Local skydiver part of record-setting team

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 20, 2011

By Joanie Morris
For the Salisbury Post
Susan Saxon is a jumper. She’s jumped from airplanes, helicopters and hot air balloons. After more than 1,400 jumps, she’s finally achieved a record.
She and 21 other women from all over the East Coast – mostly North Carolina, but a few from Pennsylvania and Florida, including several ladies Golden Knights — set the United States Parachute Association record for the biggest freefall formation comprised entirely of women.
The jump was completed June 11 at Raeford Parachute Center, where Saxon is a skydiving instructor on the weekends, and raised more than $2,000 for the Patriot Foundation. The Patriot Foundation supports families of Fort Bragg soldiers through scholarships for school, as well as childcare for spouses of active-duty military overseas who have to go back to work or school.
There was no current record for biggest ladies freefall formation before Saxon and the other ladies attempted it. To achieve the formation — which looked like a big plus sign in the sky when it was successfully completed — the team practiced “dirt dives” on the ground, choreographing what it would look like.
Among the jumpers on June 11 were jumpers with extensive experience — like Saxon — and jumpers with limited experience — only 70 or so jumps.
“With this jump and this group of women, we had varying degrees of experience,” she said.
Saxon said the formation was built to allow the more inexperienced jumpers more time to get into formation by those women jumping first. From the time the women jumped out of the plane to when they held formation, they had 60 seconds.
Once in formation, they held for five seconds to prove it was stable, then the outer ring broke off — at 5500 feet — followed by the middle ring and then the inner base ring.
To raise money, the group raffled a tandem jump donated by Piedmont Skydiving in Rowan County, and a wind tunnel experience in Raeford donated by Paraclete XP. Along with Paraclete XP and Piedmont Skydiving, other organizations that donated time and money included Raeford Parachute Center, the employees of GCS, members of the J.F. Hurley YMCA and Therapeutic Touch, LLC.
The day started with the dirt dive, and after the ladies loaded up into two separate planes — 14 in the lead plane and eight in the trail.
Once on the plane, “the hardest part was making sure everyone was in a position for success,” she said. The group jumped most of the day, and on their fourth and last attempt, were finally successful in setting the record.
For Saxon, the hardest part of the event was the planning.
“I live 2[0xbd] hours from the drop zone and work full time,” she said. “I had so much help from the women.”
During the week, the 1989 graduate of South Rowan High School works as an application developer at GCS in Salisbury, and volunteers at the J.F. Hurley YMCA. When the weekend hits, she drives the two hours to Raeford and sleeps in a camper there to join her husband in skydiving instruction.
“It’s the only way I can see my husband,” she joked. “I’ve got to go out there and jump if I want to see him.”
Saxon started jumping 10 years ago in Pennsylvania. Her boss at the time told her to get a hobby.
“He told me on Friday to come in on Monday with a suggestion,” she said.
That Monday, she told him she wanted to start skydiving. It was always something she wanted to try and at 30, she decided the time was right.
“My husband was my first jump course instructor,” she added. “That’s how we met.”
Her husband, Michael Swartz, said he wanted to ask her out earlier, but “he waited until I was off of student status because he thought that was inappropriate,” she said.
After six years together, they got married four years ago.
And of course, with their love of jumping out of airplanes, they had to incorporate it into the ceremony.
“The minister we had said he wasn’t going to leave the ground,” Saxon said. She and her husband jumped to the ceremony, landed and were married.
Now 40, Saxon doesn’t see herself slowing down and hopes that others will realize how exhilarating the sport is and get involved.
“When I started in Pennsylvania, there was this little old lady that would come and have a tandem every year on her birthday,” she recalled.
As far as she knows, that little lady is still jumping. “Never say never.”
For more information on the Patriot Foundation, visit www.patriotscholarships.com. For more information on skydiving, visit www.jumpraeford.com or www.piedmontskydiving.com.
Joanie Morris is a freelance reporter for the Salisbury Post. She can be reached at 704-797-4248 or news@salisburypost. com.