Steady as he falls is key to victory for skydiving cameraman

Sat Sep 28, 2013 6:51pm EDT
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By Michael Hirtzer

OTTAWA, Illinois (Reuters) - Professional skydiver Brandon Atwood has a strange but essential job while hurtling toward Earth at more than 100 miles per hour: He points a video camera attached to his helmet back up toward the sky while his teammates execute a complex aerial routine.

Without Atwood's contribution, none of the spectators on the ground would be able to see the Arizona Arsenal's winning performance in the four-person vertical formation event at the U.S. National Skydiving Championships earlier this month, 80 miles southwest of Chicago.

In competitive skydiving, all the action takes place thousands of feet above the ground - too far away for the naked eye to see.

That is a problem for the sport, which has struggled to attract attention while other extreme sports - skateboarding, surfing, BMX biking and snowboarding - have an ESPN television contract for the "X" Games and draw legions of fans.

"As skydivers, we think what we do is the coolest thing ever, but other people see it differently," said Nancy Koreen, director of sports promotion for the U.S. Parachuting Association.

She said interest in skydiving waned after September 11, 2001, and the association's membership, now at 35,400 people, is only 1,000 more than it was in 2000.

There were no corporate sponsorships or prize money at the national championships, and the 10-day event drew only a small crowd at the "drop zone" to watch more than 600 skydivers compete in Ottawa, a town on the Illinois River.

"I'm an unemployed professional skydiver," said Atwood, 35, who finances his passion in part by organizing and training new skydivers in exchange for free jumps.   Continued...

The Arizona Arsenal skydive team jumps during the National Skydiving Championships in Ottawa, Illinois in this handout picture taken September 13, 2013. The job of professional skydiver Brandon Atwood is to look back up to the sky, point a camera attached to his helmet and record on video four teammates performing a complex skydiving routine. Without Atwood, no one on the ground would see the Arizona Arsenal's winning performance in the 4-person vertical formation skydiving event at the U.S. National Skydiving Championships near Chicago earlier this month. REUTERS/Amy Chmelecki/United States Parachuting Association/Handout via Reuters