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Our community at the Wisconsin Skydiving Center is like a sky full of superstars. So we want you to meet one of them: Sport skydiver/Coach Sarah Dillman — a hometown girl who’s one of the friendliest, most nurturing humans we know.
In fact, after over two decades of working around Southern Wisconsin as a nurse, she is working at her local rural hospital, in the town where she was born and raised. She even currently lives on the street where she grew up.
Sarah has always loved aviation. She went to Space Camp in 8th grade; in high school, she took ground school to be a private pilot. She even decided to go to college in Oshkosh, just to be close enough to work at the the Experimental Aircraft Association at the same time as she was earning her nursing degree.
In the very first semester of college, Sarah visited the local dropzone — and her goals, as they often do when one falls in love, changed. In March of 1992, Sarah made her first static line skydive, then went right on to learn to skydive via that dropzone’s AFF course, pack parachutes and help out with student harness training. For the next 4 years, Sarah was mixing in as much skydiving as she could into her packed schedule as she was earning that nursing degree.
“The dropzone is just where I belonged,” Sarah muses. “I fell in love with the sport immediately. I never got the pilot license because I was too busy jumping out of the aircraft.” That wasn’t the only love she fell in, however; it wasn’t long after that Sarah married and became pregnant with her first child, and she decided to take some time off to raise her family.
Fast-forward 18 years. When that baby turned 17, he asked mom to take him skydiving for his 18th birthday. When he finally did, Sarah was thrilled to do so.
“So I’m, like, all right — where do I go?,” Sarah remembers. “I had heard about the Wisconsin Skydiving Center, so I just drove out there one afternoon with my youngest son, not even the one that wanted to go jumping. I just sniffed around the dropzone and ended up talking to Bo. I told him my story. He was, like, okay — if you want to jump solo with your son that day, I want you to go through the training. I thought about it, but decided I wasn’t going to get back into the sport, so a tandem skydive it was. Plus, I had never done a tandem because it was static line back then, at least at the DZ where I started.”
Unsurprisingly, she decided to go for it. “I figured it’d be a great one shot deal, boom, done,” she giggles. “That’s what we planned to do. Well, we went out [to WSC] and up in the plane together. My son was a champ. I have the best picture of our faces when that door opened. His expression is pure ‘oh, geez!’ and my expression is pure ‘oh, YES!” I was practically pushing him out the door.”
It was the first time in 19 years that Sarah had felt that wind. The moment she landed, she knew she was hook, line and sinker back in the sport.
“Bo was my tandem master,” she says. “It felt like he was an old friend — like family — when we landed. He gave us this big, huge hug , and asked if we were going to do it again, and I said, ‘Heck yes, I am doing it again — and again — and again!’” So she signed up for her AFF class to refresh her skills. It went mighty well.
“It was like riding a bike,” she muses. “Stable exit. Bo let me go right away. I did two 360’s, smiled, and that was it, I landed like a champ. No problem.”
“I was 19 years older than I was the last time I’d done my AFF — and a parent — so my mental state was obviously different,” she adds. “You have more fear, and you look at everything with a much more critical eye as opposed to your perspective when you’re 18. But Bo does the whole spiel on emotional management in his courses, and that was the ticket.”
These days, Sarah uses skydiving to pass on those emotional management skills to her own progeny. Both of Sarah’s adult kids have four tandems each; the third, her youngest, is 13 and plans to jump when he’s (finally!) of age.
“Flying with them is just surreal,” Sarah enthuses. “I love watching my kids climb out and the looks on their faces. Oh my God, it is so much fun. I think: Check this out! This is my kid and we are going skydiving together! This is outstanding! I mean: Nothing is as deep as freefall with your kids. You teach them to brush their teeth, you wipe their butts and change their diapers. You also take the keys away from them when they are making bad choices and learning to drive — and then they become adults and you can go skydiving with them. You experience absolute pure exhilaration and bliss, watching them enjoy and share in something you enjoy so much. Amazing.”
“Talk about nature versus nurture,” she continues, laughing. “You can’t nurture this! It has to be in their nature to want to jump out of a plane, but you know you have nurtured some kind of enthusiasm and go-get-’em attitude.” It’s because of this attitude and age that some of the younger sport jumpers at the DZ even call her “Skymomma”.
Enthusiasm and go-get-’em attitude, huh? Does that sound a little like — well — you? Well: If you’re considering the idea of making your first skydive, Sarah has some (passionate!) advice for you.
“Don’t be afraid of it!,” she begins. “It is perfectly normal to be fearful of skydiving, but don’t be afraid of the fear. Does that make sense? That’s what stops so many people. When someone says, ‘I could never do that,’ that’s not them being afraid of the skydive — that’s them being afraid of the fear. If everyone who was afraid of skydiving never made a skydive, nobody ever would have done it. We would just have a bunch of people going on about the fact that it might be a good idea but it’s too scary. You should just give it a try.”
And how do you get rid of the fear that surrounds the fear? According to Sarah: make the idea a little more familiar; a little less foreign. “Come on out and check out the dropzone first,” she advises. “Watch other people do it. You don’t have to sign up that day.”
As for Sarah — she’ll be there to greet you. Today, Sarah’s future in the sport is incredibly bright. She just got her coach rating this last summer, in fact, so she’s rated to help new jumpers find their potential and work on their challenges in the sport.
“I will jump until my body says ‘heck no, no more,’” she grins.
Want to meet Sarah Dillman? Come out to the Wisconsin Skydiving Center and meet her! She’s a bottle of sunshine and she’ll brighten up your day like you wouldn’t believe.