for greener pastures, but ultimately went back to Dianna. They worked together for years, first for one company and then another, until they harnessed their potential and took destiny into their own hands.

Alex and Dianna met every day to hash out ideas, eventually honing in on one that checked all the boxes: corporate gifting. Interesting and unique gifts, imported from Europe to impress American clients. They could apply their education and experience; activate their connections and network; set their own schedule; be their own boss; make decent money; and, perhaps best of all, travel.

They applied for and received a Women Business Owners loan from the Small Business Administration and hung a shingle over their company, esclusivo! They turned into a home accessory store and then also a wholesale business, importing products from Italy and selling them to stores here in the US.

I Loved It?

Dianna and Alex on the opening day of esclusivo!

While in Milan on business, Roberto – one of their favorite vendors – invited Alex and Dianna to skydive. By the end of dinner, they committed with a nervous “chin-chin!”    

Alex didn’t sleep a wink. When they got to the DZ, they signed a brief waiver and watched skydiving videos (which thoroughly freaked them out) until their tandem instructor showed up (because, Italy). Alex’s training was extremely quick, maybe three minutes, and once she translated it to Dianna, her knowledge was encapsulated in 30 seconds. 

She was resigned to the fact that this would be the day she would die. Everything happened in slow motion. Was she even breathing? Was she about to pass out? To her amazement, she survived. 

“That was great!,” she said on landing, surprising herself with the truth of it. Were Alex to replay it all frame by frame, she’d have recalled that – for her at least – freefall felt awful. Some sort of magic had taken place under canopy, though, and she was enamored with the whole thing – from wheels up to touch down.

Thrilled, her instructor invited them to join him in Madagascar the following year for an Exotic Sky Adventures boogie. And for some reason, Alex agreed. She had a lot to learn.

Compelled

Later … Alex prepares to jump from a Huey helicopter in the DR

After a long Chicago winter, Alex went to San Francisco for a trade show … and afterwards made a 10-day detour to the American skydiving mecca, Eloy, AZ. Though she was still terrified by the notion of skydiving, she prepaid for the entire student program and got her A License. Along the way, she landed in cacti and bushes, and kept jumping. She broke ribs and. kept. jumping. 

Would Alex have stopped if she hadn’t prepaid? Maybe, but maybe not. Something had grabbed her. That unexplainable, undeniable thing that happens to skydivers when they catch the bug had happened to Alex. She was at the mercy of it. 

This girl who was raised to not put her elbows on the table … who’d never been exposed to this “daredevil stuff” … had to keep jumping.

Serendipity

With a six week wait for her ribs to heal, Alex busied herself by laying the groundwork for her next steps. She bought an altimeter and started visiting dropzones to see which could be home. Chicagoland Skydiving felt right. 

Ready to progress – although still a Nervous Nelly – Alex returned to Chicagoland to complete her recurrency jumps. Her instructor was Bo Babovic. At the time Bo was DZO of Chicagoland and, of course, today Bo is Alex’s husband and her co-DZO of Wisconsin Skydiving Center.

Soon after, the Fantastic Adventure of Alex and Bo began.

 

Bo and Alex under the C-130 they jumped from!

On to the Next

Standing room only in the C-130. Jumping into a reception for the president of the DR

 

Bo and Alex were invited to the Dominican Republic to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the country’s Air Force. The timing was ideal as the couple had been thinking about the possibility of opening the next DZ in the Caribbean. 

The trip was incredible. Alex had scarcely 150 jumps to her name and yet had the opportunity to jump into amazing locations and tight landing areas from Huey helicopters and even a C-130 Hercules. They loved the vibe, but the politics were tricky. 

They returned to the US, sold Chicagoland, and kept their ears to the ground to see what might present itself. The wait wasn’t long. Soon Alex and Bo learned of a skydiving void in Wisconsin. The go-to DZ had closed and local skydivers were in need of a new home. Bo and Alex hit the road and began exploring. The guy cutting the grass at a particularly interesting airfield in Jefferson – the Fort Atkinson Airport – told them of the hangar for rent on the property.

The Early Days …

At first Alex and Bo operated the dropzone on weekends only, sleeping in their car before heading back to Chicago to their “real life.” In short order, though, esclusivo! fell victim to change. When the Italian Lira switched to the Euro, Alex and Dianna’s overhead doubled overnight and the business was no longer sustainable. 

Alex and Bo officially moved to Jefferson with the last of the esclusivo! stock in tow. They stashed it in the back of the hangar to sell piecemeal, rented a farm house, bought a Cessna 182, hired a pilot, and – on July 4, 1998 – launched their first season with one tandem rig and two student rigs. 

Alex had her C License and no ratings by the time they opened WSC. Every jump thereafter she did with a purpose. First she earned her AFF rating and worked her way up.

Bo and Alex in Hinckley IL: the DZ that Bo owned when they met

… and Today

Alex and Bo’s commitment to customer service, exemplary hospitality and love for the sport has accelerated the growth of Wisconsin Skydiving Center.

Today, Alex and Bo have two hangars, three 182s, more than 2,600 5-star reviews, and respect from the international skydiving community. They also have three amazing children – now 15, 13 and 12 – and fully support the paths their passions will lead them to explore. There is no pressure to take on what has grown to be a family business, but each kid does have to know how to pack a parachute before they jump! 

Alex and Bo at Wisconsin Skydiving Center

Looking Back

When Alex reflects on the life she’s lived so far, she has plenty of pearly words to share with young people and up and coming skydivers, including: 

Treasure the people you meet – they make all the difference in your life experience. 

Oh Dianna! Roberto! Bo! Where would I be without them?

Be open. The path you envision may not be the path that makes you happy.

I wanted Italy but I landed in Chicago … and now the world is my oyster.

Meet people where they are. You have so much to learn from one another. 

(Pssst: Alex also speaks Spanish and some Serbian. One of her greatest joys is speaking with people in their mother tongue.)

Want to skydive? Get involved. Do as much as possible at the DZ, paid or unpaid.

Catch the fever. Feel the excitement. Take photos. Learn the ropes.  

Make every jump count. 

Don’t waste time! Always try to jump with people who are better than you. Soak it all in. 

The hardest jobs at the DZ are on the ground.

Be sure to show love to the ground crew – they make our world go round!

As you likely knew already, Alex is true blue. We are all so very grateful she said yes to skydiving, and that she embraced the fire that it lit inside. When you meet Alex at Wisconsin Skydiving Center, say Hello – or Buongiorno, Zdravo, or Hola! One thing is for certain, you will both be enriched by the experience. 

Blue skies!

Alex Kolacio is the owner of Wisconsin Skydiving Center near Milwaukee, WI

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A lady smiles while in free fall during a tandem skydive at Wisconsin Skydiving Center near Milwaukee, WI

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