There’s no doubt you’ll recognize our next team member as he has become the face of Skydive Chicago! AJ Johnson hails from southern California and relocated to Chicago where he found his new passion for skydiving. Not long after being introduced to Skydive Chicago, he fell in love and pursued it as a career using his prior entrepreneurial skills. Today AJ is the Events and Marketing Coordinator here at Skydive Chicago and we take a moment to get to know this enthusiastic character we’ve come to know and love!
Section I: Personal Questions
Give us the skinny. How old are you, where are you from and how did you end up at Skydive Chicago?
I’m 40(muffled numbers) and three days old. Taurus. Born on the cusp. I am from a town in Michigan called, Jackson. My family now lives in Brooklyn, Michigan. I went home to visit my family one weekend and decided I wanted to skydive. I always wanted to do it and my family lives close to where Skydive Tecumseh used to be located. I jumped, landed, and knew I’d do that again. One of their staff asked me where I was from and I told them I had recently moved to Chicago. “Chicago?! Why the hell did you drive to Michigan when Skydive Chicago was right there?!” I didn’t even know SDC existed. Suffice it to say, I went on my second tandem with Anthony Ebel the very next weekend and met Ryan Clair the very next weekend in our AFP Class. I haven’t left since.
What were you like as a kid? Were there any indicators early on that might make one think you’d becoming a skydiver?
Hmmmm. As a kid…. Would you believe I had more energy than I do now? I seriously don’t know how my parents didn’t just send me to boarding school or something. I was energetic and athletic. We played sports everyday. The list ranged from swimming, basketball, baseball, rock climbing for a while, golf, and, my favorite, soccer. I rode a lot of four-wheelers growing up too. I guess you could say that skydiving wasn’t too far off the path. My dad didn’t even flinch when I told him about it. My mom is still flinching.
Before skydiving, what were your favorite passions and/or hobbies and why?
Before jumping? Man, everything I could get my hands on that could challenge me and calm the brain a bit. I mean, I worked hard at my jobs and worked out harder at night. I played soccer until I couldn’t even stand to watch a game anymore. (I still love kicking that ball around though…) I really liked golf. Believe that one or not. I used to live in Santa Monica, California before I moved to Chicago. The Malibu Country club was right down the road and had super cheap rounds for twilight. Man. I can close my eyes and see myself right there, right now. It was peaceful and beautiful. I still got to compete like a soccer game, but this time I was just competing against myself. It teaches discipline. I loved it. It also calmed me down a ton. It was just so relaxing and most everything I did before that was fast, fast, fast.
What job(s) did you have before you found skydiving?
You name it. I did it, I swear. Here we go. You ready? Owned my own lawn care business since I was 10. Been a bus boy, server, short-order cook, florist (Yep.), cleaned banks, worked fire clean-ups, busted tail at Michigan International Speedway for NASCAR, detailed cars, worked at four different sport retail outlets, graded standardized test for high schools, soccer referee, soccer coach, worked at Pepsi stocking shelves, sold phones for Sprint, and then finally got into sales, marketing, sales training, and sales management for a biotherapeutic wound care company. I loved that for the longest time. I really got to help people heal from all sorts of wounds. What’s more fun to me is the things I’ve learned SINCE I started skydiving. I’ve learned graphic design, video editing, and framing houses (Just to name a few…) Framing is a fun job. I even helped build the new cabins and the new pavilion at SDC too. It was such a great learning experience.
Section II – Skydiving Questions
What is the story of how you got into skydiving (including who/what inspired you to go; where and when you learned, etc)?
I told you about how I first got started earlier, what kept me going was all the same stuff as everyone else. There was excitement and adrenaline and all the stuff and things. What kept me coming to SDC was the people. I mean, by October, we tend to get on each other’s nerves a bit but it’s family. I’ve never seen a group of people band together for people. You’re hurt? We got you this motorized cart. Somebody stole a chuck of cash from your place? Here’s some that we all chipped for to help you out. It’s like that all day long.
Tell the story of what happened after your first jump and how you decided to continue:
After my first jump, I watched my video on repeat. I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever done. (‘Cause it was!) I hopped in my car, drove back to Chicago and started down the path to get my license. After that, I jumped with anyone I could until I found free flying. I kinda skipped the belly thing and went right for sit flying as soon as I realized this tunnel camp I went to would let me. #ThanksDusty
I kept going for a while and won a few Free Fly Money Meets and then mashed my back up. I pinched nerve between my C5 and C6 vertebra. That put me down pretty hard. Lost a whole season of jumping. Then back at it. Then hurt again. Then I got a Velo!! Yep, you guessed it. Hurt my back on opening again. I had such gear fear that I just slowly backed away from jumping. I never left here though. I push hard to work for this place. It’s the greatest place on the planet to live, work, and play. This last Summerfest marked 6 months that I hadn’t jumped. I love spreading the joy for wuffo’s first times and making SDC the best place it can be for fun jumpers. I just didn’t take part. That is, until I wrote this sentence and realized how insane it is for me to do that. I’ve had my new gear hanging on the rack just waiting. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh, sweet adrenaline calmness.
