From the ground, they were at first tiny specks in a cloudless blue sky.
Then the UofL employees, connected by a harness to a member of the U.S. Army’s elite Golden Knights skydiving team, floated down to the ground under bright yellow and black parachutes.
Huge grins filled with jubilation and relief spread across their faces as they landed on Brooks Field at Fort Knox.
For some of the 15 UofL employees who participated in the June 9 tandem jump, the accomplishment meant they marked one more item off their bucket list. For those whose lists never included jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, it will become a great story to tell at the next family gathering.
“The most wonderful adrenaline rush ever!” said Sharon Duffy, deputy director of the Commonwealth Institute of Kentucky in the School of Public Health and Information Sciences, shortly after she landed.
The UofL staff members were guests of the U.S. Army ROTC’s 7th Brigade. The ROTC set up tents and grilled hamburgers for the staff members, many who brought their children. Renee Finnegan, executive director of military initiatives and partnerships, and Kevin Finnegan, director of military outreach, assembled the UofL participants.
Kerri Remmel, professor and chair of the Department of Neurology, said the experience was moving both for the sightseeing and as a celebration of UofL’s strong commitment to the U.S. military. “It was just beautiful,” she said.
Mark Casey, the Fort Knox program coordinator for the College of Education and Human Development, said he has been wanting to skydive his whole life.
“It was great,” Casey said. “You cannot explain it.”
Each jumper was also accompanied by an airborne videographer who got footage of them every step of the way, from sitting in the airplane to jumping out. Each jumper went home with a certificate and a DVD from their jump.
The jumpers said the Golden Knights did an excellent job of distracting them by talking to them; on the way down, the Knights pointed out Fort Knox landmarks.
Sara Karlsson, a graduate student who works in IT for the Office of the President, said she had been on the list of alternates for the jump, but hoped she’d get a spot. She did – but she decided not to tell her parents in Sweden until after it was over.
“I couldn’t breathe at first,” Sara said, adding that “all you’re doing is just trying to take everything in.”
The rest of the UofL jumpers were:
- Ken Lolla, men’s soccer coach
- Jeff Walz, women’s basketball coach
- Jason Dierking, swim team performance coach
- Vickie Frank, men’s baseball executive assistant to the coach
- Joe Elliott, assistant director of special projects in the Office of the President
- Ryan C. McDaniel, director of information management in the Office of the President
- Gary Gregg, director of the McConnell Center
- John Usher, interim dean of the J.B. Speed School of Engineering
- Mary Taposky, director of tech transfer and program administration for Nucleus
- Kimberly Kempf-Leonard, dean, College of Arts and Sciences
More photos are available online.
Watch the UofL video below: