By Maj. Andra Higgs
4th Air Force Public Affairs
Above the shimmering horizon, skydivers jumped from nine aircraft into a perfect blue sky.
The massing formation of 181 women traveling at 120-mph to their destination17,000 feet below set not only a skydiving world record they also used the jumpto raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research.
These women, caught in a current of determination, played a super-Nova sized role in the lives of families battling the disease and keeping alive a long-held tradition of being their sister’s keeper.
“I am still surprised at how cool it is to do such a big formation of all women,” said Maj. Jennifer Wrynn, an Air Force Reserve major currently assigned as an instructor with U.S. Air Force Academy Wings of Blue Parachute Team.
Jump for the Cause brought skydivers from 31 countries together Sept. 21-27 who raised more than $900,000 for the fight against breast cancer, the most in the event’s history.
The week-long event was organized to raise funds for the City of Hope’s breast cancer research center. Sponsored by Jump for the Cause, a sky diving nonprofit organization, the event was held at the Perris Valley Skydiving Center, approximately 15 miles south of March Air Reserve Base, Calif.
“What we’re doing here is making more people aware of breast cancer,” Major Wrynn said, also a USAFA T-41 instructor pilot. “If one person gets the disease, it affects 10 other people.”
Battling on the side of those impacted by the disease were 181 warriors of the sky.
Accelerating to speeds beyond 120 mph, split-second decisions and positioning have to occur for a formation of this size. Locating the base of the formation and moving into a pre-assigned space requires sky divers to shift body positions to speed or slow their movement.
“Mentally and physically, you have to perform at your best,” Major Wrynn said. “As more people enter the formation, you can feel the tension and the force of the group from the other side as the surging tries to force apart your hold.”
The formation rehearses with practice jumps and by “dirt diving” where the formation is simulated on the ground by using sliding carts, similar to what a vehicle mechanic would use to roll under a car to accomplish repairs. The circular formation, with six legs – known as whackers – featured pink, yellow, white and blue jumpsuits.
For Major Wrynn, finding her position also meant finding the woman in the pink jumpsuit wearing a helmet with a huge pair of pink lips on the back. When the formation comes apart, it looks like the Big Bang – multicolored, shooting stars flying in all directions across the sky.
“It gives you bragging rights to be in the formation, but it is only because you have a commitment to safety,” she said. “There is no star here. Everyone has to fly their slots and no one person is successful unless we all accomplish what we set out to do.”
From All Walks of Life
Part festival, part party, part family reunion, the women in attendance, whose occupations ranged from brick layer to brain surgeons, made a colorful and sizzling fashion statement matched only by the triple-digit California desert ground temperatures. No sepia-toned dresses with fall-away soufflé-like fabric off one shoulder, but the intense shades of pink, yellow, white and blue where punctuated by undershirts like the one worn by Major Wrynn with the inscription: “Fly Like A Girl”.
Less fashionable in military fatigues, but no less committed, Jeremy Fontes, a staff sergeant with the 452nd Maintenance Squadron, jumped for the cause after Airmen in his squadron, family members and friends donated to the event in his name. He reflected upon his mother having a “scare with breast cancer” years prior.
“All I could think about when I came out of the door was I hope the parachute opens,” he said. “It’s a great cause to donate to. It was breathtaking. I told my mom and wife to work up the courage to come out and watch.”
Being selected to participate in Jump for the Cause had everything to do with a skydiver’s reputation for skill, precision and excellence. A personal invitation for each of the 200 participants, went out along with a requirement that each woman had to raise at least $3,500 for breast cancer research at the City of Hope. For Major Wrynn, considerable community support from family and friends ensured she reached that goal through fundraising events, raffles and donations.
“I think she’s crazy for jumping out of a perfectly good airplane,” said Patrick Wrynn, jokingly referring to his wife, Jennifer’s, efforts. A former Air Force U-2 pilot, he is now a commercial airline instructor pilot. The couple has two children, Avery, 6, and Tyler, 3. “I completely and totally join her in this great effort to raise money for this debilitating disease. What she’s doing is incredible and I can’t describe how happy I am that she’s able to participate.”
“The most important thing is timing – it is just critical when you’re using multiple aircraft,” said Major Wrynn, who has flown KC-135s in her career. “This experience is really about developing a whole new trust for people you work with to accomplish a goal.”