A-493, B-2251, C-1978, USPA Conference Judge, FAA Senior Parachute
Rigger, POPS #550
I made my first parachute jump in November 1961, at the Orange
Sport Parachute Center (OSPC) in Orange, Massachusetts. I only
wanted to make one jump: I wanted to be able to shock people into
paying attention to me.
I had married young - I was the mother of seven children ranging
in age from eleven years old to 18 months of age, and I was tired
of being introduced as "Marge-and-she-has-seven-children."
I wanted to be known differently.
I guess that unknowingly made me one of the early members of the
women's liberation movement that started flourishing in the 1960s.
While I did not agree completely with some of the "Women's
Lib" philosophies, I had to agree with many of their stands
because I did face discrimination and double standards that existed
in early sport parachuting - and in work environments, as well.
In the early Sixties sport parachuting was in its infancy (and
rarely called "skydiving"). There were few experienced
jumpers and only a very few of them were women. Parachuting was
looked on as a MACHO sport that required a great deal of muscle
and strength. The image of the military paratrooper prevailed.
My first jump was so enjoyable that I made a second jump the same
day. I found that I really enjoyed it - the sensations, the quiet
under the canopy, the real sense of accomplishment.
I was doing something that only a small percentage of the people
in the world had ever done. It was very exciting. My parachuting
career had begun, though I had no idea at that time how long and
how involved I would be in sport parachuting.
I am a Charter/Life Member of Connecticut Parachutists, Inc.,
(CPI), one of the oldest and largest civilian sport parachute
clubs in the country. CPI had its beginning when a B-license former
military paratrooper and a few novice sport jumpers held an informal
preliminary meeting in November 1961, followed by another one
in December, which I attended. In the next two months newspaper
notices invited people to organizational meetings. In March 1962
the Club became recognized as a nonprofit group by the State of
Connecticut. Now I was a founding member of a sport parachute
There were 32 Charter Members, but fewer than a dozen of them
had ever made a parachute jump. On the charter date I still had
only two static-line parachute jumps because in those days OSPC
closed for four months during the winter and there was little
parachuting anywhere else in the northeast. However, the sport
of parachuting, only about five years old in this country at the
time, was getting more public attention and newspaper articles
attracted a lot of "wannabes" to the plans of a group
that had named itself Connecticut Parachutists, Inc. I went on
to spend twenty years as a CPI officer or director and am still
active in the Club in its 35th year.
Several CPI women and men members have been on past style/accuracy
and para-ski U.S. Parachute Teams. Also, veteran CPI members Randy
Thompson and John Spear have each been a National Accuracy Champion.
The 1996 Style/Accuracy Team competing at the World Meet in Hungary
in September will include long-time CPIers Marylou Laughlin, Carol
Christenson, and Carl Wilson, and new members Cheryl Stearns,
Stu Metcalfe, and Jim Hayhurst.
I studied and worked diligently over a period of six months in
1962 to meet the requirements to become an FAA-certificated Senior
Parachute Rigger in August. (There were no organized training
activities at that time to teach parachute rigging, no helpful
week-long "cram" courses ending with a rigger's ticket.)
It was most satisfying to pack the emergency "reserve"
parachutes of many of the men with whom I jumped regularly. An
early high point for me in my parachute rigging experience was
when - while serving on the staff of the 6th World Sport Parachute
Championships at OSPC in August 1962, and shortly after I had
earned my Parachute Rigger's ticket - I packed the main parachute
for Jake McLoughlin, a member of the Irish Parachute Team. Over
the years I packed hundreds of sport main rigs and also recorded
thirteen "saves" in my rigger's log book for reserves
I had packed.
In those early years some men were resentful of women in the sport,
acting as if we were trespassing into their private domain. I
was given a very good piece of advice and it has served me well,
not only in parachuting but in other activities and in my work
career: "Always act like a lady and don't expect any favors
because you are a female."
Early on, it was commonplace for me to be the only woman on a
jump load. A flight on a Cessna with three women was rare and
was humorously dubbed a "Powder Puff" lift. There were
dual standards when it came to marginal weather, particularly
because of wind conditions, with men having fewer restrictions.
Also, men and women had different competition standards, with
the men's requirements more difficult than the women's.
As more and more women came into the sport, we gradually won acceptance
and equality. And women did very well in world-level parachute
competitions. In the Sixties and Seventies, when I was competing,
most meets had separate events for men and women, even at local
and regional levels. As a result, solely because I was the only
woman competitor, I became a world champion and set a world record
in the First Annual International Parachuting/Snowshoeing Competition,
at the Winter Carnival in Manchester, New Hampshire. This "champion"
title resulted in a network television appearance on the "What's
My Line?" weekly game show broadcast live from New York City.
(Para-snowshoeing disappeared after a couple of seasons and was
replaced by para-skiing for winter events.)
Over time, my parachuting skills improved. (I am not a natural
athlete and I have to work very hard at any sport I attempt.)
I was pleased to become a skilled, safe, reasonably accurate jumper
(say, 10-30 feet from target center on demo jumps).
As more women became involved in the sport and in competition,
I realized that I had reached my limits in competitive parachuting,
but I wanted to remain actively involved with competition. After
having served as a recorder and scorekeeper in many competitions,
I began working to meet the requirements for a USPA Judge's rating.
I have been judging for over twenty years and ultimately became
and continue to be a currently rated Conference Judge. I was a
training Judge at the 1972 National Parachute Championships, but
work commitments in ensuing years kept me from spending requisite
time at another Nationals to complete final requirements for a
National Judge rating. In more than two decades of judging I have
judged style, accuracy, relative work, and para-ski meets throughout
New England. Also I have judged meets in Pennsylvania and for
three years in a row I was an invited judge at Canadian National
I encountered the same male dominance in judging as I had experienced
in parachuting. As in jumping, over the years women gained acceptance
and respect, and today there are many skilled, experienced women
who judge parachuting events at every level of competition.
When I turned age forty I was able to join a select group of predominantly
male jumpers, the "Parachutists Over Phorty Society,"
more commonly known as "POPS." I competed in POPS competitions
in Connecticut and Pennsylvania, and jumped from "Huey"
helicopters in two POPS Nationals at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
There were only a few women in POPS in the early years; now a
woman is in her second year of leading the organization as its
It was often difficult, and sometimes very discouraging, to be
a woman in the male-dominated environment of sport parachuting.
However, although slow in coming, there were rewards: Jake McLoughlin's
appreciative thanks for packing his main in sweltering weather
and during a hectic world meet; a coveted and hard-earned parachute
rigger's ticket; the thank-you from each of my "baker's dozen"
of reserve "saves"; 600 skydives; a competition trophy
here and there; recipient of a CPI Achievement Award; wonderful
friends made, some of them life-long; and I will always remember
when I was asked to spot a 9-jumper Norseman lift parachuting
into The Inn, a wonderful apres-jump gathering place with a bar
and restaurant. Everyone made safe landings on the small DZ located
far into a dense forest of tall trees on the high hills rising
above the Orange Sport Parachute Center.
I spent most of my work career in male-dominated fields. The lessons
of personal conduct that I learned and applied to sport parachuting,
I also applied to my work day. The same axiom was true for both
endeavors: I had to work harder to prove myself, less was expected
of me, rewards were there, one just had to work for them.
©Copyright 1996 by Jan Meyer.