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When we talk to Dan Schultz, he’s at home with his gorgeous, happy-as-can-be 8-month-old daughter. The interview is punctuated by her giggles as the family dog attempts to pin her down for kisses — and by Dan’s happy interjections into her afternoon adventures on the living room carpet.
He’s one of the warmest, most down-to-earth people we know — and we couldn’t be happier that WSC is his skydiving home. It has been a long journey indeed to get to this happy place, and we’re proud of Dan for taking the journey with us.
“I grew up a wild child,” Dan says. “I was in and out of mischief most of my life. And it was mostly just goof-off mischief.”
Dan remembers his late teens and early 20s as “kind-of an awakening period.” He describes himself as “a runt” growing up; he got along with everybody individually, but he was often the target of bullying when he was around a group. All the while, Dan worked out, played football, wrestled and ran track. “My body finally caught up,” he muses.
When Dan was 19, he got into a fight with “a monster of a man” in LaCrosse one night. “He came at me and I put the hurt to him,” Dan remembers. “He turned out to be one of the starting linemen for the football team. From there, I was bulletproof. I carried the chip of being bullied and became a bully to the bullies. I even got a little carried away and became the kind of guy I hated. Cocky, arrogant and never backing down from a fight. I had a good guy in me, but a lot of torment. Mostly, I guess, because of the shitty relationship with my dad, and myself. I felt I had something to prove. Fortunately, part of that needing to prove-something-attitude also got me back on track for college.”
Dan ended up graduating from the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater. He got a job at a local library as their graphic artist, and was thrilled to be surrounded by genuinely nice people.
“I allowed myself to be a nice person,” he says. “I was in a good position as far as meeting important people around the community, and finally felt I had a positive outlook and direction in my life.”
Then, one day, a friend of a friend then directed Dan to a job at a large, local hospital. He took it. For a while, he was working both jobs at the same time: twenty hours a week at the library and 40+ at the hospital. Finally, when that workload became too much, he left the library. He took on a job at a local bar instead.
“I was a nice guy at the hospital, but that guy got taken advantage of,” he says. “The bar just let me be whomever I wanted/needed to be. I could be the nicest, sweetest, or meanest; nastiest. Though it varied from patron and circumstance.”
“I was once told by the owner that he wasn’t sure what to do with me,” he continues. “He told me that half the people that went to that bar hated me, but the other half absolutely loved me – and they were all talking about me. At any rate, I had the owner’s full support to be me. The attitude I developed from the bar both helped and hurt me. I got tired of being mistreated at the hospital, had enough and finally stood up against the BS.” He was then fired.
At this point, Dan was in his early 30s. He hated the corporate world — he didn’t like being “owned” by his hospital bosses. A naturally talented artist, Dan also did a lot of graphic design work, but a long stint of constant partying caused him to lose his passion for it.
“The depression of getting fired from the hospital lead to a road of hardcore partying and overall self-destruction,” Dan says. “I liken it to the story of Pinocchio, when all of the little boys go to that island and can drink beer and smoke cigars and play pool and what-have-you, and then turn into literal jackasses. That was me. I didn’t really care anymore. The combination killed my desire to continue the work I was doing, and in turn lead me to thoughts of worthlessness. The kind where I didn’t care if I lived anymore.”
“But I still had to be the showman,” he continues. “I threw a helluva a party every night, and my bar was packed every night I worked. I felt like I was king. The torment of the feelings of just being a college-educated bartender vs the quasi-celebrity status of everybody knowing me as the life of the party, and having to live the party nightly, was also burning me out. I’d had a string of failed relationships. And I was just going thru the motions. Trying to find love. Trying to be a star. I don’t know what the heck I was trying to be. But was convinced I was the still the $*** – even if though I was just a piece of one. I still felt I was one of the top contenders for most eligible bachelor or something, and that I was God’s gift to women.”
As time went by, he really started looking for a change — and, lucky for us, he looked up.
“I had gone on a couple of tandems over the course of a couple of years,” Dan says. “Though I wasn’t sure how much I liked it because I was hungover when I did them. The freefall was great, but the canopy ride was no fun with a hangover in the hot, stale summer air.”
