There’s no mistaking the long dread locks of this Tandem Instructor at Skydive Chicago. We’re excited to introduce this long time team member: Chad Staerkel. Today, we sit down and get to know Chad’s journey into skydiving, and how he came to call Skydive Chicago home.
Give us the skinny. How old are you, where are you from and how did you end up at Skydive Chicago?
Technically on paper I’m 42, but I’m pretty sure thats wrong – I think realistically I’m borderline able to jump legally, lol!
I grew up and lived in Oshkosh WI through my college years, and then lived in Green Bay for ten years before moving to Skydive Chicago as a Tandem Instructor and have been here for 10 years so far.
What were you like as a kid? Were there any indicators early on that might make one think you’d becoming a skydiving instructor?
Kinda shy actually, but a little daredevil and active in sports and stuff and always getting into trouble. Played mostly soccer and football. Didn’t have a “tree house,” but had a tree that i would constantly spend time in and then swing or jump out of all the time and into piles of leaves in the fall. Or I would just climb on top of the garage and jump off of there onto the solid ground. Or in the stairwell inside the house into a big pile of pillows and couch cushions – so yeah, i guess you could say there were indicators that i would be a skydiver and base jumper!
When i was probably 5 or 6 I saw a picture of Angel Falls in Venezuela in a Nat Geo mag (my grandma always had a subscription) and said that I wanted to jump off of it someday. I guess ever since that age there were indicators.
I lived quite a few years near the drop zone in Oshkosh and always talked about wanting to do it and I tried going a couple times but I’d either be broke or all my friends would bail, so it wasn’t until I lived in Green Bay that I finally went for the first time.
Before skydiving, what were your favorite passions and/or hobbies and why?
Playing in my band(s), writing music and going to concerts. I loved music and wanted to be a rockstar before I found skydiving. It just so happened that just prior to getting the job at Skydive Chicago, my last, most recent band broke up when two of the members quit. Just as we started making ground and getting more known and gaining momentum. I was ticked for a while but i guess it wasn’t God’s plan for me. Now I help out in the band at my church during the skydiving off season so i still get to play a little bit during those times, and I really enjoy when i get to do that. Also, now its traveling and doing mission trips and spreading the Word of God to people around the world.
What job(s) did you have before you found skydiving?
Most recently just prior i was framing houses, but i did a lot of restaurant/kitchen jobs. Most of all my jobs that I’ve ever had have been in kitchens cooking, starting in fast food and then moving into fine dining. I make the best alfredo you’ll ever have! I got a couple other good things too.
What are you looking forward to this year?
As far as skydiving personally, doing more baseball park demos, more tunnel time, introducing more people to skydiving and teaching them how to skydive. Outside of skydiving, I’m planning on breeding my dog, Maverick and getting one of his puppies, finishing a couple books I’m working on and, I plan on taking a trip out to Idaho at the end of the season to visit, Laurian Lazarescu, my spiritual mentor. Finally, looking forward to doing some more base jumping (its been a couple years), and just growing deeper in my relationship with Christ.
What is the story of how you got into skydiving (including who/what inspired you to go; where and when you learned, etc)?
Like i said, I always wanted to skydive and base jump since I was a kid, but I didn’t have a dad who would take me when I was 4 years old so i had to wait. I lived next to a DZ in Oshkosh but every time I tried to go things fell through, so when I was living up in Green Bay, I started working at a restaurant (I was still new there) and I overheard one of the other cooks talking about getting a group together and I yelled across the whole kitchen “I’m in!” He was like “Who are you?”
Anyways, 8 of us signed up, only 4 of us showed up, and I was the only one that stuck with it (one of the other guys did maybe like 5ish). It was July 20th 2002, I did 4 jumps (static line progression) my first weekend and then 4 jumps every single weekend for months before I missed a day (it was only a small Cessna DZ so it was only weekends). I immediately immersed myself. I was always there when I wasn’t working. I started packing early to help pay for jumps, and then they half sponsored me to come down to Skydive Chicago to take my riggers course, and then pay them back through reserve repacks.
So my first time at SDC was back then, I think April 2004. I loved it here. I was only able to do one jump because I was busy in the rigger’s course and the early spring weather wasn’t great. I rode in the copilot seat and got to talk to Rook [the DZO], who was flying and told him I loved his DZ. It was during a spring expo that I also got to meet and talk to Bill Booth as he was advertising the Skyhook which was pretty much brand new at that point. I ended up going back to Green Bay for a couple years and then when i finally had the jump numbers to take my TI, I got my rating and started teaching people.
I stayed at Green Bay most of that year but towards the end of that summer a friend of mine came back from SDC’s Summerfest and said that they were looking for weekend help and I remembered how awesome it was there so i contacted the manager at the time about coming down. My first weekend at SDC i made twice as much money in two days as my weekly pay framing houses so I asked dave if he had any full time spots. Another person was first in line for the position, but he passed so I was asked if I wanted the job. Duh! So 2008 was my first full-time year.
Tell the story of what happened after your first jump and how you decided to continue: I was so stoked! I loved it! Completely addicted. I always wanted to do it, finally started, and never stopped. When i figured out i could make a career out of it, it was a no-brainer.
What discipline do you like and why?
I mostly work, I need to fun jump more (I always say that), but I would like to get better at and do more free flying, swooping, and flying in the tunnel more. Demos are a lot of fun too, especially higher profile ones (we did a couple jumps into a minor league baseball stadium last year and should be doing more this year). UFO jumps are always fun too.
