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Pierce grad sets focus on becoming flight, skydiving instructor

August 24, 2018 GMT

Fear only comes in when the door opens.

Sierra Ronspies calls that moment of unease “The Door Monster.” It’s one of the only times the 2013 graduate of Pierce High School gets apprehensive about what has become her favorite pasttime — jumping out of airplanes.

“For me, the nervousness kicks in when the plane’s door opens, right before we get out,” she said. “Door opens, fear comes in.”

Working with Glidersports of Clinton, Mo., Ronspies — who also is a pilot — recently wrapped up requirements to become an A-licensed skydiver, a “fun jumper,” as she calls it, and hopes to eventually earn the credentials to become an Accelerated Free Fall instructor.

“Within the next couple of years, I should be a flight instructor and, hopefully, a couple of years after that, a skydive instructor,” she said.

Ronspies is no stranger to adventure. In high school, she was drawn to the military after talking with her cousin’s spouse — a recruiter for the U.S. Army — about serving her country.

“I talked with him a lot, and the Army was a brand new world to me,” she said. “I loved how organized and structured it sounded.”

After graduation, she spent five years on active duty as a military police soldier. She was stationed at Fort Riley, Kan., for 3½ years and then was sent to USAG Yongsan in the Republic of Korea as tensions with North Korea were reaching their pinnacle.

“I mainly worked patrol, search teams, gate guard and mailroom duties,” she said.

Her interest in skydiving began while serving gate guard duty at Fort Riley. Ronspies said she and her friend, Ronnie Daniel, passed the long days talking about aviation; she was working toward earning a private pilot certificate, and he was a B-licensed skydiver.

“Flying planes and skydiving are unique and similar topics, and we share a love of the air,” she said. “He actually ended up being my coach for several jumps. He helped teach me to skydive.”

When Ronspies’ term of service with the Army ended, she settled in Manhattan, Kan., and immediately joined the Kansas Army National Guard, where she continues to serve with the military police. She also finished earning her private pilot certificate and her skydiving A-license.

Ronspies said there are different routes to earning the A-license. She took the Accelerated Free Fall route, which requires a lengthy class, where participants learn things like how to turn, how to correct instability, how to move forward doing freefall and how to correct malfunctions.

“There is so much to learn, but it’s all to be safe while having fun,” she said.

An A-license means Ronspies can better her own skills while learning to jump with groups of other licensed skydivers or go have fun on a jump alone without having an instructor or a coach supervising her.

Ronspies said there is a lot of preparation and communication that goes into each jump.

“Packing your parachute is a pain in the butt but obviously necessary,” she said. “We preflight our rigs after that. Turn on our automatic activation devices, check our reserve and main pins, check our pilot chute, cutaway and reserve handles, check our three rings and check our straps.”

Her first jump was done in tandem with another skydiver, so her only responsibilities were to arch and to pick up her legs for landing. She said the experience was beautiful — like nothing she had ever experienced.

“Wilbur Wright put it perfectly when talking about flying: ‘More than anything else, the sensation is one of perfect peace mingled with an excitement that strains every nerve to the utmost, if you can conceive of such a combination,’ ” she said.

She has since jumped 29 times.

Ronspies said she had considered airborne school when she was in the military, and while she loves jumping out of planes, she’s glade she never had the opportunity to become a paratrooper.

“It’s an easy way to break your back and knees forever,” she said. “I need my body.”

While Ronspies acknowledges the risks of her favorite sport, she said the training she has received has taught her how to minimize the risks involved in jumping.

Well, a majority of them, anyway.

“A huge risk is the drive to the drop zone,” she said. “It is terrifying how many people do not realize how dangerous highways are. I believe the drive is the biggest risk I take every weekend.”