Speed Skydiving: 'You're Trying To Go As Fast As Possible Down'

PORT WASHINGTON, NY — Montana Miller: folklore and anthropology professor by day, “speed skydiver” on nights and weekends.

Miller, 49, has been skydiving since 2010, but began speed skydiving a year ago. That means jumping out of a plane and heading for the ground as quickly as you can.

“You’re trying to go as fast as possible down,” Miller told Patch. “As long as you don’t die.”

She’s become so adept at diving head-first toward the ground — at nearly 250 miles an hour —she qualified as one of two members of the U.S. Parachute Team competing next month at the 2019 World Cup of Speed Skydiving in the U.K.

Miller, an Ohio resident who spends weekends in Port Washington with her partner, Mario Mauro, runs an all-female 8-way formation team, joining limbs during free-fall to form geometric patterns.

But in speed skydiving, it’s one person hurtling toward the earth, waiting as long as possible to deploy the parachute.

“I love that it’s a very pure relationship between me, my mind, my body and nature,” Miller said. “I’m on this really, really short, intense roller coaster where I’m either battling with the air all around me, or I’m perfectly in tune with it, where I feel I’m one with all of these forces: air, wind and nature. It feels kind of like being an animal.”

That’s when Miller visualizes herself as a peregrine falcon: tucking her head and tightening her body to reach maximum acceleration. But instead of catching pigeons in order to feed chicks, as she puts it, she’s trying to make contact with the ground as quick as she can.

Miller earned her spot on the U.S. team at the 2018 U.S. Parachute Association National Championships. She was hoping to make the team in 8-way formation, but wound up competing as a speed skydiver.

“They needed people to enroll for the event,” she said. “I ended up enrolling for the hell of it, to see if I’d be any good at it.”

Spoiler alert: She was.

Now she will represent her country in one of the largest international speed skydiving competitions.

“My biggest concern is to represent the U.S. respectably and not embarrass myself by having scores that people would look at and go, ‘What is she doing in the World Cup?’ and ‘What is this newbie doing among all the pros who’ve been doing it for years?'”

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The World Cup of Speed Skydiving will feature eight rounds of dive attempts, and whoever has the lowest average time to earth wins. There are two divisions: overall and female-only.

Miller’s process starts with her jumping out of the plane and then identifying a spot on the ground that she wants to reach. But just diving straight for the ground could be a challenge in England, with its notoriously rainy and cloudy climate.

Miller said that when a cloud obscures her target during training, she has a more unstable and wobbly dive. But whatever the weather, Miller said she’ll be nervous as she stands by for her turn to jump.

“Skydiving is so much waiting around: waiting for the plane, getting ready, riding up in the plane,” she said. “Then you just have 20 or 30 seconds to make everything work together. It’s like many sports where there’s all of this training and preparation, and then it all comes down to a split second.”

Should Miller succeed in posting a speedy average score, it would go a long way towards achieving her ultimate goal: making the U.S. team for next year’s World Championship of Speed Skydiving in Siberia.

While speed skydiving remains an under-the-radar discipline that very few Americans have heard of, much less compete in, Miller feels it’s on the cusp of popularity. She expects more people will try out for the U.S. team in Nationals this September. Only one spot on the speed team is guaranteed to a female skydiver.

“It would be a dream of mine to travel to Siberia with the U.S. delegation,” she said. “That is actually what I am most nervous about right now. It’s quite likely that I will not be able to beat any of the men, because they’re all much bigger and heavier than I am. I’m just really hoping that I can get good enough that I can be the woman who represents the U.S. next summer.”

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