ELOY, Ariz — When you jump out of a plane with nothing but a parachute strapped to your back it brings you to a place of pure presence. With that presence and the wind whipping against your face as you fly through the sky comes the feeling of freedom.
At least, that’s what skydiving feels like for Amy Chmelecki and Melanie Curtis. Both are highly experienced skydivers with 30,000 jumps between them, and they are also the co-captains of the elite, all-female skydiving team, Highlight.
Their passion for jumping out of planes came at a young age. For Melanie, her love of skydiving started at home. She comes from an aviation family that had its own drop zone in their backyard.
For Amy, the thrill of hearing about two women skydivers stuck with her until she was 18 years old (the legal age to skydive in the U.S.) and made her first jump. And she never looked back.
Despite their passion and experience, being a woman in skydiving means being in the minority.
“There's only 13 percent of women in skydiving and part of our goal with Highlight is to be those representatives to show women to lead by example, and actually model what's possible for other people,” said Melanie.
In August of 2020, the two women recruited fellow female skydivers to join them in a jump that would make them those representatives. The jump commemorated the centennial anniversary of the ratification of the 20th Amendment, the amendment that gave women the right vote in the U.S.
“If we think about using our voice to incite and motivate social change, we have the medium of skydiving and we're now using it to carry messages that are intended to build on what the suffragists did,” said Melanie.
After that jump, they wanted to do more to get their message out. The team solidified from there and now consists of 13 of the top women in skydiving who have more than 133,000 jumps between them.
“It's a wonderful team because of that experience level," Amy said. "Each girl on the team can just show up and be ready to do a good job. There's no ego involved. It's a beautiful team."
Their mission also became clear: inspire other women and girls to live bold, brave lives of their own design.
The team is carrying that mission into 2021 and beyond. They are looking to partner with like-minded organizations and grow their social media presence. They’ve also partnered with Athletes Unlimited.
“Athletes Unlimited, is one of our key partners, because what they're doing is they're elevating fringe women's sports into mainstream media channels," Melanie said. "They also are in the conversation around pay equity, and representation. So, Athletes Unlimited, is working with the bigger channels to get more women represented."
They are also conducting a training camp in Eloy, Arizona May 13-16. Arizona is home to several team members, including Amy, but it’s also an ideal location for skydiving in general.
“Arizona in general is such an amazing place to go skydiving because the weather is always good," Amy said. "The skies are always blue. It's always warm and nice. It's just it is the perfect place to go skydiving."
If you’d like to try skydiving, the women say just Google “United States Parachute Association drop zone.” The USPA will connect you with skydiving schools, clubs and centers affiliated with the USPA and that uphold USPA’s safety standards near you.
And if you’re afraid to skydive, you’re in good company. Both women say there is still some fear associated with their jumps.
“Lots of different things in life call us to cultivate the skill set of how do we move through our fear? How do we know when it's trying to keep us safe versus keeping us small? For me, skydiving was such a guide," Melanie said. "And when you land and you have done this thing that you [thought] you could never do, it's not that it's this, fluffy, oh, you can do anything. It's more that when my fear tells me I can't do something, I have to at least question whether that's true or not. And that has supported my entire life and even supports our project with Highlight today."
For more of Amy and Melanie’s interview check out our video on YouTube.