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Born in the bosom of communism, Bo Babovic has traveled the world and has, seemingly, lived several times over. You’d never know of his incredible adventures if you didn’t specifically ask, though. To Bo, that’s just life. It ebbs; it flows. It calls; you answer. Well, nearly 25 years ago – of all places on the planet – America’s heartland called, and Bo and his belle, Alex, answered. And the rest is Wisconsin Skydiving Center history.
This is Bo’s story –
Originally from former Yugoslavia – which was communist when Bo was born, and socialist by the time he was 6 – Bo grew up in a traditional Slavic family. His dad was a truck driver and (excellent) mechanic, his mom was a homemaker, though had she come up in today’s world, Bo is sure she’d have had the freedom to explore her full potential.
Grade school was unremarkable; high school the same. Bo did “regular kid stuff – stupid stuff bored teenagers do,” which he later clarified to mean stealing cars, fighting in the street, battling teenage angst. He concluded: “It was another time.”
In his final year of high school, sunshine broke through the clouds. By happenstance, a little ad on a school bulletin board caught Bo’s eye and, like a scene in a movie, time stopped. It was only Bo and the ad for a government-subsidized skydiving course. Everything else was silent … a blur … a vacuum. And then, ACTION! Noise and mayhem again. Nearly 50 years later, Bo can relive the moment.
Bo had never heard of skydiving. Why would you need to learn how to skydive? To get out of a broken plane? He signed up. And then everything in Bo’s life changed.
All that teenage energy was absorbed by something positive and productive. He stopped being a bored kid and quit hanging out with his bored friends. And they didn’t miss him, because they were bored by his relentless talk of skydiving. Even his relationship that was headed toward marriage ended. Her parents weren’t OK with Bo skydiving, and Bo wasn’t going to clip his wings, so …
Bo’s new peer group was enriching. The skydiving kids were focused and their common ground was sacred. They challenged each other and, together, opened up new worlds of possibility. One summer, they bought a boat and scuba dived and spearfished, camping along the Adriatic coast. They went on to qualify for a government-subsidized skydiving team, attended training camps, competed at the state and national level, and started earning ratings.
Determined to put off an inevitable 9 to 5 office existence, Bo went to Belgrade to study Psychology and Sociology. It turned out to be a fruitful way to buy time. The broader education he received about humankind gave him the ability to see with new eyes. It complemented his skydiving experiences precisely, which had taught him to take people as unique and complex individuals. Bo’s school work and sky work coalesced, and his self discovery accelerated.
At that time in Yugoslavia, you were required to enter into military service at age 18. Our Bo took his time to complete his education, though, and so he was 27 before he reported for duty. Amazingly, Bo found it to be enormous fun – except for his superiors disliking the fact that he was older than they and already a skydiving instructor. The training drills, camps and survival events were interesting, educational and meaningful.
Looking back, Bo sees that it all happened at exactly the right time. It all had a purpose. Knowing now what came later, he couldn’t have scripted it any better.
Over the next few years, Bo bounced around. Merrily living nowhere in particular, going with the flow. In the same way he’d been presented with open doors and, each time he’d walked through, Bo trusted that the universe would provide what next he needed.
And then the phone rang.
A friend was working on an international project that would support the establishment of a research facility – a biosphere in Arizona that would serve as a space colonization experiment. In addition to people and other animals, the biosphere would be home to sea life: she needed a scuba diver.
Despite not speaking English, Bo said yes. He got his visa, booked a one way ticket, packed two bags, and was off to the Bahamas!
Bo boarded a most unusual boat – a 100 foot Chinese junk ship with a concrete hull – along with 11 others and set off for a six-month expedition. Few were experts in anything and there was only a high-level agenda, if any at all. There was an academic, a theatre student … all well meaning, but most less competent than he expected.
To Bo, it seemed that they might be the subject of a psychological study similar to those who were to spend two years in the dome. Could it be that they were answering the question, “What if well-intended people can innovate, iterate, improvise and adapt in order to succeed?” All these years later, Bo is still processing what exactly transpired on that boat.
For six months Bo collected and crated specimens that were then transferred to Savannah and trucked to Arizona. By the time he got off the ship, he needed time to recalibrate. He stayed with Serbian friends in Fort Lauderdale and did odd jobs – worked on a crab boat, painted houses, delivered newspapers.
