The strange-looking building just off U.S. 401 outside Raeford might not be as well-known locally as it is worldwide.
Paraclete Indoor Skydiving is home to the largest wind tunnel in the United States. Along with Skydive Paraclete XP’s drop zone, it draws from the entire spectrum of the skydiving community — from first-timers to the U.S. Army Golden Knights.
Somewhere in between is Team Axiom, the two-man freestyle skydiving team of Josiah Rich and Jason Brigmon. Together for less than a year, the duo brought home the silver medal in artistic freestyle from the U.S. Parachute Association National Skydiving Championships at Skydive Perris last month in Southern California.
In the process, they earned spots on the U.S. Parachute Team that will compete at the 2018 World Skydiving Championships in Australia. It is the reward for countless days of 8 to 12 jumps from Skydive Paraclete XP’s drop zone and hours in the wind tunnel whenever the weather would not cooperate.
“I think everybody grows up wishing they could fly,” Rich said. “I think that’s a dream that is relatable to everyone. Skydiving is probably one of the closest things to pure body flight that you can experience, so I think we all have that dream but how we get into it is different for everyone.”
Rich and Brigmon both became addicted to the sport from their very first tandem jumps. Rich did it on a lark.
“Checking it off the bucket list,” he said.
Brigmon was a thrill-seeker of a different kind, racing motorcycles until the thrill began to fade and he began looking for the next big thing. He had received the gift of a tandem jump for his birthday and that memory was still fresh when one of his racing sponsors told him about a skydiving event.
“It’s always been strictly fun for me,” Brigmon said. “Always just sort of flying and stuff, but one of these times, Josiah approached me about (competing). I said, ‘Give me a week or two.’
“I did some practice jumps,” Brigmon said, “but I’m a competitive person by nature, so …”
Artistic freestyle involves a series of compulsory moves and whatever other creative maneuvers a team can fit into a 45-second window after jumping out of a plane at 13,000 feet. A videographer jumps with the duo and it is vital the pair complete everything within the camera’s field of view. Once on the ground, the videographer hands the video to the judges who only view the first 45 seconds.
“As soon as you land, you download your video and the judges mark your exit,” Brigmon said. “If you do something amazing at 46 or 47 seconds, they’re never going to see it.”
Thanks to Paraclete and Fort Bragg, the Fayetteville area is considered one of the epicenters of the worldwide sport. Brigmon and Rich will not be the only local representatives in Australia. The Golden Knights are headed to the world championships after having won every 8-way formation national championship since 2012. Phoenix XP, a local 4-way formation team, will head to the world championships in the 4-way women’s competition.
While the sheer adrenaline of their first tandem jumps years ago has faded, the joy remains for Rich and Brigmon. The sport also offers something else that those who have never jumped can know.
“We live in a very distracted world right now where we are constantly distracted by our phones, by media, by Twitter or Facebook or Instagram or whatever,” Rich said. “It’s very hard for us to live solely in the moment that we’re placed in. Skydiving does that.
“When you leave the airplane, until you touch back on the ground there is nothing else that matters. It doesn’t matter if your relationship is rocky, you had a fight with your spouse or you have bills to pay,” Rich continued. “For those few minutes, nothing else matters and that brings you back to living in the moment and that’s a beautiful thing.”
Staff writer Patrick Obley can be reached at email@example.com or 486-3519.
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