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Christa Cross and her story

A staple at Skydive Chicago for over 20 years, you have almost certainly been loaded onto a plane by Christa Cross. If you jumped here twelve years ago you might have even done a tandem with her. But let’s dive into the story behind this incredible woman! Everything from flying in the base for 300 ways, to providing security for Justin Bieber, to living on an island with a motorcycle group, to organizing Culver’s ice cream events for charity is included.

So let us start at the beginning. Christa was born in 1957 to a little town in Germany called Esen. After the war in Germany the first six years of schooling were cut in half, so students were done with high school at 14 years old. Christa then went to business college where she graduated when she was only 16. At this point she started making money and branching out on her own, while still living with her mother who encouraged her to get out of the house. After failing to return home for curfew too many times, however, her mom locked the door upon returning home and she knew it was time to go. So her and her friend went to an island in Germany called Helgoland where they stayed with a chapter of an American motorcycle group! The normally intimidating group members acted as protectors and big brothers for her an her friend and so they stayed for almost a whole year.

After her year on the island Christa continued to bounce around staying with friends when she met an American guy who was stationed in Germany. When she was 20 years old, they were married. The Army moved her now husband, Tim, back to the United States and three months later Christa followed to Carlisle, Pennsylvania where Tim was attending the Army War College. Christa took classes for nursing and upon graduation, they moved to Dayton, Ohio where Tim worked as an electrical engineer and Christa as a nurse in a doctors office. When she was 23, Christa and Tim got divorced but are still good friends who talk regularly.

A few years later, a hand surgeon Christa worked with named Dan Ebert, started talking about being a skydiver. Christa bothered him so much about skydiving after that point that he told her where he went to jump and she showed up one Saturday. She immediately took the class to get her license which was a static line progression and failed miserably! She told the instructors she did poorly and they didn’t believe her so they filmed it, in those days with giant film equipment, and they agreed she did fail so they switched her to AFF. This worked for her because she had more time in the air to think. She graduated from AFF after 7-10 jumps, and was supposed to jump with coaches until she had the required 25 jumps. But, at that time in the relatively new sport, “Nobody went with coaches. We all just jumped with one another and hoped we were all landing safe.” Christa remembers one jump in particular:

“We got out [her and another jumper]. We both had about 12 jumps and I saw her wayyy over by a cloud and thought ‘Oh! There she is! But how am I going to get over there?’ There was no way we were close to each other even though we exited at the time time.”

When she got her license in 1992, Christa was hooked and was at the dropzone every weekend, staying Friday night to Sunday with only outhouses for bathrooms, no water, and camping. “It was just this big family, like at Skydive Chicago. Same thing. That’s what we did!”

In 1999 Christa then decided with a good friend Donna and a guy named Magic to drive down in their van to Skydive Sebastian to watch USPA Nationals! She ended up being on a pick-up ten way FS team that placed fifth, apparently throwing a wrench into the plans of number of teams Roger Nelson had mapped out ahead of the event and solidifying their team name of Wrench. This event is where she met Skydive Chicago’s world champion 10-way team Skydive Chicago STL. The SDC team had so much fun and was so crazy, hilarious, and inclusive Christa knew she had to check out the dropzone soon!

So in October 1999 Christa arrived at SDC for a 4 or 8 way scrambles event. Roger and his team were so naturally friendly that right away she was included in everything including being invited to a house party with her friend immediately. “It was such a cool thing. They just took you along and that’s how they were at Sebastian too. It was great.” At the scramble event Chuck Finley also invited Christa to try out for the 300 person World Record slated for the next year. She remembers thinking “Me?? From a little dinky dropzone in Ohio??”

Christa had specifically been invited to try out for the base team, which Norge Roi took over leading after month. Christa was expected to be at the dropzone every weekend, rain, snow, or shine; winter, summer, or spring and she was! Driving from Ohio each weekend the six-way base trained together for nine months. During the winter there were many weekends they didn’t jump, but they talked and analyzed and told stories. 

“Everything was a learning tool. Sometimes someone taught a packing class, or sat around the bonfire and chatted. You learn things when you are just hanging out at the dropzone. For Skydive Chicago now it’s a little different because it’s big so people just scatter, but for us, us six were always together talking, sitting, having breakfast, that’s why I had to be there every weekend it didn’t matter.”

Christa’s team even gave her a walkie talkie so they could always keep track of her when she was at the dropzone and went wandering off.

Betty Bennet, current jumper at Skydive Chicago, was one of Christa’s biggest helpers during this time. There was one night both Betty and Christa were so frozen over the winter in the bunk house they went to Cracker Barrel and pulled a table over in front of the fireplace to defrost. Then during the summer of 2000 Betty told Christa she could stay in her trailer and they could be roommates. Betty encouraged Christa during moments of doubt- “Christa you drive from Ohio every weekend and they see your determination.” Christa explained Betty is a big reason why she survived that summer. “That woman is awesome. Do you know how many world records she has? Do you know what she has done in swimming and diving? You think I’m determined… she is amazing.”