A friend in Chicago called Bo to catch up. His pal was working as a tandem instructor and making decent money: “You should try it!” Bo was intrigued – he’d never heard of tandem skydiving – and it made him realize that he hadn’t skydived in a full year. Never before (and never since) had his log book been so cold.
Bo was determined to get back in the game. He pitched an idea to a dropzone owner – “float my tandem instructor training and I’ll work it off.” Both kept their ends of the bargain and, for the first time, Bo started making money (though measly) through skydiving. For a year, he lived in the hangar and ate food left in the fridge.
These were the days of Skydiving Magazine, the newspaper. Bo saw a help-wanted ad for instructors at Skydive Hawaii. In his best (broken) English, Bo wrote his resume on a yellow legal pad and sent it over land and sea. And … nothing. Months went by. Until the phone rang. They said, “You belong here, dude!”
Once again, Bo booked a one way ticket, packed two bags, and was off.
Bo spent five years in Hawaii. From the outside looking in, life was easy-breezy. House on the beach, salary in the bank, living off tips. In reality, it was incredibly challenging. With four DZs operating side-by-side and relentless wind, tension was always high.
For Bo, all of it was a gift. He achieved more personal growth, financial freedom and skydiving acumen then than at any other point in his life. He turned the beastly wind into his muse and sharpened his intuition, judgment, and reaction time. When the next phone call came in, he was at the upper echelon of the sport.
That call was from Chicago. A friend invited him to buy-in to a little dropzone in Hinckley, IL. The door opened, and Bo walked through.
Ticket. Bags. Off.
When Bo landed in Hinckley, the dropzone was barebones. They operated from a little trailer on the airfield and the gear was old … but people were eager to get involved. With charm and experience on their side, Bo and his partner convinced the bank for a loan. Within two years, they had a Twin Otter, a hangar, all new equipment, rebranded to Chicagoland and welcomed the world in.
Bo wanted to go bigger, harder, faster, but he found he was going alone. His business partner’s head wasn’t in the game, and Bo learned he needed to work on building a culture and managing a team. It wasn’t fun anymore. They both wanted out; they sold the DZ.
But not before Bo met Alex Kolacio …
Life took a wonderful left turn when Bo and Alex became a couple. For the first time, Bo had someone who was willing to dream big alongside him and together, they hatched a plan. They would take their collective life lessons and open a dropzone that encompassed everything they valued: community, collaboration, kindness, passion, fun. The vision was clear … if only they could find the right location.
They never thought their dream would take root in Wisconsin – especially after envisioning a sunny spot in the Caribbean – but nearly 25 years later they are still seizing every. single. day. Wisconsin Skydiving Center is home to two hangars, three Cessna 182s (all maintained by Bo), a stellar team (all trained by Bo), over 2,600 5-star reviews, and enormous respect from the field. Bo has taken more than 11,000 people on their first jump and has taught over 1,000 students to fly solo. Their three teenage kids grew up here and currently have no interest in skydiving at all – and that’s OK. As Bo and Alex followed their hearts, so will they.
Bo is intensely grateful for the unexpected phone calls and larger-than-life characters who have shaped his journey so far … and he looks forward to what the future holds. Never taking his philosophy hat off, Bo explains that he is grateful to lead a rich life in each of the four quadrants of existence: physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual. “Take time to look at life from different angles; make time to appreciate the essence,” he says. “In all things, enjoy the process.”
Having made over 17,000 jumps across almost 50 years, Bo has no shortage of insights from skydiving – and they are applicable to everyday life. These are Bo’s words:
“When you first learn to skydive, safety is your top priority. As you progress, what was once outside of your comfort zone becomes within it, and your experience can work against you. The laws of physics apply to everybody; do not become complacent.”
“We glorify multitasking! We’re missing the point; society is losing time. Don’t rush to grab the smaller canopy. Trust the wisdom of time. No one can become wise in a hurry.”
“People will tell you it’s senseless to pay money to be thrown from a plane – let them! They can’t know unless they do it that it’s the least senseless thing of all. When you are at the door, preparing to jump, you’re engaged. It’s only right here, right now. Pure presence. Hyper focused. There is only this.”
Bo has never been one to need time and distance to realize something is good – and you do not need more than a few minutes with Bo to realize that he is a gem of a human being. Your road to Wisconsin was long and winding, Bo, and we’re so grateful you made the journey. Blue skies!