What’s something about the sport that surprised you that you didn’t know when you started?
The fact that you could skydive your whole life and never master everything. There are so many disciplines and so many levels in each. I like that. You get to learn so many things as well. There are so many people with so much knowledge to impart. All you have to do is go looking around SDC and you’ll find a bad ass at some skill set. Learn. Take what they want to give. It’s worth it.
What attracted you to get a job in the skydiving industry?
I’d had a quite a few conversations with Rook about working for SDC in a sales/marketing role. He told me he couldn’t pay me like my old medical jobs. After a while, the money wasn’t the motivator. The motivation became doing the best I could for SDC and the cash would take care of itself. That said, I’ve been working for SDC in multiple roles for a while now and I’m happier than any of those medical jobs. I get to help people have the time of their lives every single day. Who wouldn’t love that job!?!
How long have you been at Skydive Chicago and what is your position?
I’ve been working with or for SDC since 2012 in on position or another. I’ve been a builder, a graphics artist, and editor, a marketer, and, this last year, I took over as the Fun Jumper Marketing Manager and the Events Manager. Basically, I try to make SDC look like the amazing place that it truly is. I try to make sure everyone has as much fun as they can without setting the place on fire. I love it. I get to work with people from all walks of life with all sorts of skill sets. It’s a blast! (Insert high-fives here…)
What is your favorite part of the position?
When people walk away and I see that smile on their face. Whether it’s the first tandem or when they are so sad they have to leave Summerfest, it means we all did our job. They had the time of their life and can’t wait to come back. That look, man. It’s the best.
What is your favorite event and why?
I’ll give you one guess…. SUMMMMMMERFESSSSSST! Whew! It’s amazing. People from all over the globe descend on SDC for two weeks of sun, fun, and jumps. You get to see your friends you haven’t seen in awhile, have some crazy skydiving moments, and have fun whatever nuttiness we can come up with for events at night. It’s a ton of work and we all have to pitch in to get it all done, but it’s worth every second of it. I still remember the first time I watched a car blow up at the 2011 Summerfest. I was so happy I’d finally found a home where we got to do things like that. I want to make sure other people get that same feeling and then some.
What is your favorite part of the sport and why?
Community. Hands down. I told you earlier about how we all band together when someone is in need and we do it sometimes just because. I wonder how many people will sit in their cubicles or drive around in their cars selling things to pay the bills and wonder when they are going to find a place where they feel like they are at home. Safe. Happy. Well, that is what SDC is all about. Yeah, we jump. Yeah, we set world records. Yeah, we blow stuff up. That’s just a few of the things that bring us together and keep us there.
What was this season’s highlight for you and why?
The entire event schedule. Rook’s hashtag this year was #challenge2018 because we set some large goals this year. We have had our hands very full. It’s awesome to me when we throw these events though. I mean, our team knows what’s expected. Dig in and make it happen. Whatever we have to do, just do it and then a little more. I can’t tell you how much fun it is to help create moments for people. I really mean it. When people have to go back to their jobs on Monday and they sit there and can’t stop thinking out the event they got to go to or participate in at SDC that week, that’s the best. So, every event was the highlight is what I am saying. Every event makes people happy and that’s what makes me happy.
What do we have to look forward to in 2019?
Getting better. I want to do better each year than the last. This the the Greatest Dropzone On The Planet! We can still do more. Taking the lessons you learn from one year into the next makes the entire year better for everyone. Whether it’s personal, like finding the right way to motivate my beautiful woman when she’s down or making sure I just listen more, or whether it’s being more prepared for an event schedule at work, I am going to make sure that I use the information I’ve gained this year and make next year even better.
Section III – Fast Facts
Favorite Cuisine? Sushi. Mexican is a close second.
Favorite junk food? CHEETOS!! Mmmm… The crunchy orange goodness is amazing.
Favorite food that you enjoy that most people would consider disgusting? Captian and Diet. 😉
Favorite place you’ve visited: Rome.
Place you want to visit that you haven’t been to yet? Australia.
Pet peeve: Excuses.
What you said as a kid: “When I grow up I want to be ___________________.”
Something about you that few people know about and would be surprised to learn? “A.J.” stand for Aaron Jacob
Best book you’ve ever read? “A Light In The Attic” -Shel Silverstein
If you were to write a book, what would be the title? “We Can Do This – An Guide to Figuring It Out”
Most used app on your smartphone? Facebook. Facebook. Oh, and Facebook. Messenger, wait, no, Facebook.