Imagine barreling head-down toward Earth at speeds of 160 mph from a plane you abandoned at 19,000 feet in the sky.
Multiply that by over 100 women jumping from five aircrafts above the Arizona desert. It equals a determined team of adrenaline junkies on a mission to achieve world-record glory.
A group of female skydivers from 22 countries have set out to shatter the all-women 65-way skydiving world record set in 2016 in a celebration of women’s rights.
The latest attempt, initially put on hold in 2020 because of COVID-19, is part of the Women’s Skydiving Network’s Project 19. Organizers say it has been four years in the making.
After training at indoor facilities across the globe, the women are meeting through Saturday for several tries at setting the record for building a 100-way women’s vertical – or head-down – skydive formation.
“It was originally a women’s vertical world record to celebrate the centennial of the 19th Amendment, which was where women achieved the right to vote in the U.S.,” professional skydiver Sara Curtis said.
Curtis and Project 19 co-leader Amy Chmelecki were instrumental in securing the 2016 record in an extreme sport that includes only 14% of people identifying as women, according to the United States Parachute Association.
“Finally, we’re at that point where we’re all getting back together and doing it,” Curtis, who’s taken over 14,000 jumps and set 18 world records, told USA TODAY.
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“We kind of created this movement with women in the free-flying community to build this record that’s super challenging and really meaningful to a lot of women.”
How skydivers plan to pull off the stunt
Such a massive attempt could take up to 20 tries, Curtis said. About 120 participants are expected to take part –100 of whom will jump for the main world-record attempt alongside a team of 20 others who will be rotated in and out of the main formation based on performance and logistics, according to Chmelecki.
Vetting, planning and training have taken place in Europe, Australia and South America. Wind-tunnel training has helped the groups of women simulate skydives without needing to jump from planes and fly parachutes, said Jazmyne Kahler, a California-based travel nurse who has set over 19 state records and four at the world level.
“We were able to train the core of the formation in Abu Dhabi, having the 40 women at the center work on building a foundation that can fly strong for the rest of the record to build,” said Kahler, who has jumped more than 2,700 times over a decade.
When it forms in the sky, the 100-women formation will resemble a giant snowflake with a round center for about an 80-second drop, Curtis said.
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“Then there’s pods of people that are connected, and there’s people sticking out from that and everybody’s holding hands in a very organized way,” she said.
The teams have developed plans to emerge from the five planes, join together, build out from the core, hold the formation and separate in layers to parachute safely toward Earth, Curtis said.
“Even though we’re all experts at this, it’s very dangerous if someone does something wrong,” she said.
Jumping to inspire women
Project 19’s team says the hope is to inspire girls and women to live bold, brave lives of their own design, even if that entails something other than skydiving.
“If our skydiving inspires you to do something you’ve always wanted to do, whatever that may be – becoming a chef or a doctor, or doing some amazing project that is meaningful to you – that’s what we hope this kind of record brings to women,” Curtis said.
The underrepresentation in the sport might be because women don’t typically see themselves as skydivers, but they’re getting bolder and braver, she said.
“It’s getting women to think outside the box,” Curtis said. “We didn’t plan to become skydivers, then we realized what we could accomplish.”