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Who doesn’t love inspiring skydiving stories?
When I talk to Jake Lumsden, he’s on the ground – but he’s looking skyward. Wisconsin is cruising to the end of another long winter (which the Wisconsin Skydiving Center wisely waits out from November 1st to the end of March), but it’s a balmy 40 degrees on the ground on this particular day, and Jake wishes the props were turning. After all, he truly loves introducing new jumpers to skydiving – the sport that found him when he was in a nosedive and turned his life completely around. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Jake used skydiving to rocketship out of a gnarly life situation and into the big, blue sky.
Born and raised in Janesville, Wisconsin, Jake was only 10 years old when his mom got sick. She was soon diagnosed with Leiomyosarcoma, a rare liver cancer. When Jake was 13, she passed away. “That was kind of a critical time,” Jake says. “I was still trying to figure myself out. When it happened, I went into a depression, which is pretty understandable, and I was really confused.”
As time went on and he ventured on into high school, Jake’s situation continued deteriorating. He started hanging out with the wrong crowd – ”going down a dark road,” as he puts it. “My dad saw what was going on,” he remembers. “He knew I really wanted to fly airplanes, that it was my dream to be a pilot. My uncle has a little C-180, so my dad asked my uncle to take me on a plane ride, hoping that it might get me on the right track; that it would give me something to focus on.”
As it turns out, Jake’s dad’s idea was so inspired, it would turn Jake’s life into one of the most amazing skydiving stories. When Jake was 16 years old, he and his uncle were flying from Janesville to Madison. As the pair were flying over Fort Atkinson, they heard someone call ‘jumpers away’ over the radio. Jake’s uncle explained to him that they were talking about skydivers leaving an airplane, and decided to bring Jake down to check it out. They landed at the dropzone airfield – ours, which was called Atmosphair at the time – and Jake found his ticket out of purgatory. He was wowed.
“It was such a cool environment,” Jake remembers. “Everyone was so friendly, and the place had a really cool feeling to it. I knew right away I wanted to try it.” He muses, “I still remember walking in. Every single person was so inviting. The people there were people I still know now, which is cool. Every single question I had was answered – but not answered like they had to answer it; answered with enthusiasm, because they were passionate about it and excited to talk about it.”
Jake and his uncle spent a couple of hours there, just watching people jump and soaking up the vibe. When Jake got home, he couldn’t wait to tell his dad all about it. “I went right to him and said, hey – there’s this thing called a dropzone, and we went to it. It’s where people jump, and I really want to try it,” Jake smiles. “My dad said, okay. Get your grades up and I’ll pay for a jump for you. If you can get things together, it’s on me.”
At the time, the rules for tandem skydiving were different. Back then, you could make a tandem jump if you were under 18, you just had to have your parents sign off. (That’s in the past now, but that’s how it was then.) But even with that hurdle absent, Jake had a steep road ahead of him to take his dad up on his offer. At the time, he was scraping by with Cs and Ds.
“On standardized tests, I scored really high, so my teachers all saw the potential,” Jake explains, “but I didn’t apply myself. I didn’t care. I was mad at the world. I was mad because I’d been handed a really really bad hand of cards. But I had to get past that to get that jump.” It took a while, but Jake did get those grades up, and his dad came through on his promise. Jake made his first skydive when he was 17.
“It wasn’t until after I did the jump that the real change started happening,” Jake explains. “When I first got it in my head to skydive, I didn’t really know what I was signing up for. But when we landed from that first jump, I just knew I’d be doing it for the rest of my life. I knew that for a fact.”
Jake realized that, if he was going to continue, it was going to be on his own dime. Thus motivated, he applied to “tons and tons of jobs” until he got one. He knuckled down and worked until he made enough money to complete the AFF program (here at the Wisconsin Skydiving Center, naturally).
“That was the crucial turning point,” Jake enthuses. “There’s always that fork in the road where you can choose a way to go, and that was mine. I surrounded myself with people who were full of motivation and passion. I cut off the friends that were dragging me down and pulling me into trouble. I started spending all my time with motivated people who shared a common goal with me – people of all different walks of life. Skydiving opened me up to the idea that life’s really awesome, and there’s so much potential out there. In lots of ways, skydiving saved me, and I want to share that with as many people as I can.”
These days, Jake is a skydiving tandem instructor, as well as a coach for experienced skydivers looking to improve their skills. During the wintertime and when his schedule generally permits, he also he likes to get a few BASE jumps in here and there. There are plenty of antennas around, after all (and several buildings under construction in farther-flung Chicago). He’s also an accomplished day trader. In general, he’s a cheerful, clever, gregarious gentleman with the air of someone who has it figured out. We couldn’t be prouder of him – or happier to have him on our team.
“I think everyone should skydive at least once,” he grins. “Nobody regrets it. Nobody.”