by Jim Bates
Rayelene (or Raye) Wilson Koontz, of Torrington, Connecticut is
a five-foot-one-inch-tall veteran skydiver, emergency room trauma
nurse, wife, working mother, US Naval Reserve officer, scuba diver,
skier, gymnast, and Sunday School teacher. She started parachuting
on New Year's Day 1973, after several weeks of watching a boyfriend
making jumps in Connecticut. At the time she was a student at
a nursing school in Waterbury -- her goal was to be a registered
nurse -- and having been athletic all her life, and seeing how
everyone at the DZ was enjoying parachuting, she decided to try
it herself. The First Jump Course instructor for Rayelene and
several other students in the same class was Ellen Jefferies,
one of the Connecticut club's earliest female instructor/jumpmasters.
Though Raye later admitted to "being paralyzed with fear
as she floated back to earth," once she landed she was determined
that she wanted to learn to be a skydiver.
Rayelene proved to be an avid and excellent student. Her several
instructors and jumpmasters agreed she was a "quick study"
when it came to absorbing instructions and performed each requirement
for advancement in a manner a notch above the average student.
Learning quickly, she progressed rapidly through the minimum five
static-line jumps and through several levels of delayed freefalls,
advancing through 30-second-delays, until "off instruction."
She wasted no time making one proficiency jump after another.
But she knew that there was a lot to still learn to become a "real
skydiver." Her athleticism would pay off for her. She had
started skiing and ballet at the age of three and later began
swimming and gymnastics. Ballet instruction, practice, and performing
went on well into her teen years, and she's still an avid downhill
Raye was told by champion accuracy competitors in her club, that
she had now joined (Connecticut Parachutists Inc., better known
as CPI), that she had better-than-average student skills in landing
close to a target. Thus motivated, she worked diligently to learn
the art of accuracy jumping (a.k.a., "precision parachuting").
At the urgings of club members, she entered local and regional
accuracy competitions, began placing well in standings, then started
winning third, second, and first places in women's categories.
Rayelene also had her eye on another competition parachuting event
--"style"; turning a "series" of turns and
loops in the quickest time and as "clean" as possible,
striving for no judge's penalties. She practiced "style"
freefall maneuvers until she ultimately learned to do "style
sets" in competitive times. Over the course of several years
she steadily moved up in women's competitive style and accuracy
standings. In the 1977 Northeast Conference ("Regionals")
Meet -- qualifying competitors for the national competition --
Rayelene placed first in Accuracy, second in Style, and first
Overall, starting a string of competition awards. Unable to compete
in 1978, she entered the 1979 Regionals and repeated her first
Conference Meet standing. She was ready for national competition.
Later in 1979 she headed for that year's US National Parachuting
Championships. In her first Nationals she won three women's bronze
medals, placing second in Accuracy and Style events, and for ranking
second Overall. In 1980 she won no medals at the Nationals, placing
fourth in Accuracy, Style, and Overall standings. Personal commitments
had cut into her training time and competition skills in the women's
events had heightened. Raye knew she had to return to extensive
training to again be a medalist.
Her determination once more paid dividends. She was a bronze medalist
in both the 1981 and 1982 US Nationals for her three third place
standings. Her champion qualities and Nationals achievements also
earned her berths on several US Parachute Teams, after that, she
retired from competition. While Raye was steadily training to
be a competition parachutist, she was also a first-jump-course
instructor and jumpmaster for CPI, the club with that she had
started her skydiving. During the six-year period of 1976-1981
she gave classroom training and was a static-line and freefall
jumpmaster for some 300 new, intermediate, and advanced students.
She became an accomplished relative work jumper and also made
club demo jumps.
Further wanting to give something back to the club that had helped
her develop as a skilled parachutist, she served a one-year term
as CPI's president during 1981. In 1988 she became an officer
in the US Naval Reserve. "I wanted," she said, "to
put my skills as a registered nurse to use for my country."
Today she is in the inactive Naval Reserve and is expecting to
be discharged soon. Also in 1988, she married a skydiver - Jim
Koontz, who has also been the parachute club's president. He is
an FAA Master Parachute Rigger and a skydiver with over 2,000
jumps. The Koontzes have a five-year-old daughter, Jessica. Rayelene
made twelve jumps before she knew she was pregnant, then postponed
parachuting until after the baby was born. "I was forty years
old and didn't want to take any chances," she said.
Also, when she turned forty she reached another plateau in sport
parachuting, membership in POPS (Parachutists Over Phorty Society),
a twenty-five-year-old organization with a worldwide membership
of over 5,000 members. It's a great social group, but POPS members
also hold well attended, hotly contested local, regional, national,
and international parachuting competitions. Many jumpers who were
dedicated, intense competitors during their twenties and thirties
continue to find the same outlets for competitive energies in
POPS meets at every level and throughout the world. Twenty-one
years and six months after her first parachute jump, Rayelene
made her 3,000th jump. Since then she has been awarded USPA's
Double Diamond Wings for 3,000 freefall skydives. To date Raye
has 3,032 jumps and is looking forward to warmer weather in New
England to get back skydiving. Now that her daughter Jessica is
five years old, Raye feels she can jump more regularly, but only
as a recreational parachutist. While the US Team trained, eight
to ten time jumps would be made daily, but her parachuting now
will be cut back to four or five times on a weekend day. With
more air time this summer she expects to earn USPA's Gold Freefall
Badge denoting 24 hours in freefall.
Rayelene Wilson Koontz, at forty-four, says her life is full.
She explains, "I love my family, I love my job, and I love
jumping out of airplanes."
She expects to keep on jumping as long as her body lets her, and
she has a goal in her future -- to be known as "that grandmother
who jumps out of airplanes."
©Copyright 1996 by Jan Meyer.