ARLINGTON, Va. — Skydivers Amy Chmelecki and Sara Curtis had run out of money. Their quest to lead 100 skydivers joining together in a heads-up formation over the skies of Illinois was in jeopardy.
They knew the record set in 2016 with 72 skydivers was ripe to be outdone, so they reached out to sponsors for assistance and on the 20th try, they set a new world record with 84 skydivers in July of 2019.
Chmelecki and Curtis arrived in Washington in late April to be honored at the National Aeronautic Association (NAA) Aviation Record Celebration.
Their record-setting jump was an amazing feat on its own, but to have a group of women lead the team was especially rare since women are underrepresented in the skydiving community.
"In the U.S. only 13% of skydivers are women," said Sara Curtis.
Curtis herself has over 15,000 jumps and her friend Chmelecki has around 19,000.
"Records are something that Sara and I are super passionate about and the evolution of skydiving is something we really love," said Chmelecki. "This particular record, a lot of people didn't think it could be done.
The average number of jumps for those on the 2019 record-setting team was 6,000.
"We were going for a 100 way," said Curtis. "But it was such challenging flying we ended up with 84 and we were really stoked to have that."
The entire jump needed to be carefully timed and choreographed. After the record has been set, skydivers had to fan out and deploy their parachutes at varying altitudes to avoid a mid-air collision.
After seventeen tries, the pair were wondering if the record would even be possible.
"Not only were we thinking that, everyone was thinking that," said Chmelecki. "So part of our job was to keep everybody motivated."
Their exploits aren't designed solely to gratify their desire to breaking records and outdo their peers. They're doing their part to show other women that skydiving is accessible and an opportunity for someone to live out their dreams.
"We want to encourage women and girls to lead bold, brave lives of their own design," said Curtis.
"I didn't realize as a young person that I could grow up and be an athlete. Even an athlete at 45 years old didn't seem possible," said Chmelecki.
Not content to take their shiny new world record and go home, the two women are already hard at work on their next skydiving project, another world record-setting attempt called 'Project 19' involving the best women skydivers from across the globe.
'Project 19' is a nod to the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing women the right to vote.
The 100th anniversary was in 2020 and that's when they planned to make the attempt but then the COVID-19 pandemic happened.
"It's a women's vertical world record. That means we'll be heads down. Upside down," said Chmelecki. "Elevate us up to 18,000 feet. Put us in five aircraft. So there's going to be 100 women and we're all going to join together in freefall and join hands."
The two are already recruiting and training a team for the jump. They've selected about 75% of the women who will be involved and plan to attempt the new record in November in Eloy, Arizona.
Clear Skies Meadery opened in March of 2020. The pandemic forced some early changes.