Kaz Sheekey is a skydiving secret weapon. She’s stealth, humble and a true badass! Kaz hails from Emu Plains in NSW Australia (about an hour west of Sydney), but calls New York home with her husband and son. Join us as we discover how she got into the sport and what she’s up to today!
However, it was the movie Point Break that reignited her curiosity. Shortly after its release, her brother spearheaded a group of friends to do the AFF program at Sydney Skydivers and she distinctly remembers the day: January 17th, 1993.
She recalls that first jump. “The fear for me was almost crippling – especially during the ascent when climbing out and in the first few seconds after the exit. About 5 seconds after leaving, once realizing I was still alive, it was probably the most exhilarating feeling I’d ever had up until this point…one that undoubtedly changed the direction of my life.”
While Kaz waited for the rest of the group to make their first jumps, she couldn’t help but notice all the fun jumpers in awe. “I kept thinking, wow, this is their life! What an incredibly fun-filled life they live every single weekend! That cemented it for me. I wanted to be just like them! After that first jump, I spent nearly every weekend at the DZ. I didn’t want to do anything else!”
Kaz was going to college and working with Greenpeace Australia, full time. She didn’t earn a whole lot of money, but every penny earned went to skydiving. “My close girlfriends were forming a 4-way team and at the time it was a little too tough to take on that big financial commitment, so they instead asked me to be their camerawoman”, she fondly remembered. “I put a camera helmet together…Hi8 back then, and learned how to fly video! It was so awesome!” She was fortunate to have great mentoring, picked it up quickly, and made it through her first nationals without making any video busts! “It was a super fun and great experience, which then ultimately led me down the path of flying video full-time.”
“It can seem so cliche to say that time goes by fast, but it truly seems to be speeding up – especially since having a child. I am trying to add less to my plate these days and instead consciously focus on choosing more meaningful projects, including putting aside time for self-care and spending quality time with my family and the people I love.” – Kaz Sheekey
It wasn’t too long after this that a couple of jumpers in Australia shared how awesome Skydive the Ranch in New York was and that was it; Kaz’s wheels turned. She scheduled a trip after completing her studies and, one week after finishing her last exam, was on a plane to the US. “I knew former ‘Ranch-Hand’ Drew Lipinski and he was so gracious welcoming me to New York. He put me up at his parents’ house to explore New York City for a few days, then drove me up to the Ranch that next weekend. Coming from Australia to a DZ that was open 7 days a week with 3 Super Otters, a Pilatus Porter, helicopter, Cessna, pond, fun, charged New Yorkers and the beautiful Shawangunk Mountains only 10 minutes away was truly a dream. I pitched a tent and intended to stay for the summer. It’s been one long trip!”
and, during those years, wintered in Florida, India and Australia. “From 2006 to 2010 I moved to Florida for an incredible, non-skydiving work opportunity where I had the chance to co-found a non-profit organization called, “Team Gaia.” This organization was built for teens, by teens and the mission was: “to empower young people everywhere, to effect positive change in their communities and their world.”
A part of Team Gaia’s mission was to help teens produce mini-documentaries; one was nominated for an Emmy in the “Broadband” category. She recalls, “Teens joined many boards, met with mayors, helped schools to serve healthier meals, created teen groups to tackle many issues including race, gender inequality, and create ideas for coming together to effect positive change in their communities.”
Kaz ran the video and photography marketing at Hashrocket, a leading software engineering firm in Jax Beach. She was also competing in canopy piloting and fortunate to have a great amount of flexibility to travel and train with both of these positions. She moved back to New York in early 2013 with her husband and newborn son, living about an hour from the Ranch and two hours from Sky’s the Limit.
Kaz had always known she wanted a child. In 2012, the timing was well, “right-ish” she says. “I had already been competing for a while, traveled a bunch, and felt I was ready for this next step. I say “right-ish” because my partner (now husband) and I were still living in different states, so we were not exactly set up and that made it tricky for sure. I had just finished the CP competition at the Australian Nationals and, since we were traveling together for a few weeks, this seemed like a good time to try. We got lucky! So next came the shotgun wedding!”
“I’d be lying if I said being a skydiving mom was easy but, for the most part, we figure it out. For the first few years, while our son was not yet in school, I would only take military contracts if they were in Florida, so I could take him with me. I had one of my Florida besties who home schools her daughter stay in a hotel with us; she would watch my son during the day and then we would play and eat dinner together in the evenings. It was really fun and also totally exhausting. I also found another reliable babysitter in Florida who had a kid. Sometimes I would drop him off at 4:30 am – ha! She was the best! For the more local Flight-1 sports courses, we have always brought our son with us. My husband jumps on the hop and pop loads with my students, lands first, and grabs my son from me while I watch and film everyone else landing. It’s a win/win!”
Kaz goes on to tell about her son, now seven years old. “It is a little easier now as he has friends on the DZ, knows the rules and is good at sticking to them. When I get military contracts these days, he stays home with Dad. I usually only do one every 4-6 weeks. All the other times that I am home, I’m there to put him on and pick him up from the bus stop every day! I am lucky that I get to spend so much time with him in these formative years!”
