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Erin Manske is a manifest marvel. Smart, ambitious, and organized, she makes the job look easy. So, how did this Wisconsin native end up as a pivotal part of our smoothly running dropzone equation?
We had a chat with Erin to learn more about her journey to Wisconsin Skydiving Center and the exciting career developments on her horizon. Let’s get to know Erin!
Erin Manske grew up in the Madison suburb of Sun Prairie not far from Wisconsin Skydiving Center. Yet, her inaugural foray into flight happened not at WSC but, rather, while she was away at college. Though she thought the jump would be a bonding adventure with her college roommate, fate had something else in store.
“My roommate and I did our first jump right around college graduation in our college town. We wanted to celebrate our graduation and upcoming birthdays together. Little did we know, we would both move to the Madison area after college. Reunited, we then did a tandem at WSC.”
Although the skydiving bug had definitely bitten Erin, there was something else that drew her to WSC:
“The atmosphere [at WSC] was so incredible, and we just knew that WSC was the dropzone we wanted to stay at. So, we decided to take the AFF course together and learn to skydive.”
Equipped with a natural curiosity, Erin sought to learn as much as she could. She was particularly intrigued by what was happening behind the scenes. Erin explains:
“I tend to be someone that likes to do a lot of the “behind-the-scenes” work to make sure things run smoothly, and I’m also always curious about how things work. So, it started out with wanting to be helpful and, also, seeing what else I could learn at the DZ aside from skydiving. It turned out manifest was just a really natural fit. Alex [co-owner of WSC] and I work really well together. It’s fun to combine our strengths to make things run as smoothly as possible.”
So, what appeals to Erin most about working at Wisconsin Skydiving Center? For her, it comes down to culture.
“I think that each dropzone is different, and what keeps me coming back to WSC is the culture. It is a place where it is really easy to be yourself and to just come as you are and feel accepted. Being able to be a part of that culture, while at the same time feeling that there is a space where I can be helpful and use my skill set, it feels really nice.”
Not everyone is cut out for the rigors of working manifest. As Erin aptly describes, one of the most challenging aspects of working manifest is maintaining external composure while, beneath the surface, there’s a whirlwind taking place.
“[Manifest is] really fast-paced. I think of it like a duck swimming. On the surface, you have to have everything look and feel really smooth–like a duck gliding along the lake– for everybody else. You want everything to be as smooth as possible for the instructors, for the students, for everybody there who is having a day they will remember for the rest of their lives. But, behind the scenes, you are paddling your feet so hard and juggling so many different things.
It’s sort of like solving a puzzle all the time–except you don’t know what the pieces are or what the picture is supposed to be. So, you’re just constantly trying to manipulate all the different pieces to make everything work while making sure everyone has what they need. It’s a fun challenge.”
Although manifest is an undeniably difficult position, as a person with a penchant for puzzle-solving–she shared in our interview that she’s the type who times herself solving Rubik’s cubes– Erin is perfectly suited to the challenge.
While admittedly enamored by the consistent enigma of manifest, there’s something else that makes the position so rewarding for Erin:
“I do love the puzzle aspect, and I love to work through it. But, my favorite part is when tandem students come back from their first jump and come to say thank you. There is just nothing like a first-time skydive smile walking at you. It is the best feeling in the whole world. You know it’s a day they will remember forever. And, you remember all of the things you felt during your first skydive. I get to feel that 35 times a day, and I love that energy.”
So, what sage advice does Erin have for others interested in working in the controlled chaos of a skydiving center?
With a lighthearted laugh, Erin says “drink water.”
She also shares that it’s important to “Come as you are. I think [the drop zone] can be an initially intimidating place. Everyone is so cool and doing something that is so scary with ease. But, no one is judging because everyone has been there before. You are welcome to be yourself. But also…[remember to] drink water!”
Outside of the skydiving realm, Erin owns a software company that has found a way to solve the problems of a uniquely creative target market.
“I’m coming up on my thirteenth year of coaching competitive dance. One thing that has always been a challenge in the dance world is providing analytics and statistics and quantifying success in the same way that other sports are able to quantify success with their statistics. Typically, dance has been this subjective, artistic world. But, that doesn’t lend itself well to when you’re trying to work with young people and explaining where they are and how decisions get made. So, I wanted to figure out some type of software that I could use to coach my teams better and to give my dancers a sense of transparency in how the sport works and how to get better. [I wanted] to give them a platform to empower their own future, decide where they want to go, and have the tools they need to get there.”
“My non-dance background is in research and data analytics. I figured I could marry my data background with my coaching needs so I built a program for myself to use on my own team. A few years went by and then other teams in the area began asking if they would be able to purchase it and this is kind of how the business was born.”
Within just a year, Erin’s software application has gone from a primarily local asset to being employed by school districts in five states for their respective dance teams.
This past year was a particularly special year for Erin. It brought substantial growth within her software company and also brought an impressive national nomination for Coach of The Year.
Without a doubt, it’s an honor well deserved.
Erin’s contributions to dance have been numerous. The first was the development of the coaching and training app we mentioned above. Prior to the creation of the application, there was no platform for coaches to use data to make coaching decisions.
Her second contribution was the egalitarian method with which she chooses and empowers her team leaders. Erin explains:
“We have never used team captains. Instead, I invite anyone that wants to be a leader to come be on a leadership team to learn about themselves and their leadership style. This has opened the doors for the kids to do a lot of things post-high school that aren’t typically available to them.”
In addition to these impressive contributions, another element that set Erin’s team apart was an out-front, anti-racist approach to the dance program. She elaborates:
“We’ve done a lot of work with our rules and our handbook and the way we think about fairness and inclusivity. It was a model that a lot of teams looked to as a way to help improve their programs.”
Though the two realms of skydiving and competitive dance may seem different, Erin sees clear parallels between the two.
When people come back from their first skydive they are so proud, excited, and so optimistic about their lives. People come down and they are like “That was life-changing. There’s nothing like it. I didn’t think I could do it!”
Well, that’s the same reaction that you want to see from teenagers when they are facing something scary or when they are offered an opportunity, and they are not sure if they are good enough. I like that aspect of coaching: when they do accomplish something that is challenging or scary, it is that same look in their eyes, like “I can do scary things. I’m okay, and I’m happy.” No matter if it’s a teenager I’m working with or someone at the dropzone, that [reaction] gives me the best feeling.
In both of her positions, regardless of how different they may seem, Erin gives her best, and we are thankful she is a part of the WSC family.
Don’t forget: the next time you are at the drop zone, be sure to stop in and flash that “I just skydived smile” to our very own Erin Manske, the Manifest Marvel!
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