Listen to episode 15 featuring National and World Skydiving Champion Drew Starr

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Drew and Kelli Starr
2012 World Skydiving Champions Team USA over Dubai, UAE

Drew Starr is a four time World 8-way Formation Skydiving Champion and is the Team Captain for the U.S. Army Parachute Team’s Competition Section. 

In addition to his four World Championship victories, he is also seven time  National Champion, current World Record holder for the highest single scoring skydive, highest scoring freefall average, and highest wind tunnel average in the 8-way Formation Skydiving event. 

Drew’s prior military experience includes serving as the Noncommisioned Officer in Charge of the 82d Airborne Division’s 407th Support Battalion’s Intelligence Section and the Detainee Intelligence Team of the Combined Joint Interagency Task Force 435. 

Drew’s impressive list of consistent high-achievement manifested as a result of his strong character, forged through trial and adversity. Several times over and in many ways, his resilience was put to the test and each time he prevailed. 

The qualities I admire most in fellow competitors are resilience and heart. Drew Starr has an abundance of both. I’m proud to have served with Drew as a teammate and even more proud to call him a friend. This conversation was a special one for me and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. 

Drew coming in for a landing

U.S. Army Parachute Team, “Golden Knights” alumni 1976-2018
Drew is in the front row, 3rd from left

Episode 14 featuring Lauren Modica

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Lauren Modica, U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD

Driven. Focused. Dedicated. Disciplined. Relentless. Inspiring. These are some of the words which come to mind when describing Lauren Modica. About to begin her senior year at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, Lauren is setting herself up for a bright future with unlimited possibilities. 

Interested in aviation from a young age, Lauren attended trade school for aviation maintenance during her last two years of high school. During that time, she also attended night classes at Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology where she earned her Aviation Maintenance Powerplant license. 

Lacking the financial means to pay for the required flight hours needed to earn a Private Pilot’s license, Lauren found an alternate solution: working as an office manager and mechanic’s apprentice at Long Island Aviators flight school. After achieving her goal of becoming a Private Pilot, she then earned her instrument rating and commercial pilot certificate. 

Lauren’s decision to apply to the United States Naval Academy was largely driven by a strong sense of service influenced by her father, a New York City firefighter who was a first-responder during the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks, and her mother who worked in the medical field.

In addition to her academic obligations at the Academy, Lauren learned to skydive and became a member of the Naval Academy’s Parachute Team. Lauren has as amassed over 300 free-fall jumps and was recently selected to be the Parachute Team’s Captain for her upcoming Senior year. 

In addition to her academic and Parachute Team responsibilities, Lauren successfully completed the Marine Corps Martial Arts Instructor Course and somehow, manages to make time to consistently train for competitions as a triathlete. 

Lauren’s next big goal is to become a Marine Corps fighter pilot and I have absolutely no doubt she will become one of the best. 

Lauren (2nd from right) with members of the USNA Parachute Team
Lauren with, “A Champion’s Journey” host, Matt Davidson

Listen to episode 13 featuring Justin Blewitt

Listen Here to Episode 13!
Justin Blewitt
Flying with Team USA8/Golden Knights 8

Justin Blewitt is a four time World 8-way Formation Skydiving Champion currently serving as head Parachute Rigger on the U.S. Army Parachute Team. 

The conversation in this episode was a special one for me as Justin, also known as, “Bizz,” is one of my closest friends and is the teammate I worked closest with for the better part of ten years.

Justin’s journey has been anything but linear up until he attended Golden Knights Assessment and Selection in 2005. After college he served as a trumpet player in the Ohio Army National Guard before joining the Regular Army as a Parachute Rigger where he packed parachutes for the U.S. Army Airborne School in Ft. Benning, Georgia. 

Upon acceptance to the Golden Knights, Justin served three years on the demonstration team, traveling the country jumping in front of crowds at sporting events and airshows. In 2008, he tried out and was accepted to the Golden Knight’s 8-way Formation Skydiving Competition Team where he won eight National Championship titles, four World Championships, Two World Cups, and One World Air Games. 

In 2019 Justin retired from the competition team to take a position in the Golden Knight’s parachute maintenance facility where he currently serves as an FAA Master rated Parachute Rigger. 

