Old Lyme woman part of championship UConn college skydiving team

Old Lyme — Had anyone asked Christie Kosecki if she would become a competitive skydiver three years ago, she would have said no.

In fact, she hadn’t ever imagined such a possibility until she took her first jump out of an airplane in 2017. It was only then, after hurtling through the sky at upwards of 120 mph, that she knew one jump would never be enough.

“I think it was when I was hanging under the canopy, gliding through the sky that first time, when I realized I really liked what was happening,” said the 21-year-old Kosecki, a University of Connecticut student who studies animal science in a pre-veterinary track. “It was like a total release for me. I knew I wanted to do it again.”

In the two years since, Kosecki has jumped out of a lot more airplanes.

Making her way to Ellington Airport outside Hartford on a near-weekly basis with her sky-diving club teammates at the University of Connecticut, Kosecki has already made more than 130 jumps, earned her skydiving B license — the second licensure of four that can be obtained after 50 jumps — and has mastered a variety of maneuvers to control her flights through the sky.

As one of the most competitive and skilled jumpers on the UConn skydiving team, she competes around the country in four-way skydiving competitions — in other words, Kosecki jumps from planes with three teammates and races against the clock to form prescribed geometric formations in freefall before opening their parachutes.

While competing with her UConn teammates in December,  Kosecki won a gold medal in an advanced four-way competitive category at the 2018 U.S. Parachute Association National Collegiate Parachuting Championships — an impressive feat considering that Kosecki’s team was up against several teams of military academy students who are known for their skill and precision.

The UConn team competed against the U.S. Air Force Academy, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy, among other schools from around the country.

“The (UConn) team’s accomplishment is especially remarkable as they are the only gold medalists at Collegiates who did not come from one of the military academies,” said Nancy Koreen, a spokeswoman from the United States Parachute Association.

In a video from that competition, Kosecki is seen with her teammates falling from the plane in their first prescribed formation before leveling out and launching into a series of other formations. With 35 seconds on the clock, the teammates spin each other from formation to formation, holding onto ankles, shoulders and wrists to make each come together seamlessly.

“Being able to go from one to the next takes a lot of practice and memorization,” Kosecki said, while also explaining that she and her teammates practice moving from one formation to the next in a variety of scenarios before the competition, both on the ground and in the air.

On days the team can’t jump due to weather restrictions, they’ll travel to Nashua, N.H., to practice in a wind tunnel. Or, moments before competing, they’ll lie face down on rolling boards and practice their formations in an air hangar.

“We have to know exactly the points we are grabbing each other and how to turn each other in order to complete each formation,” she said. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s also really fun.”

Moving to Old Lyme at the age of 14 after growing up in Liverpool, N.Y., Kosecki swam all four years for the Lyme-Old Lyme High School swim team and rowed for the crew team as a freshman. On the side, she rode horses. And while Kosecki said she’s always appreciated nature and being outside, she also doesn’t quite describe herself as a thrill seeker.

“I guess I always enjoyed carnival rides,” she said. “But skydiving doesn’t feel like that. You’re so high up it doesn’t feel like you’re falling. I think it was more being outside and seeing the views and nature that made me fall in love with it.”

On whether she was nervous when she first started, Kosecki said, “Yes, but I didn’t let that stop me.”

“Skydiving is safer than driving, statistically,” she continued, referring to a United States Parachuting Association 2017 statistic that of the 3.2 million jumps taken that year, there were 24 fatalities.

“There are many fail-safes in place to make sure that we are safe,” she continued.

Kosecki said she and her team regularly check their equipment to make sure parachutes are being packed correctly. She also jumps with a backup parachute and an electronic device that automatically deploys her parachute at a certain elevation if she fails to do so herself.

“I would say I was nervous for my first 20 or 30 jumps,” she said. “Eventually, though, it all becomes like second nature” — a turning point, she explained, that allowed her to take advantage of the sport for all its excitement and nuances. Those who have never taken a solo jump may not realize the sort of fine tuning that goes into controlling a free fall, she said.

“The smallest of movements can affect how you fall through the air,” she explained. "Put your left leg down ever so slightly and your body will spin left. Pull your legs back and your body will move backwards. Put your legs straight and you’ll throttle through the air a la “Mission Impossible.”

“Not much of an input is needed to change how you are moving,” she said. “It’s a very sensitive thing, so you have to be very gentle and careful.”

Keeping all that in mind when teammates jump as a group makes four-way diving even more challenging as each team member must be fully conscious of where their body is in space at any given moment. Add on the fact that each team member must focus on the next move within each successive formation and four-way skydiving becomes a tricky game in maneuverability.

“Even a difference in each other’s body weight can affect how we are falling through the air together,” said Kosecki who wears a five-pound weight belt to make her fall at the same rate as her teammates.

“It’s really the challenge of doing formations that I love,” she said. “It’s been such an exciting part of my life and I’m so glad I’ve been able to experience it.”

m.biekert@theday.com

 



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