The first thing his dad asked when Keith came out of surgery was something you might not expect to come out of any parents mouth after a skydiving accident: “Is he going to be able to jump again?”
“I’m not the smartest guy you’ll ever meet, but I’m probably the luckiest you’ll ever meet.” Born in Chicago to two supportive parents and an older brother, Keith grew up just down the road in Oak Lawn, Illinois. He is the “adventurous one” of his family, as his mother would say, exploring the open road on two, four, and 18 wheels! Keith has created careers within IT and real estate, and enjoys giving back to his community in many ways. He has learned some tough lessons as well as faced real consequences, and discovered just how strong and supportive the skydiving community can be. Through it all, Keith has persevered to create the life he desires, even if it started on the back of a napkin!
What was there to do for a guy like Keith in middle of corn country? Camping, swimming, hiking, crafting, and riding his bike 40 miles every other day to work! As soon as he turned 16, those two wheels turned into four and Keith was off! Regardless of what he did, his parents always supported him, no matter the path he took but two lessons from his father resonated throughout his life. His father wished: 1) he had been an over-the-road truck driver and 2) invested in property at a young age to retire on.
A renaissance man of sorts, Keith was a practicing massage therapist before the age of 21 when he suddenly had 18 wheels under him and an open road ahead. As an over-the-road truck driver Keith was able to live out his fathers dream: seeing the country-side while getting paid! After his stint on the road, at the age of 24 Keith found himself on his way to Utah. Along the way he totaled his car.
“So I ended up staying there until the snow melted, and when the snow melted, I was married to the friend I went out to visit.”
His marriage ended three years later as the two realized their life goals differed too drastically to make things work. Amicably they spent the day together and had a meal before heading to the courthouse.
While in Utah, Keith was working for a fastener distributor. As his branch was isolated from the rest on the east coast, he spent countless hours on the phone with tech support learning networking and computer admin. Doubling down on his interest in IT, Keith decided to earn his certificate (certificate for what?) in a six week boot camp. Returning to Chicago in search of a job as a Network Administrator, he found himself teaching it instead! It was in this stage that Keith started his skydiving journey.
Keith was planning to come out to Skydive Chicago with a group of friends for his first skydive, however the only person who showed up was the fellow teacher who convinced him to come out in the first place. After the jump, Keith fought off the urge to jump again, for he knew it would only take one more jump until skydiving took its life changing grip upon him.
The 2001 November issue of Parachutist listed Keith’s name for the second time, announcing his new A license status. The first time was in October, just one month before, when he was featured in an article for being the first student at Skydive Chicago to jump from a helicopter at SDC Summerfest! He hasn’t missed one since.
Keith got into skydiving because he thought he’d be able to one day surprise his friend by jumping out of his airplane. But one day, even after over 1000 jumps, he underestimated the effects of a weight belt on landing. In 2006 at age 32, Keith had been making the exact same landing pattern 200 times over. Only this time, he forgot to make the required adjustments for his weight belt. A broken ankle, two broken feet, a de-gloved left knee, a broken femur, a bit-in-half tongue, a broken pelvis, a shattered C1 vertebrae, a bruised heart, and a bit of brain damage later, Keith was in the rebuilding phase. His friends helped to create wheelchair accessible space in his home while he underwent 18 months between a walker and wheelchair while going through surgeries. Devastated, Keith was forced to accept disability from his job while he recovered but he used this time to earn his associates degree and work on healing his body. As his body rebuilt itself, his brain also had quite a bit of work to do. Keith faced short-term memory loss.
It wasn’t until 2008, after a year in a neck brace and two years after his accident, that Keith finally took steps to begin jumping again. His outlook on jumping today is positive with an attitude of regular gear checks and EP’s before loading, during, and on the plane. Rarely does Keith change anything about his gear. Both his main and turn rig are identical in gear and his main audible is locked into the same altitudes no matter the jump.
Recently, for the first time in over 3,450 jumps, Keith cut away his main during deployment. Flying video, as he primarily does, his main canopy spun up, forcing him into an “earth, sky, earth, sky” sight picture. He immediately cut his main canopy away and before he could get to his other handle, his reserve was already above him providing calm and safe landing.
It can be a rare moment when a child holds onto the wisdom of a parent. In 2003, Keith purchased his first real estate property, a three-unit house in Ottawa. Fast forward to 2010, Keith is sketching on the back of a napkin his financial goals and strategy: to purchase 30 rental properties that would provide him the income and retirement he wanted. He should frame this napkin because in record time, bootstrapping along the way, Keith brought this dream to reality. As an entrepreneur, Keith also saw a need for the Skydive Chicago campground when it came to housing skydivers for large events. Working out a deal with the dropzone, Keith brought in 6 trailers at the peak of his on-site rentals. Today he owns 35 properties in Ottawa with an additional 5 units on the horizon.
Have you ever reviewed or downloaded video of your skydive from a computer in the hangar? Chances are you have and you used Keith’s in-house program to do it. Lukma is a program Keith wrote to help skydivers consolidate, store, and share video from their jump with whomever is interested. Noticing the difficulty in sharing the aerial footage taken by some with other jumpers in the group, Keith took action to provide a solution for the community. Keith is happy everyone is able to take advantage of his program and is working to spread it to other dropzones in the near future.
Skydive Chicago offers many amenities and services. Another one of these services Keith has brought us is the famous zipline over the pond. After testing it in a couple locations around the campground, it was settled that the tower would be erected and cable would be stretched between two poles, allowing skydivers to continue living it up after jumping for the day.
Of course with over two decades in the sport, Keith has some valuable wisdom to share with us. He’d like to see everyone who decides to take up skydiving and “cut away” from traditional lifestyles to be as successful as possible, so he strongly recommends having a solid plan before doing so. As he says, “The people who cut away with a plan enjoy it more.” Further more, he has this excellent question “If anyone is thinking about cutting away, are you cutting away towards skydiving, or cutting away from problems in your outside life?”
Today, Keith is a member of the FIRE (financial independence and retire early) community where he takes an active role in attending conferences, speaking, and helping others reach their goals. Outside of this, Keith is a leader in the local community when it comes to real estate investing. He offers words of advice and support to anyone who is willing to put in the work. He loves brainstorming ideas and in general helping those in the community who seek it.