With more than 300 jumps to her credit, it is safe to say that Chelsea Trouten, 23, has a passion for skydiving.
Over the past three years, the recent UNC Charlotte graduate has glided safely to targets in six different states and Canada. She has landed on surfaces that have varied by elevation and topography, and she has jumped solo and simultaneously with groups numbering as many as 16 people.
So when she discovered some universities had their own skydiving clubs, she thought, “Why not Charlotte?”
Prior to the fall 2014 semester, coinciding with her final set of classes as a UNC Charlotte criminal justice student, Trouten and recent graduate Sara Gleave founded the Falling 49ers, the university’s official skydiving club.
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The club, which operates under UNC Charlotte’s Recreational Services, has about a half-dozen participants who have taken a plunge as group members. About a dozen more attend monthly meetings, and the club’s records show about 40 people have expressed some level of interest.
Trouten says she made 62 jumps in her final semester before graduating in December, and other UNCC students took a leap about 10-15 times in the name of the Falling 49ers.
Through Trouten, the group has an established relationship with Skydive Carolina! in Chester, S.C. Club members make the trip either as individuals or in small groups.
Trouten, the club’s president in fall, and current President Daniel Gordon have similar stories of how they first tried skydiving. Each celebrated a 21st birthday by jumping out of an airplane for the first time.
Trouten, a Plaza Midwood resident, was an experienced skier and motorcyclist before she attempted skydiving.
“I’ve always been looking for that next thrill,” said Trouten. “It was always something I wanted to do. I’m a straight shooter: I said I will figure it out and will go do it.”
She says she has always been comfortable being on an airplane and attributes it to the amount of international flying she and her family did because of her father’s job when she was a teenager.
Trouten already has her C license through the United States Parachute Association, which means among other things that she has logged more than 200 jumps. She will obtain her D license, the highest level, when she reaches 500 jumps.
In 2014 alone, a year in which Trouten called her parachuting activity “a little bit slow,” she logged 175 jumps, an average of more than 14 jumps per month. Trouten says it’s not unusual for her to plunge eight or 10 times on a sunny, windless day.
Gordon, 25, parachuted for the first time April 2, 2010. He said he enjoyed it immensely but didn’t have another opportunity until July 2014.
By then, the foundation for the Falling 49ers already was in place.
Since summer, Gordon has logged 24 jumps: 16 attached to an instructor, called a tandem jump, and eight solo, putting him one away from his Class A license.
Gordon, a Mount Pleasant native, is confident in his abilities every time he boards a plane and has no problem jumping from 14,000 feet; but the first time he jumped solo was one he won’t soon forget.
“I didn’t go in the proper arch position,” he said. “I cupped air and I went into a drastic spin. All I saw was earth, sky, earth, sky. I was like, ‘This is not good.’ The instructor helped me create an exit.”
Gordon, a mechanical engineering major who will graduate in May, plans to land his 25th jump by the end of January.