The Rookiefest Experience

New solo skydiver? Curious about Rookiefest? Man, have we got the expert for you. Her name is Ellen Jones, and we absolutely love her.

Ellen is a hometown superstar in our eyes! She got started skydiving right here at Skydive Chicago before moving to her current base in El Paso, Texas. It was a long time coming: she came to do her first tandem here one year, then a second tandem the year after that — and, after her third tandem the following year, she went all-in and got her USPA A-license through the AFF solo skydiving program here. We couldn’t be prouder of her!

Ellen Jones | Skydive Chicago

It was during that AFF program that Ellen experienced her first Rookiefest — albeit secondhand.

“I knew I wanted to go [to Rookiefest] when I started getting my A license,” she remembers. “They had Rookiefest when I was almost finished learning to skydive. I had 24 jumps instead of the 25 required to graduate, so I didn’t quite make it that year. Even though I wasn’t able to go that first year, you learn a lot just sort of watching, because Rookiefest is full of all these classes in-between the jumps; seminars full of different tips you can use to help control your body. I knew even then that I really wanted to go, so the next year there I was.”

Technically, Rookiefest is a 3-way, scrambles-style RW competition. That said: it’s certainly not all about the win. By her own insistence, Ellen is not much of a competitor. 

“Winning has never been something important to me,” she notes. “The main thing that drew me into it was the learning aspect — and meeting other people in the sport. It absolutely delivered. The event was really cool because people from all over the place came in, not just from Skydive Chicago. Everybody coming together for the sport and everybody being at the same level and learning together was a lot of fun.”

That community spirit really came into its own in the very busy, very instructional moments each group spent with their mentors preparing for the jumps and learning the routines together. According to Ellen, those were the most memorable moments of the event, much of which was due to some seriously top-notch coaching.

“They’re really advanced, competition award-winning skydivers from SDC Rhythm and SDC Core,” Ellen says. “Greg and I flew with JaNette Lefkowitz from SDC Rhythm and she deserves a shout-out for being such an awesome coach and teacher. Before the dive, when she was talking us through the flow, if we missed a point she’d just tell us ‘it’s alright, just don’t stop moving, get to the next point,’ driving home that if we missed a point, we shouldn’t sweat it. During the skydive, I kept hearing her voice in my head saying ‘stay calm, keep moving.’ It really helped.”

The Rookiefest Experience | Skydive Chicago

“Everybody was doing the same five routines,” she remembers, “and you’re meant to cycle through from one to the next. It was basically 3 people: me, another rookie, and the coach, all working together to accomplish a goal.”

“JaNette first talked us through this is the routine we are going to do,” she continues. “We went through some really great skills. We went over the details of some important skills that I had never thought about doing before since I am a new skydiver. I mean: I’ve done dive flows with three or four people, but they were never very efficient. Talking through the process of becoming efficient and getting as many points as possible was interesting. And learning how to fly your body with another person was really cool.”

That first Rookiefest jump went brilliantly for Ellen’s group. From the initial dive flow planning, the briefing in the plane, the exit, the jump, and the landing, nothing felt like a surprise. When the group landed, they were all glowing at how well it went.

“That was a really cool feeling to walk up to Greg, my partner, and give him a huge high five,” she grins. “And to just be, like, ‘That was awesome. Let’s fly again sometime.’”

It wasn’t just one-time awesomeness, either. Ellen says that she noticeably grew her confidence as an athlete from her Rookiefest experience.

“I knew I was a good skydiver, but it was a solidifying moment,” she explains. “Y’know what? I am new, but I am, y’know, kind of decent! And I got to meet lots of other people and get to be together with them in that sort of growth context. There is something very special about that.”

The thing that Ellen really wants to impress upon possibly-maybe Rookiefest participants is simple: do it. Don’t be dissuaded!

“If you are the type of person that doesn’t like to compete,” she insists, “don’t think of it as a competition. It is not! Rookiefest is about pitting your best self against your best self. The groups change on every jump, so it’s jump-dependent in terms of how well you do, anyway. Don’t let it make you nervous. It’s not so much a competition as it is a friendly time to learn.”

The Rookiefest Experience | Skydive Chicago

‘Friendly’ is, she goes on, basically at the heart of the matter.

“Everybody at Skydive Chicago is so welcoming,” Ellen smiles. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from. It’s not a locals-only vibe. You’re going to find people to jump with. There’s a whole ‘A-license club’ at SDC where you basically show up to a designated corner of one of the packing mats and there will be a group of people there wanting to jump together. The community [at Skydive Chicago] is amazing! I miss everybody so much.”

We miss you too, girl! Ellen’s up to 90 jumps now, and we’re stoked to celebrate her 100th (albeit long-distance) when she makes that milestone very soon — and we’ve got a space saved her in our hearts, at the party, and on the packing mat for Summerfest. Just sayin’!

Join us for Rookiefest 2019!  August 31 – September 2

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