Christa stuck it out and was accepted to the base for the 300 way world record attempts. World records twenty years ago were not what they were today and many people were invited while vetting of skill or experience was not as stringent. There was unfortunately a fatality and so the World Record attempts were discontinued the rest of that event before a record was obtained. When asked how Christa processed death and tragedy in the sport she said:

“I cannot go home because then I will break down, but if I keep busy… I always keep busy when things happen. I understand people take it differently, I just get busy I guess. I remember when it [a different particularly hard fatality of a friend] happened and I went to a friend and we just, you know, we both are really really really hurt but you give each other the help and just keep going and support each other. I have goosebumps right now thinking about this… that person did what they wanted to do… It was a tough a** day. Any death is just a tough a** day but you just have to move on. It is what it is.”

At this point by November 2000, Christa had been driving to Skydive Chicago every weekend for a whole year and she knew she had to move there. When the record was cancelled she partied all night long and was at the pond all night long pondering her life, thinking about what she was going to do because she knew she couldn’t live in Ohio anymore. But she also had a boyfriend of eight years in Ohio. So she sat at the pond and drank until the sun came up and she decided she was moving here. She went home to Ohio and her boyfriend, who she is still friends with, knew Christa was gone. It was the best thing she could do to further herself in skydiving. So with her dog, her computer, and suitcase, Christa moved into Betty’s trailer at SDC! 

Over the next 22 years Christa did every job at Skydive Chicago except AFP Instructor, Airplane Mechanic, and Owner. The first ten years she spent most of her time on grounds crew and doing tandems. She got a trailer at some point and then her friends decided she needed a bigger trailer, so one even bought it for her as long as she paid him back. “I did pay him back. Every last penny. But those are the friends I have. Awesome friends. Best friends I could imagine.”

After you live on a dropzone for ten years though, it is time for a break. Christa was experiencing bullying and harassment from another person on the dropzone that many witnessed but no one helped her with. “That’s why I will stand up to you if you bully this [gesturing to a nearby plant] fricking plant, I will stand up for it. That’s why I’m so outspoken because I can’t stand bullying.” So Christa put in her resignation notice at SDC and moved out a couple weeks later. 

“Anywhere you are for 10 years is tough and skydiving is because its family…even if there is someone on the dropzone you don’t like they are still part of your family… so now we [the bully and I] are old friends and if he falls on hard times or I fall on hard times we are there.”

Christa worked in Bloomington, Indiana for two years as a nurse and took some classes, while she also continued to do tandems for Start Skydiving on the weekends and took on a job doing security for Indiana University. Over the past ten years this has included many Indiana University football and basketball games as well as security for Snoop Dog, Mick Jagger, Elton John, Justin Bieber, Snow Patrol, Blink 182, and so many others. After two years though many of Christa’s friends had graduated and were moving away to different locations, so she had to decide where she wanted to go next. Since she knew on a dropzone she could always find work and a friends’ apartment was conveniently available in Marseilles, she came back to Skydive Chicago. She could have gone to Ohio to work at Start Skydiving, but it was not the same as Skydive Chicago. 

About eight years ago at a little over 4000 jumps, Christa decided to stop jumping due to a few factors, many revolving around serious injuries she sustained during a premature opening at the conclusion of a coach jump in Eloy. The risers hit Christa in the back of her head causing brain injury, her elbow broke two of her ribs, and she tore several muscle groups on the right back side of her body. 

“I passed out [in the sky] and I remember landing right in front of the hanger. How I landed there, I don’t know. I gathered up my stuff… I tried to walk to my bunkhouse, but halfway there I couldn’t walk anymore and sat down and just held my arm across my chest. People were thinking I was having a heart attack. It was a nightmare.”

Will she ever jump again? “I will never jump again- not even a tandem. I’ve done so much. If I feel one day I want to make a jump, I would have ten people that would go with me as a coach… but if I do one jump a year it makes me dangerous and I’ve been around for too long I know that. That wouldn’t be safe, not for me.”

So what does Christa do now? Outside of working as a staple weekend loader at Skydive Chicago, Christa still works security, does medical billing and coding, drives for Door Dash every once in a while, provides a shuttle service to and from Chicago airports, and also manages Air BnBs. “People always laugh at me because I have like 5 jobs, but you know.”

Last questions…

What characteristics do you see in a successful career skydiver?

“Determination. Listen to people in general. Because there is always someone that knows more than you. Don’t know everything. Be humble. You can’t know everything. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Don’t be stagnant. Keep going.”

How did you bounce back after making mistakes?

“You have to sit down and evaluate. Every mistake teaches you something. If it beats you down then you are not made for this. So I sat down and I learned. Ask questions. I’ve had several things that they grounded me for… Really sit down and figure out what you’ve done and what the mistake was. Ask questions.”

How to stay safe in one of the busiest seasons in SDC history?

“Know the people you are jumping with. Talk to each other. If you meet a new person, talk to them before you jump with them first. Don’t be afraid to sit down too. If JRuss sits down, then Joe Blow who just got off student status should maybe sit down. But Joe Blow doesn’t always know that. So talk to people more experienced and ask what they think.”

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