For members of the Golden Knights 8 Way Formation Team attending winter training in Avon Park, FL this year the stakes couldn’t be higher. The month’s worth of jumps here is the kick off of a two-year campaign to secure the teams third consecutive World Championship Title. A feat no other Golden Knights team has accomplished even once in this century.
GK8 may have escaped the weather back home in North Carolina, but the hard work, dedication, and discipline were packed into the team’s suitcases even before the parachutes. There are no sandy beaches or fun filled trips to amusement parks in the near future for this team of Golden Knights. They have their eyes set on one goal and one goal alone, Training to WIN!
This training Saturday started with a 0530 wakeup for the team as members perform their morning rituals. Some start with coffee, some with a run, but all conclude with departing to the drop zone before the sun crests the horizon. They’ve spent the previous evening thinking about the day’s upcoming jumps, what they’ve done well so far, and what they can fix today. Each jump is a tremendous learning opportunity, so every effort is put forth into preparation, and no jump is wasted.
The drop zone is set up and GK8 promptly goes to work on creepers. Each move of the skydive is meticulously analyzed, repeated, and committed to memory. When it comes to competition, there are no do-over’s or ‘fun jumps’. The gear is inspected, donned, and the team rehearses the sequence one more time from the mock-up aircraft door before heading to the airplane.
The ride to altitude is silent. This is the last 20 minutes each jumper will be able to reflect on this particular sequence before performing it in real time. At this point, the skydive becomes nearly completely mental. Each jumper is walking through the complex system of moves, grips, checks, and keys he must successfully complete in order to score just one point. Then the process is repeated an average of 20 times before the skydive ends.
GK8 completes the jumps in sets of four, with short breaks in between each set so the aviators can fuel the aircraft, and the competitors can fuel their bodies. The team watches the air-to-air video and picks apart each jump frame by frame, identifying things to fix on the next set of four jumps. After the video debrief, it’s back down on the creepers to repeat the process all over again. Once the jump day is finished, it’s time to learn the new set of skydives for tomorrow’s work. Which will occupy the competitor’s minds that evening, as they ice sore elbows, backs, and necks, write notes about the days training in their binders, and begin rest to start all over at 0530 the next morning?