What’s something about the sport that surprised you that you didn’t know when you started?
How small the world becomes when you start skydiving. Being at SDC has literally opened up the world for me. I’ve worked in puerto rico, Hawaii,Florida Keys, South Padre Texas; I’ve jumped in Dubai, Thailand, and I also organized an evangelical Christian mission trip down to Bolivia, on a tiny little river town, on the very outskirts of the Amazon rain forest, actually built us a runway in three days!!! It was amazing!!!
Myself and Ryan Clair took several orphans skydiving and 40-60 more for airplane rides, and then taught them the Gospel of Christ in between loads. We were jumping above the Andes foothills and the Amazonian jungle! So gorgeous!!
Lastly, because of Summerfest, world records held here, other world events held here, and my own traveling, I’ve got friends in every corner of the world.
What attracted you to get a job in the skydiving industry?
Why not get paid for doing something you love. I’m basically paid to be a kid all my life. Plus introducing and teaching others how to skydive is an awesome way to basically relive my first couple jumps all over. I meet a lot of awesome people and have made friends of all ages, from every walk of life, in every corner of the world.
How long have you been at Skydive Chicago and what is your position?
I’m starting my 11th full-time season. I did a couple weekends at the end of 2007 and started full-time in 2008. I mostly do tandems, but I also shoot video whenever needed, and do some AFP, help pack tandems when it gets busy, and also pack reserves now and then.
Can you explain a breakthrough moment in your skydiving career: explain the challenge you faced and how you overcame it:
One thing i do remember is when I was taking my AFF Instructor course I learned how to be a lot more aggressive, but doing so safely. Up until then everyone always teaches you to be conservative and easy (level, slot, dock), but sometimes you have to ‘play rugby’ and being soft and conservative won’t work.
Like I’ve said, I’d like to get better at freeflying and when I started doing video, that actually kind of helped my headdown a bit trying to film exits because I was more focused on the shot and not mentally flying.
What is your favorite part of the sport and why?
The freedom in the air. Peace. Some of the views you see from the air (especially here towering clouds, beautiful sunsets or of course some of the ocean, mountain, or amazon rainforest views that I’ve seen). All of it just makes me feel closer to God.
Also the people, skydivers are a special breed. We’re more than just friends – we’re family. Also like I stated before, the traveling and seeing other places from around the world from the air.
FUN FAST FACTS
Favorite Cuisine? THAI!!! I just spent a month and a half there this last winter and the food is soooooooooooooooooo good!!! I miss it so bad! Panaeng curry is my new favorite!
Favorite junk food? Double caramel salted pecan custard from Culver’s, and maybe deep fried cheese curds
Favorite food that you enjoy that most people would consider disgusting?
Hmmmmm, I’m not super crazy adventurous or experimental with food (like the exotic or weird stuff) so I don’t know about any really odd stuff, but that someone might find disgusting…. ummmm, pickle juice? My favorite foods are Thai, steak, pizza, alfredo, spicy garlic chicken wings from BWW.
Favorite place you’ve visited: Thailand. It’s insanely beautiful, the food is incredible, the people are super nice, hour long massages are like $6-8 American. It’s an amazing place.
Place you want to visit that you haven’t been to yet? The list is just about endless: Israel, Petra, New Zealand, Maldives, Australia, Costa Rica, Greece, Switz, Norway, Ireland, Rome, Baatara Gorge in Lebanon, Angel Falls in Venezuela, Mt Everest, the Congo in Africa, Patagonia, pretty much everywhere. Oh and i definitely want to go to space at some point!!!!!!!
Pet peeve: big stuff usually doesn’t bother me that much but its the stupid little things that internally send my brain into meltdown mode, like when you try to put your arm into your jacket but the sleeve is inside out and you try 4 or 5 times to get your arm through it and it just won’t go! Or when you try to open something and your finger slips off of the lid several times, its not that hard of a issue to open the lid but everything in the world at that moment seems against you. Or when you try to close a drawer but its off the rail and won’t close correctly, and you sit there fighting a losing battle against a stupid kitchen drawer.
What you said as a kid: “When I grow up I want to be ____________.”
At first it was an astronaut, then it was a air force fighter pilot which would then segue into being an astronaut after the military, then it was a professional football player, then a musician/rockstar, now a professional skydiver and a world traveling Christian missionary.
Something about you that few people know about and would be surprised to learn?
I don’t think this is really a secret, i don’t really keep it hidden so i don’t think most would be surprised, but my relationship with Jesus Christ is the most important thing in my life, over absolutely everything else. Everything I have accomplished and have been blessed enough to experience is all thanks to Him. I would be nothing without Him.
Best book you’ve ever read? The Bible
If you were to write a book, what would be the title?
I’m actually writing two right now. One is about my two mission trips to Bolivia and the whole process of having a runway built for us in three days and then taking orphans (13-18 years old) skydiving in the name of Jesus. So its more of a diary or story form. The title will be “Jumping For Jesus.” The other book is more doctrinal and theological and right now the working title is “The Doctrines Of Grace.” It deals with all the sub-doctrines of God’s grace from predestination and election to salvation and eternal security.
Most used app on your smartphone? YouVersion Bible app, Facebook, and Angry Birds 2
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