The Army is hiring and the U.S. Army Parachute Team is always on the lookout for potential qualified candidates. If you have the desire to make skydiving your full-time profession, Justin tells you what the requisite qualifications are and how to apply in this episode. For more information go to: www.goarmy.com/events/golden-knights/join

Landing after a competition round in Perris Valley, CA
Giving a salute before the last round of competition over Skydive Dubai for the 2012 World parachuting Championships (photo by Juan Mayer)
Justin Blewitt with ACJ host Matt Davidson
Training for the 2010 World Parachuting Championships at the Golden Knights home dropzone in Laurinburg, NC

Episode 12 featuring Mikhail Markine

Mikhail (far left) with Arizona Airspeed 4-way Formation Skydiving Team

Mikhail Markine is a three time U.S. National 4-way Formation Skydiving Champion, World Cup Champion, and is a current member of both Arizona Airspeed and the U.S. National 8-way Formation Skydiving team. 

Several years ago, Mikhail made the difficult decision to leave a secure career with Google to relentlessly pursue his passion as a full-time Formation Skydiving Competitor, fully committing himself to accomplishing his goals of becoming National and World Champion. 

Though originally from Russia, Mikhail has been a member of the U.S. Team since 2013. Earlier this year, Mikhail earned his U.S. citizenship which he says has reinforced his great pride in representing the United States of America at World level competitions. He is currently training with Team USA to face the Russians in competition on their home turf at the 2021 World Parachuting Championships.

His success has been no accident. Ten years ago, Mikhail carefully crafted a personal vision statement and since then, has accomplished almost everything he set out to achieve. With his strong work ethic and his high level of talent, drive, determination and resilience, there’s no doubt Mikhail will attain everything he’s envisioned and more. 

Mikhail’s Personal Vision Statement written over 10 years ago.
Preparing to enter the vertical wind tunnel for a competition round.
Arizona Airspeed launching an exit over Skydive Arizona
Arizona Airspeed with Mikhail (far right)
All smiles, coming in fast!

#skydiving #adventure #motivation #inspiration #selfimprovement

Episode 11 featuring Tom Baker is available for your listening pleasure!

Tom Baker
Tom Baker performs his signature canopy piloting trick, the spectacular, “Ginger Flip.”
Tom BASE jumping with friends
Flock and Flow canopy skills course organized by Tom and his group Momentum
Tom and ACJ Podcast host, Matt Davidson hiking outside of Tucson, AZ

Tom Baker is an energetic and forward thinking skydiver, BASE jumper, professional aerial consultant and Hollywood stuntman. Tom has an infectious charisma and a positive energy which shines through in his personal interactions, in his passion for project innovation, and in his appetite for pushing the boundaries of body flight and sport parachuting.

Tom is to skydiving what Shaun White is to snowboarding. Not only does he look a lot like Shaun, but he also performs like him. Tom’s achievements include two World Records for the largest vertical skydiving formations, four Gold medals in Dynamic 4-way indoor skydiving, U.S. National Bronze and Silver medals in the Freestyle and Free Fly events, and is the creator of a mind-blowing and spectacular canopy piloting trick known as the, “Ginger Flip.”

In addition to his accolades as a body flight and canopy piloting ninja, Tomis also a passionate coach and an International Body flight Association level 4 Trainer. Most recently, Tom and his group, “Momentum,” organized an event called, “Flock and Flow,” a canopy piloting skills camp held at Skydive City in Zephyrhills, Florida which culminated in an impressive series of precisely choreographed sequences involving high-performance parachutes.

Whether he’s jumping out of planes with cars, furniture, and bombs; BASE jumping off vertical rock faces, or laying plans to jump onto and off of a retired Coast Guard light station in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, Tom has crafted a kinetically charged lifestyle of stepping off the cliffs of comfort and into the vast sea of the unknown.

ACJ Podcast Episode 10 featuring U.S. National Skydiving Champion, Jeana Billings has launched!

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Jeana Billings prepares to enter Weembi indoor skydiving tunnel in Lille, France for the 2019 Indoor World Championships
Jeana (top row, 2nd from left) with Paraclete XP8 during the 2019 U.S. National Skydiving Championships
Team U.S.A. female 4-way Formation Skydiving team in Lille, France
Jeana Billings (top row, 2nd from right) with Airspeed XP8/Team USA8 during the U.S. Indoor National Skydiving Championships at Paraclete XP Skyventure in Raeford, North Carolina

Jeana Billings made her first skydive in 2013 and has been on a mission ever since. In the relatively short time she’s been in the sport, she’s taken the Formation Skydiving competition world by storm. In 2018, she won the  U.S. National Championships in the 8-way event with her team, Paraclete XP8. In 2019, she and XP8 became World Indoor Skydiving Champions and later that year, she became U.S. National Champion, earning the right to represent the United States in the 8-way Formation Skydiving event at the 2020 World Parachuting Championships in Tanay, Russia. Most recently, she and team USA8 won the U.S. National Indoor Skydiving Championships at Paraclete XP Skyventure in Raeford, North Carolina.

