Troy Crotty: Sky­diver.

The Saturday Paper - - The Week | Contents - Cindy Mac­Don­ald

Troy Crotty, 46, sky­diver

Three-times Aus­tralian 8-way for­ma­tion cham­pion

In 2001 I did a learn-to-sky­dive course and af­ter those ini­tial two jumps I didn’t come back for six years. A work col­league who used to sky­dive got me back into it. And at the time I was look­ing to go to a new job at work and was ab­so­lutely ter­ri­fied of job in­ter­views and thought, “You know, if I can learn to sky­dive, I can do any­thing and I can learn to over­come that fear.” As it turns out, I’m per­fectly com­fort­able stand­ing on the out­side of an air­craft 14,000 feet in the air then do­ing 220 kilo­me­tres an hour, but I still hate job in­ter­views.

I’ve just had a bit of a life change – I was work­ing for New South Wales gov­ern­ment as an IT spe­cial­ist for 11 years, then I got re­dun­dancy from my job and I’m now, as sky­divers would say, liv­ing the dream, get­ting paid to do that one thing in my life that I re­ally, re­ally love. It’s so good. I didn’t have any vi­sion of be­com­ing a sky­div­ing in­struc­tor when I started – I think I just got ad­dicted to the feel­ing of jump­ing. I now run the ground course [at Syd­ney Sky­divers], which is a day­long course for those peo­ple who are do­ing their first-jump course. I re­ally love teach­ing. I also do tandems and I’m prob­a­bly one of the most ex­pe­ri­enced sky­div­ing in­struc­tors at the drop zone at Pic­ton at the moment.

Go­ing up with tan­dem sky­divers I gen­er­ally talk not so much about the jump it­self but dis­tract them and talk about what they do for work or point out the scenery – from Pic­ton we can see the Blue Moun­tains, Wol­lon­gong, Shell­har­bour, the ocean, and on a clear day like we some­times have in win­ter we can see the city [of Syd­ney] as well. I just try to keep them feel­ing calm and com­fort­able. It’s very rare that some­one doesn’t love it. Peo­ple are of­ten speech­less. Some are quite re­lieved that they’re ac­tu­ally on the ground but still very ex­cited, and oth­ers will say, “Look, I’m def­i­nitely go­ing to do that again.” When peo­ple say that, I turn around to them im­me­di­ately and go, “Now?” Out of the many hun­dreds of tandems I’ve done, I’ve only had one say yes. But when I did my first sky­dive in 2001, as soon as I got back on the ground the in­struc­tor said to me, “Do you want to go again?”, and with­out even think­ing I said, “Yes!”, and paid my money.

Prior to sky­div­ing I’d never been ath­letic but com­pe­ti­tion sky­div­ing has ac­tu­ally driven me to be fit for the first time in my life. I now swim, run and do gym. Gen­eral fit­ness, a strong core and a rea­son­able amount of strength are nec­es­sary if you’re go­ing to be do­ing a lot of jumps in one day. When we were train­ing for world cham­pi­onships we would aim to do 12 jumps in a day, and over a two-week pe­riod we’d be push­ing up to­wards 80 jumps. It’s hard work on your body.

We pack the parachutes so they open as gen­tly as pos­si­ble, but throw­ing a bunch of fab­ric into the wind at 220 kilo­me­tres an hour, there’s a cer­tain amount of chaos that comes into that. Oc­ca­sion­ally you might end up with a stiff neck or some aches and pains. But it’s not like play­ing rugby league or any­thing. It’s just the same kind of tired­ness and mus­cle fa­tigue you get from do­ing any ac­tiv­ity over and over again. I did once have a lit­tle en­counter with a leg strap that caused some prob­lems for me, but no per­ma­nent dam­age, I’m pleased to say.

In the roughly 4000 sky­dives I’ve done I’ve had three mal­func­tions where the main parachute hasn’t opened ex­actly the way I wanted it to. There’s al­ways a safety mar­gin built in where you’ve got time to try to re­solve the prob­lem or dis­con­nect that main parachute and de­ploy your re­serve parachute. We rely on the rote train­ing that we do. We em­ploy a prin­ci­ple that we call over-learn­ing, so that in such a sce­nario you don’t need to think, you just re­spond to the sit­u­a­tion in the way you’ve been trained to. Ev­ery time I de­ploy my main parachute, I tell my­self, “This is the one [that will mal­func­tion]”, so you are pre­pared for it and noth­ing can come as a sur­prise.

Yes, I have lost friends in the sport. The longer you are around sky­div­ing, it be­comes more of an in­evitabil­ity that an ac­ci­dent could hap­pen to some­one you know.

But one thing that is pretty much al­ways cer­tain about sky­div­ing ac­ci­dents is that it’s hu­man er­ror. You’ve got more con­trol over sky­div­ing than you do, say, on a horse.

For for­ma­tion sky­div­ing, you need an abil­ity to fly your body. There are about 50 for­ma­tions that are used all around the world. You need to be ag­ile and able to think fast. The top teams are do­ing a for­ma­tion ev­ery sec­ond. The way a point is scored in for­ma­tion sky­div­ing is that ev­ery­one in the team has to be on the cor­rect grip at the one time to cre­ate the pre­scribed for­ma­tion. And then there needs to be a clear break where ev­ery sin­gle per­son is not touch­ing an­other per­son, and then back on grip.

In in­door sky­div­ing we do pretty much the same things in the wind tun­nel that we do in the air. It’s about for­ma­tions and how many points you can score in a cer­tain time. The tun­nel is 16-foot [about 4.9 me­tres] in di­am­e­ter – you ba­si­cally walk in, lie down and float. You’re not fall­ing. We use it pre­dom­i­nantly for train­ing as well as for in­door com­pe­ti­tions.

I don’t think I’ll ever, ever, ever stop sky­div­ing. Un­til my body falls apart. I en­joy ev­ery sin­gle sky­dive that I do and I just try to make it en­joy­able for my pas­sen­gers • and my stu­dents, too.

CINDY Mac­DON­ALD is The Satur­day Pa­per’s deputy ed­i­tor.

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