Being a skydiving mom requires a lot of juggling, communication, and coordination. Kaz says, “I just can’t do all the things I like to and am personally okay with that. It is for sure a lot of work and it can be both wonderful and frustrating all within minutes of each other. But, for me, the changes are totally worth it. There’s a joy that comes with all the little moments at home with him, ones that no one else sees. It might be enjoying his belly laughs, seeing his joy as he first walks, rides a bike, kayaks, sees something he’s not seen before or when he figures something out. The conversations…the many cuddles and love you share are all amazing.”
For those in skydiving considering kids, Kaz says, “I also fully believe that you need to be honest with yourself about being okay with the lifestyle change. If you really don’t want the extra cost or changes in freedom for those years, then there should be no pressure at all to have kids. It is a very personal choice. Obviously, in this sport, there are a lot of people who decide not to go that route and I think that is wonderful too. Do what’s right for you!”
“Gosh, there are so many,” she says, smiling. “My first mentor for video in Australia was Shane Dunn (Dunny). He’s now living in Norway as a full-time BASE jumper and having the best life! Then there’s Kim Hardwick, an 8-Way Aussie National Champion that ran the club at Elderslie. She talked me through my transition to filming students.”
She goes on to list several more, including Drew Lipinski, who took her under his wing at the Ranch and introduced her
much of the culture there. “He showed me the video of the Ranch Pond Swoop meet as he was a big, competitive swooper. We went on to compete on several teams together.” And the list could never be complete without Scott Roberts, Kaz’s canopy piloting team-mate during their time together on Slipstream. Scott has been a great friend, mentor and confidante for many years, even being the officiant at Kaz’s wedding. She also lists Mark Smith, all her Highlight teammates, and the Flight 1 instructors. All have left their mark and been tremendously positive influences, each in their own way.
Kaz has such depth and breadth of knowledge in the sport that we had to ask about her memorable skydives! “Really! Sheesh – this is so hard as there have been SO many truly memorable jumps!” She spoke to us about dynamic flocking jumps with her team, Slipstream, flying together through valleys of tall cumulus clouds. She recalled her plane ride on the first round of a big competition, having to manage the anxiety with calmness, excitement, focus, meditation and appreciation for being there. “It is a feeling I wish I could bottle up!” she exclaimed.
She shared about a recent Highlight demo in Montana and said, “We ascended in a brand new Bell 505 Jet Ranger helicopter and flew around the Montana mountains for 20 minutes as we waited for the signal to drop. The crowd was then brought out to line a lush green field, but they had no idea what for. We exited with the view of the snow-capped mountains and I looked up at the helicopter, waving to my smiling teammates. Everything felt calm and just right. We flew together under canopy for a while, then navigated around tall mountains and through treetops into a small, green field where the crowds were cheering us on. This was followed by an amazing sunset, dinner, and drinks with truly great humans. The whole experience was sensational!”
and not only one of the most well-known canopy pilots in the world; she’s a mother and wife with a lust for life. “Skiing with the family is a big one in the colder months. We try to go every winter weekend that has good conditions. Our son started at 3 years old and is super fun to ski with. He finished his last day this year strong, skiing 27 miles with almost 32K vertical and a couple of double black diamonds in the mix. Not a bad family day out!”
She tries to keep a good balance between her team, Flight 1 work, photography business, self-care, and spending quality time with my family and friends. “It can seem so cliche to say that time goes by fast, but it truly seems to be speeding up – especially since having a child. I am trying to add less to my plate these days and instead consciously focus on choosing more meaningful projects, including putting aside time for self-care and spending quality time with my family and the people I love.”
Kaz shares what is on the horizon for her work and family: “On the work side of things, I still really love being an instructor for Flight-1, where I have the privilege of connecting with so many amazing people. I get a lot of satisfaction seeing skydivers increase their skills and awareness under canopy, which makes the sport safer for everyone, increases their confidence and, in turn, increases in their joy under canopy. My canopy coaching work also includes training a lot of military groups. They are so dedicated and focused and it is a real privilege to work with them. At home, I work on my newborn and family photography business, which I’ve been running for the past 7 years. I truly enjoy the connections I make with these families and especially love knowing that they will cherish these memories for their lifetime.”
Kaz continues, “The ‘next’ in skydiving is the newly formed team ‘Highlight Pro’. I have found that, out of all the things done in my life, it’s the work helping others that have been the most satisfying. Being able to use our passion for skydiving to bring light to so many important social messages such as gender and racial equality, encouraging women and girls to live bold and brave lives and encouraging all to vote in this all-important upcoming election has been incredibly rewarding. I am truly excited for this journey, look forward to where it is going and hope you can enjoy following along with us!”
To learn more about Kaz, you may follow her on her Instagram or Facebook page at @KazSheekey
Tags: CYPRES Athlete, Flight-1, Kaz Sheekey