As if competing in one event at an elite level wasn’t demanding enough, she also competes in the 4-way FS event. Her incredible accomplishments have made her a highly sought after Formation Skydiving coach. She fills what time remains in her busy schedule mentoring skydivers and teams of all ability levels. Jeana also adroitly balances her commitments as a full time competitive athlete and coach with being a single mother of two teenage daughters. Jeana’s intense drive, determination, and all-in level of commitment is an inspiration to us all. 

Episode 9 Featuring 2019 U.S. National 4-way Formation Skydiving Champion, Doug Barron

Doug Barron (2nd from left) with his team SDC Rhythm XP, celebrating their victory at the 2019 U.S. National Skydiving Championships

For the last ten years, the 4-way Formation Skydiving team, SDC Rhythm XP, has struggled to achieve victory at the U.S. National Skydiving Championships. A year and a half prior to competition at the 2019 U.S. Nationals, it seemed as though Rhythm’s chances for victory had slipped through their fingers once again after team member Doug Barron was involved in a catastrophic skydiving accident.

In this episode, Doug shares the incredible story of how he overcame crippling and potentially career ending injuries and went on to win Nationals Gold, earning the right to represent the United States later this year at the 2020 World Parachuting Championships in Tanay, Russia.

Doug Barron (2nd from left) with SDC Rhythm XP
Doug Barron, on left, preparing to enter the arena of competition at Paraclete XP Skyventure National Indoor Skydiving Championships in Raeford, NC

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Episode 8 Featuring Original U.S. Army Golden Knights Team Member, Jerry Bourquin

Jerry Bourquin pictured top row, 3rd from right

This past December marked the 60th anniversary of the US Army Parachute Team, “The Golden Knights.” During the team’s biennial reunion celebration, I had the great honor of spending a day and having a conversation with one of the original members of the Golden Knights, the legendary, Gerald Bourquin.

Jerry’s incredible military career includes service in the Korean War as an Engineer and in Vietnam as a Huey and Cobra helicopter pilot. Jerry is an iconic pioneer of our sport, a Champion parachutist, and an International Skydiving Museum & Hall of Fame inductee. Even more impressive than his incredible list of achievements, Jerry is a true gentleman – genuinely kind, sincere, and exceedingly humble. 

Jerry is the embodiment of an ideal soldier and teammate who, 60 years ago, set the standards of personal and professional excellence that, to this day, all members of the Golden Knights strive to achieve.

Jerry Bourquin with Golden Knights statue with names of the original team members engraved in center of statue base. Ft. Bragg, NC
ACJ podcast host, Matt Davidson with Jerry in the trophy room of the Golden Knights HQ building, Ft. Bragg, NC.
Jerry Bourquin and Matt Davidson
Jerry showing news clippings and memorabilia from his time with the Golden Knights and Team USA
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A Champion’s Journey Podcast Episode 7 Featuring Mike Mcgowan Is Live!!!

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The air is filled with excitement here at Skydive Arizona. The drop zone is buzzing with activity as teams from all across the globe finish up last minute preparations for the upcoming World Cup of Formation Skydiving and Artistic Events. During a break in training with Arizona Airspeed, I was able to sit down and have a conversation with legendary free fall photographer and videographer, Mike Mcgowan. 

Mike has been deeply involved in the sport of skydiving since he first stepped out of an airplane 55 years ago. He’s made so many meaningful contributions to the sport of skydiving that it’s hard to keep track. He helped revolutionize how skydiving competitions are judged by being the first videographer to film a team from the air, an element which is a necessary and inseparable part of our sport today.

In this episode we discuss many topics including, Mike’s service in the U.S. Navy as a parachute rigger and rescue swimmer during Viet Nam, his first free fall photography jumps with a hand-held camera, detailed descriptions of the first camera helmets and the challenges Mike had to overcome with that gear; how he better prepared himself to withstand the rigors of early free fall parachuting through his dedication to physical training and how that training helped save his life after a near brush with death; emergency procedures training; Mike’s involvement in the evolution of parachute gear as an air to air photographer and videographer for research and development, his most memorable R&D experiences; Mike’s advice for aspiring free fall photographers, his involvement in World Record free fall formations, the recent release of his book titled, “Selections,” and much more!

