The addiction began at Skydive Hastings in May of 1999. Just prior, Charles saw the Golden Knights on TV and exclaimed, “I wanna go do that”! Goal oriented, that’s exactly what he did. “I had no friends at that time to really hang out with that I was doing anything with, so I just went out and did it”. Most of us can identify with this and with what came next for Charles. “The minute I did it, I fell in love with it and started going out as much as I could afford, actually more than I could afford”.
With his parents absent, divorcing when he was 14, Charles grew up mostly as a Latchkey kid in Vicksburg Michigan. Learning by example from his older brother of what not to do.“Legally we had our sister as a guardian, but pretty much raised ourselves from that point on”. From ages 16 to 18, he and his brother moved down to Kentucky to spend time with their dad, a recruiter for the military. Between his Jr. and Sr. years of high school, Charles attended boot camp and began serving his country in the Army Reserve. “It’s hard to not be in the military when your dad is a recruiter, he actually recruited me.” On top of joining the military, he began his 20 year career installing security systems for a local company all before graduating high school.
By 1999, Charles earned his skydiving license at Skydive Hastings and quickly had his first skydive related injury. Did you tell your boss that you were skydiving? “Yeah he knew, definitely when you break your arm coming in the next day.”
“Learning to swoop, learning to be the man, I had a very progressive year.” While the today, and at Skydive Chicago, downsizing is a respected process, it wasn’t this when Charles was getting started in Michigan. “Once I got on a fast canopy and started downsizing, I downsized way too radically and got addicted to the speed of canopies. That year I learned to swoop, I downsized from the Monarch 155 at 1:1 at 200 jumps, I went to a Batwing 116, maybe 30 jumps on that and a friend introduced me to a stiletto 107 at like 250 jumps.”
“The mistake I made is once I did that first turn, you get too close to the ground and end up swooping by accident, at that point you just try to generate speed”. In 2001 I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, the canopy progression and flow and teaching we have today wasn’t around. Back then, all you saw was the original velocity advertising swooping the shit out of canopies.”
“The year I learned to swoop I crashed ass over tea kettle 6-7 times, full on knees, feet, face, the 6th jump I lost a toggle trying to swoop the building.” “The next week we were just doing hop and pops and hook turns.” And then it happened.. “I bounced myself off the ground, the initial bounce wasn’t too bad, but I hit the brakes so hard I ended shooting about 10 feet in the air, stalling, rolling over like Gumby.” Bolts in his wrists and dime sized chunks out of his gums. “Gums bleed like crazy by the way.” Taking just a week off for surgery, Charles returned for 29 jumps (27 with a fixator) and two more with a cast. “I just took some ace bandage, wrapped it up so it wasn’t a snag hazard, and let’s go.” “Cause you gotta go skydiving, because I was stupid, because I was addicted man!” But this wasn’t the real injury for Charles.. “I remember that was one of the last times I honestly cried, Shannon’s like ‘man you’ll be ok’ I’m like no you don’t understand man I can’t fucking skydive, this sucks! This is the end of the world”.
After 200 jumps, he put a camera on and was soon offered a job shooting video for tandems. “Sweet, free hook turns, and you get paid”! Being a small dropzone always in need, his tandem rating was essentially paid for, and Charles became multi-rated.
In the Spring of 2003, Charles began commuting to Skydive Chicago for weekend work until moving here full time in 2015. In that time, he had purchased and paid in full the property where his house now sits, adjacent to the hangar. Living in the campground before and during the build, he built his house with the help of a loan and “Bro deals like crazy”, along-side a lot of help from the community. “It’s great right now with the gas prices being where they are, there’s always something to do.”
Charles quickly learned the benefits of living and working on the dropzone, then quickly learned the downside. “The first year of working on the planes where you can’t just skydive all day, that was hard.” But being level headed as he is, Charles also remembers life before working on the dropzone. “It’s the same thing when you work a full time job, the hardest part about being a skydiver was that you had to wait for the weekends.” Keeping things in perspective its good to reflect on the positives. “Everyone you work with and all your friends are around you all day, so it’s kind of made up for it.” Since 2015, Charles has been working 7 days a week during season, with Mon – Fri working on airplanes, and Sat – Sun flying camera for tandems. In 2020, Charles earned his A&P, and continues his 7 day work week to this day.
In the Spring of 2020, Charles noticed minor tremors in the same hand as the wrist he broke years ago. At first he chalked it up to old and recent injuries, but after some time noticed the other hand beginning to shake as well. “There’s a lot of connections to my neck, all the jumping, you know 8,000 video jumps, hard openings, stuff like that.” After several consultations, tests, and medical trials, his general consensus lies between nerve issues in his neck, or a combination of that and essential tremors. Every day the tremors vary in severity, but are generally better with low stress and rest. He remains optimistic that a healthy lifestyle with good habits is the best medication for the undiagnosed tremors. “One of my life mottos is humor is the best medicine.” Proven while laughing at his teams jokes: “Designated paint shaker, we have a rattle can we need shaken up”. In fairness to them, I trash talk just as much as they do.”
Charles has accomplished everything he has in life because he sets goals, and achieves, sometimes way ahead of schedule. He enjoys life by staying busy, optimistic, and learning new things. Over a 20 year span, he rebuilt his old house room by room, and continuously works on his current home. This last winter, Charles became SCUBA certified, adding more incentive for his travels in the off-season. Even though he has seven seasons working full time at Skydive Chicago, this will be his busiest yet. Does he feel prepared? “Just gotta take it as it comes at you, yeah.”