My name is Jeana Billings, I am on both the USA 8-Way team and the USA Female 4-Way team, plus I am also the event coordinator at Skydive Paraclete XP – a job which I took last year. I think they just created the role for me, as I was doing all of it already – bringing people there and hosting the events. They eventually just made it formal.
I got started in skydiving via tandem like a lot of people. I owned and operated two Sonic restaurants – burger and milkshake places – in Tullahoma, Tennessee. I could see parachutes every day while walking out to my car, and so I was eventually like, let’s see what is going on over there.
I met a friend in the student program, and we got bored pretty quickly with just holding hands with each other and trying to make something work without really knowing what we were doing. You know how it can be sometimes at dropzones where there isn’t a lot of coaching or guidance available, so we started researching how to get into something with a bit more structure and went from there. We ended up at Skydive Atlanta, and I remember seeing all the Rhythm posters on the wall.
Formation skydiving gave us goals and purpose, something that we could study for, and we just built on it from there. My friend and I were both business owners and used to managing schedules and creating a plan. We immediately wanted to do a 4-Way team. We had this huge three-inch binder of all our training plans and everything we were going to do.
Anyone who has tried knows exactly how hard it is to build a team, especially if you have never done 4-Way before. You also realize how valuable each training day is – trying to gather all these people together in one place. We perhaps became a bit obsessive about it and even got turned down for a couple of team slots for being ‘too aggressive’ for their training and flying style. We ended up hiring player coaches so we could work towards our goals, all the while training harder and harder and interviewing for slots. This is how I met people like John D’Annunzio and Kirk Verner, which led to Skydive Paraclete XP and ultimately our national team.
I went from Saturday and Sunday at the dropzone, then to Friday Saturday Sunday. Then it is Thursday to Sunday and Wednesday to Sunday. It got harder and harder to balance having two kids, running two businesses, and doing all the skydiving I was trying to do. I was working so hard at all of these things that I was kind of a zombie at times. I am sure many people know that feeling.
I was the managing partner of my business, and so had managers and assistants and such, but there is a contract and you cannot exactly just leave because you want to do more and more training jumps. We were pretty good about figuring out how to balance it all, but at the same time, I was looking around at the ages of everyone. I knew I needed to do something now or stop aiming for the top. The people around me in the high-level teams had already been in the sport for twenty years – or were just starting out but were in their 20s still. I can always go back to my old business, but I knew what I wanted to do.
Skydive Paraclete is a busy place, but it is not just a tandem factory. It is always about the skydivers and we are not just running people through here to make money. We try to understand people’s goals, and if the plane has to go up with just an 8-way team in it then so be it. This kind of thing is what keeps the sport growing and then it will all balance out in the end. I think this attitude is part of why we just broke the record for 8way at the US nationals – with 23 teams.
I like to think I have had some positive impact on the growth of the dropzone. My role is a lot of what I was already doing, just framed slightly differently. It is still making schedules and managing people when you are hosting events. It is just being organized – which is perhaps one of my strongest assets. We have always had events at XP, which is where I learned a lot and found opportunities, but it can always be more organized. We would like to have it that every week something is going on, and you can get whatever help and guidance you need.
You cannot get into skydiving and expect to make a career out of it, especially if your goal is to compete. You don’t know how to make it work at first, and just have to be ready to be kinda poor. Eventually, if you are in it for the right reasons and people are drawn to you, things are possible and the opportunities are there.