One day, however, he showed up without the hangover, towing along a girl he was dating at the time who was really into the idea of a jump. Once at the dropzone, he saw the buddy who had organized the jumps for him, gearing up in his solo skydiving kit.
“Just seeing that knucklehead in front of me,” he laughs, “was, like – wow. He was by himself! He can do this. Well, of course I can do this too.”
“The girl I took on that jump was a Barbie doll,” Dan retells, “and she had me just hooked on her beauty. We were gonna get licensed together. I thought we were gonna rule the world. She had men all over after her. Well, she dumped me via text, and a day later she showed up at my bar with the new guy. A buddy. It was like a movie, where the record skips and everybody turns to look. I played it cool, and after a few words, I left. Humiliated. Made a fool in front of my whole bar.”
It was June 19, 2009. He walked five steps out the door and punched a wooden post. Repeatedly.
“I imagined this thing disintegrating into sawdust,” he says, “and when it didn’t budge, I continued until I broke my hand.” He dislocated a bone, which needed four pins to put back together. Instantly, his thoughts of ever returning to a career as an artist were crushed.
“The only thing I could bank on for being good at was lost,” he says. “My right hand was toast. The plans for getting my skydiving license that summer were flushed. All over some chick. My rock bottom. I quit drinking. But it wasn’t the drinking; it was me. I built myself up to be some kind of legend that really only existed between the walls of a bar in a small town. I had to explain the hand for months. And I was humbled. But I had support. I regrouped. And by the following April found myself sitting in Bo’s hangar.”
The next summer, Dan came back out and got his license. He immediately set about organizing jumps for people from the bar where he worked — everyone from the 21-year-old new kid to the 67-year-old old timer.
“I kind of became a mascot for some people,” he jokes. “This was 10 years ago, before all the GoPro videos and the social media really took over. Most people back then saw skydiving in movies, or maybe a commercial here and there but not at the level of exposure it has today. Knowing I was doing it — someone they actually knew — made a big difference for these guys.”
Of course, it wasn’t always easy. Nothing great ever is. “There were times I didn’t want to do it,” Dan explains. “Times when I was hoping for a weather hold. I often over-thought it and freaked myself out, but I just knew I couldn’t go back to that bar with those people if I backed out. And I’m sure they would never let me live it down.”
Dan’s secret weapon? WSC’s owners, Bo and Alex. “Bo and Alex definitely made it a ride,” he grins. “Finding a mentor like Bo and getting into a solo skydiving certification program like this one was really game-changing.”
“Bo’s a superhero to say the least,” he adds. “I think about it sometimes. [Bo] grew up in Eastern Europe. He was isolated from a lot of free thought. But now, just seeing what he has made for himself, to try to map it behind him would be impossible. His wisdom — and the way he grabs life — is inspiring, to say the least. Knowing him doesn’t just make me a better skydiver, but a better person all around.”
“I feel that my lady, Shelley, too, deserves much credit for allowing me to jump as much as I do,” he says. “She knows it’s my therapy. And she knows how crabby I get when I haven’t jumped for an extended period of time. She found me damaged, relationship-wise, and was patient with her repairs. She gave me that little baby — during which I almost lost her in the delivery room — and a totally new outlook on life. Skydiving got me back on track as far as being a decent human-being again and made me capable of being in a real relationship.”
These days, Dan is just about to turn 44. Not only is he a constant presence on the dropzone as a skydiving instructor and mentor, but he has bought his first wingsuit — and he intends to have quite a bit of fun in it. From instructing to wingsuiting to enjoying the company of the extended WSC “sky family” on any given weekend, Dan enjoys dropzone life to the fullest — in great part, according to Dan, because a great life on the dropzone also means a great life off the dropzone.
“One of the philosophies [Bo] brought in when I first started there is that we are all responsible for our thoughts, words and actions,” Dan adds, “and it really stuck. I am a loudmouth, honestly. I spout off, whether I’m having fun or if I’m angry. I just let it go. But, in thinking about being responsible for my thoughts, words and actions — well, it got me thinking, maybe I should shut up sometimes, or maybe I should chill out a little. It has helped me grow as far as becoming a better adult and family person for my lady. It goes way beyond skydiving, you see.”