“I love teaching and I love skydiving, being able to teach people the sport that means so much to me has been a dream for years.” In this interview, we meet one of the gals you’ve seen in the planes and behind the manifest window – meet, Nichole Richards!
Give us the skinny. How old are you, where are you from and how did you end up at Skydive Chicago?
I recently celebrated the beginning of revolution number 29 on this wild planet! I’m from Michigan; born in Detroit, but call the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area my home. I started skydiving when I was in graduate school and found working manifest at Skydive Tecumseh as a way to be around the sport even when I had no time or money to actually make jumps myself. When Rachel became manager, she knew I had been dreaming of being part of this amazing place and brought me onto her team! I’m still pinching myself that this place is real and I’m part of it.
What were you like as a kid?
Oh boy, images of my little brother with bright red lipstick and nail polish on come to mind immediately. Or the time we tried to make wax hand sculptures and I poured microwaved candle wax all over his hands (It’s not a good idea if you’re wondering). I’d say I was a curious kid. I was shy around people I didn’t know, but in my own environment I was a boss. My poor brother got dragged into all my crazy ideas. Thanks, Scott, you good sport! Childhood would have never been the same without you.
Before working at Skydive Chicago, what were your favorite passions and/or hobbies and why?
Growing up, my family would spend our summers camping so I have always had a passion for all things outdoors whether it was hiking, biking, swimming, watching a sunset on a Great Lakes shoreline, or making a fire – I love it! I really enjoy the challenge of going into the wilderness and seeing if I prepared well enough to survive. I’ve come a long way in my preparedness over the years! I used to wake board every day that I could get someone to come drive for me and spent a lot of time just being out on the water. Kayaking and hiking are things I still try to do regularly to immerse myself in this wild planet and get away from the noise of our busy world. Since I started skydiving in 2016 this sport has pretty much taken over all my money, free time, and circles of friends to do activities with and I really wouldn’t have it any other way.
What job(s) did you have before you found skydiving?
I’ve had a lot of jobs: Checking in clothes at a dry cleaner, bagging, stocking and selling beef jerky, Sales Assistant for new homes company, Leasing Assistant for luxury apartments, Administrative Assistant for a university department office, Electrical Safety Instructor (This was a fun one! Myself and a partner would travel all over SE Michigan to kids summer camps called “Safety Towns”, and one of us would wear a mascot costume and be Louie the Lightning Bug while the other one taught about electrical safety!), Events Coordinator and eventually Assistant Director of the Equality Research Center at Eastern Michigan University while also teaching there. Lecturing is what I still do when I’m not skydiving. This is going to be my 6th year teaching for the School of Communication, Media and Theatre Arts at EMU. I started teaching Public Speaking as a Graduate Assistant and after graduating moved up to classes like Gender Communication, Intercultural Communication, and Interpersonal Communication. I’ve been and will be lecturing at Washtenaw Community College as well.
What are you looking forward to next year?
Everything about being back at SDC! Oh man – I can’t wait!!! Living at this amazing sanctuary of a dropzone again! Becoming a stronger free flyer! Finally having the jump numbers for some ratings! I’m just finally getting to the point of being able to take the courses to get my (bigger girl) ratings (ie: AFFI & TI). I love teaching and I love skydiving, being able to teach people the sport that means so much to me has been a dream for years. I’m really excited to have the opportunity to be here, learning from some of the best skydivers in the world at the best facility in the world. There is so much knowledge and skill in this one hangar. What I’m most looking forward to simply learning more – about everything!
What is the story of how you made your first jump (including who/what inspired you to go; where and when you learned, etc)?
My first skydive was a surprise, actually. I was falling for a girl who was in a group project in one of my college classes who had just started packing and editing videos at Skydive Tecumseh. One day during our summer of courtship, she asked me to come out to the dropzone and hang out that night. I got there and found out I was on a 20 minute call for last load of the day! On the way there I was thinking “I know she’s still at work, so I’ll take my time” and almost missed what she had planned! I’d always wanted to jump so I signed the waiver as fast as I could and think I literally bounced around that entire 20 minute call. I screamed the entire free fall. Laughed and screamed the entire canopy ride down. And my first words after landing were “THAT WAS F*CKING AWESOME!” screamed at the top of my lungs. I’ll never forget my instructor, Jeff Foster, telling me (while I’m still in full-on freak out of how awesome the experience was) as he was signing my certificate that “It gets better every time.” My life hasn’t been the same since.
Tell the story of what happened after your first jump and how you decided to continue:
After that first jump I knew immediately that skydiving was going to be part of my life. In 2014 I started working manifest, living at the DZ for the summer, and dreaming about my A-license. I was able save up and suppress my fear for 4 whole jumps that year. In 2015, I lived and worked at the DZ, but with writing my master’s thesis all my extra time was spent in a library that summer. In 2016, after a winter of finally not being a broke student, I came back with an incredible determination of making this happen! I got licensed on June 19, 2016 – the same day my dad made his first skydive! That day was full of proud moments and is still one of my biggest accomplishments. I had to work really hard to overcome my fears and it took 4 years from my first jump to make it happen. Now, overcoming the fear is one of the things I love most about this sport.
What’s something about the sport that surprised you that you didn’t know when you started?
Coming to Skydive Chicago, my mind has been completely blown away. There is so much about this sport that I have learned from being here this season. Watching the teams train and compete has been a totally new aspect of the sport to me that is inspiring and motivating. It was surprising to see the best teams in the world willingly to share their knowledge and secrets to help other jumpers and teams progress. Between their dedication and example of friendly competition, I’ve been tossing around the idea of competing myself.
What attracted you to get a job in the skydiving industry?
When I’m not skydiving or around skydiving, it’s all I think about or want to be doing or talking about. In my normal real world life, on a 1-10 scale, I average 8.9 in happiness any given day. When you find me on a dropzone, I’m usually at about 12.9 on that same happiness scale. Skydiving makes me excited and happy and it’s fun! I love working in manifest and meeting all the people that come through and seeing the full range of human emotions all in one office. Someday I’m going to take those brave souls on the plane with me!
How long have you been at Skydive Chicago and what is your position?
I got to Skydive Chicago May 2nd of this year and I work full-time in manifest.
Favorite Cuisine? I could eat Mexican food of any variation every meal of every day.
Favorite junk food? Anything sugar.
Favorite food that you enjoy that most people would consider disgusting? Ketchup on my eggs or sauerkraut
Favorite place you’ve visited: British Virgin Islands
Place you want to visit that you haven’t been to yet? Oh gosh, way too many to list. Top of the list lately has been Thailand.
Pet peeve: NEGATIVITIY! Don’t spread it. Ew.
What you said as a kid: “When I grow up I want to be a teacher.”
Something about you that few people know about and would be surprised to learn? I’m actually really shy. Oh! And I have a gluten-allergy. (A real one.) Incase you’re thinking about what treats to bring manifest 😉
Best book you’ve ever read? The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho
If you were to write a book, what would be the title? Fear Less: How to Love Other Humans More and Make The World a Better Place
Most used app on your smartphone? Messenger – I love my friends!
Does Nichole’s story inspire you? Reach out to us to find out more on how you can get started on your skydiving journey!