As a kid, Jeannie Bartholomew dreamed of skydiving. After watching a video of her sister doing a tandem jump, she jumped off anything she could with makeshift parachutes.
Since then, Bartholomew, 37, has made her mark in competitive skydiving as one of the world’s top female canopy pilots.
Canopy piloting, often called swooping, is more dangerous than ordinary skydiving. The aerial daredevils fly smaller and lighter parachutes at high speeds and low altitudes, then glide just inches above the ground and water. Since Bartholomew started 12 years ago, she has completed more than 5,000 jumps.
Bartholomew, who grew up in Novato and now lives in DeLand, Florida, competes and trains alongside her husband and fellow canopy pilot Curt Bartholomew, who has won numerous national and world champion titles in the sport. The pair created the Alter Ego Project and travel the world teaching canopy piloting skills and sharing their passion for the sport.
Q What got you interested in skydiving?
A When I was 5 years old, my sister did a tandem jump and I watched the video. I started making my own parachutes out of pillow cases, blankets and umbrellas, like Mary Poppins. I was trying to jump off anything I could and slow my descent down the best way I could. When I got old enough to jump, I went out to Lodi. I made a tandem jump and I fell in love with human flight. As a kid, I played all kinds of sports. I rode dirt bikes. I loved motorcycles. Both my parents raced motorcycles and cars growing up, so I always had that love for speed. Now, I am the top female canopy pilot in the United States. There are not a lot of girls that do what I do, because it’s the most dangerous aspect of skydiving.
Q What’s your favorite trick?
A It’s called the Lazygirl Switchblade Cowgirl, and it’s actually a move I kind of invented. I come in and I lay my entire body flat out on the water like I’m in a La-Z-Boy recliner, and then I put both of my controls in one hand and use the other hand to drag the water.
Q What do you think about while skydiving?
A In normal competitions, I am really focused on beating all the boys, because we compete against the guys. We are at a disadvantage being female, because we don’t weigh a lot and the more you weigh, the faster you are going to get your parachute to go. For me, I have to jump with a 35-pound weight belt. I am really focused on what I need to do to be at the top.
Q You’ve competed in 80 competitions. Which ones stand out?
A I won my first competition as a pro in Italy, last year. Winning that competition and beating all the guys was the coolest feeling I’m going to get, standing on top of the podium.
Q What made you and your husband want to start the Alter Ego Project?
A Both of us are super passionate about parachutes and canopy piloting. We saw that in the United States, there’s a lot of education, there’s a lot of knowledge but around the world, there isn’t as much. One thing that inspires me to do what I do, is to get out there and help females land their parachutes better, so that they don’t get discouraged and they keep continuing to skydive.
Q What do you want people to know about skydiving?
A I think that everyone should experience skydiving at least once in their life. It’s the most freeing feeling you are ever going to have. If you drive down the road and put your hand out the window, that’s what your entire body feels like when you skydive. Everyone should go out and make a skydive, experience it, and set themselves free.
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