Greenwichite, UConn sophomore dives into a gold medal
GREENWICH — When Andrew Yin steps out of a plane at 10,500 feet, there is a rush of air.
Adrenaline courses through him, but he stays calm.
When he lifts his head, three other students float in the sky level with him. Bellies down, arms out, they wear matching blue jumpsuits and helmets. If Yin focuses on them, it feels like the foursome is peacefully suspended in a strong breeze.
“It doesn’t really feel like I’m falling anymore,” said Yin. “It just feels like we’re laying on air.”
Yin is a national collegiate skydiving gold medalist. The University of Connecticut sophomore and mechanical engineering major has completed 228 skydiving jumps since entering college a year and a half ago.
A Greenwich High School graduate class of 2015, Yin said he did not have a sport that he was passionate about growing up.
In the second week of his first semester at UConn, Yin found the skydiving club and immediately joined the group.
“It was always something that I wanted to try,” he said.
Yin quickly completed more than a score of jumps and secured his first skydiving license — awarded after 25 jumps completed — in just two months. He said he realized that skydiving could become more than a hobby for him -- it could be a competitive sport.
“This is something I found that really appealed to me. Really the only thing,” he said.
Yin began training with the UConn skydiving club extensively. The club jumps and trains at Connecticut Parachutists Inc., a nearby “dropzone” in Ellington, Conn., and at SkyVenture, an indoor skydiving wind tunnel in Nashau, N.H.
Although the club does not have a formal coach, veteran members and alumni give tips to younger club members on technique and jumping in competition.
In August 2016, Yin and three members of his club teamed to compete in advanced four-way formation skydiving events.
Four-way formation is like the synchronized swimming of skydiving events. The team leaps from an aircraft more than two miles above the ground and then races against the clock to form prescribed geometric formations in freefall before opening their parachutes.
The team performs six jumps and tries to execute as many formations as possible in each jump before it is time to pull their ripcords.
After training for a few months in formation sky-diving, Yin’s team, CT True Blue, traveled with five other UConn skydivers to Arizona on Dec. 25 for the National Collegiate Parachuting Championships. The championship, hosted by the U.S. Parachute Association, is one of the oldest and biggest collegiate skydiving events in the world.
CT True Blue spent two days training at the new dropzone before the competition started on Dec. 28.
In the four-way formation contest, CT True Blue opposed teams from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, where skydiving is taught as part of training.
After executing 24 advanced formations in one jump, CT True Blue secured the gold medal in the event.
“It’s kind of more impressive for the UConn team to win because they actually won the only medal in the whole event that wasn’t for a military academy,” said Nancy Koreen, director of sport promotion for the U.S. Parachute Association.
Competing individually, Yin also placed fifth out of 21 contestants in an intermediate accuracy landing event.
“It was awesome,” said Yin. “Going into the competition is kind of intimidating knowing how much funding the other teams get and knowing that we’re kind of on our own about that. But actually going up against these teams and being able to win is a great feeling.”
Yin said he will keep skydiving this spring and begin planning and training for next year’s Collegiate Parachuting Championships. He said he hopes the under-the-radar sport will receive more recognition.
“People tend to think it’s a lot more dangerous than it really is,” he said. “It’s generally very rare that something does go wrong.”
Yin is so confident in his skydiving — and his equipment — these days that he is not nervous at all about free-falling out of a plane.
“It’s become so normal. That’s what’s kind of scary,” he said.