Mike has a uniquely beautiful perspective of our beloved sport. Shining through in every photo he takes, is a genuine love for skydiving and, to an even greater degree, for his subjects of focus, the people of the sport. For over half a century, he’s captured thousands of magical moments on film and for Mike, it really is all about living in the moment. He fondly refers to free fall as, “high speed meditation.” He’s endeared himself to hundreds, if not thousands of other skydivers by capturing their special moments of high speed meditation for all to see.

Legendary Free Fall Photography and Videography Pioneer, Mike Mcgowan
Mike under canopy at Skydive Arizona
Mike playing with his best buddy, Zeke
Mike and friends riding to altitude in a DC-3 high above Z-Hills, Florida in 1986
Mike and Willy having a laugh
Mike Mcgowan and ACJ Podcast host Matt Davidson
Joe Jennings and Rob Harris. Photo by Mike Mcgowan
Yoko. Photo by Mike Mcgowan
Mike (middle) enjoying a fun jump

A Champion’s Journey, Episode 6 has launched: World Champion Power Couple, Craig Girard and Eliana Rodriguez

Craig Girard and Eliana Rodriguez
Eliana and Craig BASE jumping off of a cliff together

I recently had the great opportunity to have a conversation with the most well known and highest achieving power couple in the sport of formation skydiving today. Together with their team, Arizona Airspeed, Craig Girard and Eliana Rodriguez have won multiple U.S. National and World Championship titles in 4-way and 8-way Formation Skydiving. 

In this podcast, Craig and Eliana reveal many valuable tools and techniques which are applicable for high achievement in any endeavor. We’ll learn about mental preparations for peak performance, focused visualization techniques, mental approaches for different competition scenarios, tricks for avoiding brain locks, how to better position yourself for opportunities, and so much more!

Before they met to become the force of nature they are today, Craig and Eliana accumulated impressive lists of individual accomplishments. Before joining Arizona Airspeed, Craig was a member of The U.S. Army Parachute Team’s, “Golden Knights,” from 1986 to 1995. He has won an incredible 18 U.S. National Championship 8-way titles, is an eight-time 4-way National Champion, five-time 8-way World Cup Champion, five-time 8-way World Champion, two-time 4-way World Champion, holds three records for the world’s largest free fall formations, has accumulated in excess of 38,000 jumps, AND is a 2012 Skydiving Hall of Fame inductee. His mind boggling list of achievements and accolades defy comprehension and are simply too numerous to continue mentioning here.

Eliana is well known not only for her contagious and illuminating smile, but also for being a shining beacon of inspiration who has blazed a path as a modern day pioneer for women across our sport. She became the first and only female competitor in Arizona Airspeed’s 25 year history AND is the first woman to win an 8-way World Championship as a formation flyer! 

Eliana started her skydiving career shortly after completing her military service in the U.S. Army. She became Women’s World Cup 4-way Champion in 2000 and hasn’t looked back. Since then, she’s become Women’s 4-way World Champion, 4-way Open class World Cup Champion, 8-way World Cup Champion, 8-way World Champion and 4-way Open class World Champion, an achievement widely regarded as the pinnacle of success in Formation Skydiving. Her incredible list of achievements doesn’t stop there. Eliana also holds World Records for three of the world’s largest free fall formations in addition to World Records for the largest free fall sequential formation, largest women’s free fall formation, and largest women’s vertical head down formation. And these are just SOME of the incredible things she’s achieved!

It is my GREAT pleasure to introduce this awesome couple! Please welcome, Craig Girard and Eliana Rodriguez.

Bodyflight Bedford Indoor 4-way Champions
Eliana jumping off the Perrine Bridge in Twin Falls, Idaho
Craig BASE jumping off the Perrine Bridge in Twin Falls, Idaho
Eliana flashing her illuminating smile and some Gold bling
Craig Girard was a member of the U.S. Army Parachute Team, “The Golden Knights,” from 1986 to 1995
8-way over Dubai, UAE
Arizona Airspeed 8 with the Russian 8-way team
Craig and Eliana in Dubai, UAE
Craig and Eliana in Egypt
U.S. National 4-way Champions, Arizona Airspeed
U.S. National 4-way Champions, Arizona Airspeed
Eliana BASE jumping
Craig with some adoring fans in Japan
Craig Girard, 2012 Skydiving Hall of Fame Inductee
Formation Skydiving Power Couple, Craig Girard and Eliana Rodriguez