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United States Parachute Team training in E. Palestine

July 13, 2008
A special group of men and women from all over the country have congregated at an airfield in East Palestine this month to train for a competition in Slovakia July 26-Aug. 1. The United States Parachute Team, consisting of five men and five women, have been training at Skydive Rick’s for the upcoming World Parachute Competition in Lucenec, Slovakia, in which they will compete against 22 other countries for the world title. Team members include Drew Riffle of Salem, James Hayhurst of Pittsburgh, Jimmy Drummond of Youngstown, Bill Wenger of Colorado Springs, Stu Metcalfe of Atlanta, Cheryl Stearns of Charlotte, Mery Rose of San Francisco and Elisa Tennyson, Angela Nichols and Karen Morrison all of Fort Bragg, N.C. Lindy Leach, of Charlotte, serves as team leader and Rick Kuhns, owner of Skydive Rick’s, serves as team coach. Practicing over 12 hours everyday since July 5, the team is training for the world competition that tests the parachuters’ skills in accuracy and style, according to Leach. In the accuracy discipline, the parachuter must place their heel on a 2-centimeter, electronic target roughly the size of a nickel from an altitude of 2,800-4,000 feet, according to Leach. In the style discipline, the parachuter jumps from 7,500 feet and must complete a series of six turns and loops in a race against the clock while maintaining a straight path through the air, requiring the parachuter to control the air in the space in which they are occupying while descending at over 200 miles per hour, Leach said. Chosen from the results of the national competition in Chicago in 2007, team members have had success in past competitions. Stearns and Hayhurst participated in the worlds in 1982, and both, as well as Tennyson, are multiple overall national champions. Stearns is the most decorated member of the team, though, having won two overall women’s world championships. Due to its excellent facilities that are conducive to the specified training the team needs, Skydive Rick’s is the perfect place to train, Leach said. Many of the team members have taken advantage of the scenic beauty of north East Palestine to camp out at night, while others stay at the homes of those team members who live in the area. The facilities at the airfield are so good that parachuters from other countries, including Canada, Bosnia and Romania, come to the location to train, Leach said. According to Leach, training with parachuters from other countries provides an excellent example of what the competition really means — bringing together people from all over the world in a friendly nature . “The competition is about crowning a world champion,” Leach said, “but more importantly, it is about bringing countries together in good spirit and competitiveness.” Since the activity takes so much time and practice to compete at a world-class level, most of the team members have been parachuting for over 20 years, Leach said. And even though it would seem to be a repetitive activity, the truth is quite the opposite. Each jump is different, with changes in wind and an evolution of equipment, according to Tennyson. “The challenge keeps me doing it,” she said. “The thrill; every jump is different.” Riffle echoed that sentiment. “I can’t explain the thrill,” he said. “It’s something that if you’ve never done it before, you can’t understand the exhilaration; you’re heart going boom, boom, boom.” The competitiveness helps, too, Riffle said. “It’s you against the accuracy pad; you against yourself,” he said. “Always trying to improve, always trying to be perfect. Parachuting is something that anybody can do, but to be able to get to and compete at this level, it’s a thrill to be able to say ‘I can do this pretty well and I’m better than most.’” To follow the results of the world competition, visit, where periodic updates will be posted throughout the event. Kevin Howell can be reached at


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