DINWIDDIE COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) -
When talking about women in sports, skydiving may not be the first thing you think of. But more females are taking the jump - and forming a lifetime bond.
Carol Clay is "the queen" of skydiving.
"My first jump was November 1969," she says. "I was stationed in Maryland and I was looking for something to do on the weekends and there was a sport club on the base. I saw them jumping a few times and decided to try it myself. I fell in love with it."
With more than 17,700 jumps and eight world records, you could say she's conquered the skies.
"I'm pretty good," she laughs.
The 64-year-old has become a pioneer in the sport - leading the way for women.
"They're often a lot more timid because of the light weight most of them. They are challenged to fall with the 'big guys' so to speak. So it's good to encourage them to jump."
That's what the Virginia Skydiving Center in Dinwiddie aims to do.
Owner Jim Crouch says only 15 percent of jumpers in the U.S. are female.
"It's still perceived as a macho thing," he says. "A lot of people still have a perception of World War II and men coming down in round parachutes and pounding down into the ground."
It's a view that's slowly changing. More women are taking the leap.
"Skydiving is about agility and flexibility," Crouch says. "It's not a strength sport. And women are generally better at it than men."
It's also about the people. That's why "Sisters in Skydiving" or "SIS" was created.
The nationwide program pairs female jumpers, who offer each other support and guidance.
"This is girl's day where we can all jump together," says skydiver Joaanne Dzenis. "Support each other. And it's a really bonding moment."
"Giving girls a sense of camaraderie in a sport that has a tendency of being male-driven… it's a community… it's a family," says skydiver Christine Brouchac.
Many of the jumpers are mothers.
"I know some people who say they wouldn't jump when they're pregnant or they would stop when they decided to have families, and then they see us out here and they're like, 'oh wow, you can do both.' And you really can," says skydiver Suzanne Leach.
"It's important to let women know that we can do it and we can have fun just like the boys do," says Sherry Gunter, Manager of Virginia Skydiving Center.
The organization says there's a misconception that skydiving is extremely dangerous.
"We work really hard to take as much risk as possible out of the sport," Crouch says. "It's like driving a car. If you follow the rules of the road generally you're going to get where you're going without a problem."
Except this route leads to the clouds 14,000 feet above the ground.
"You're with a team, it's bonding," Dzenis says. "It's freeing. You don't think of anything else in the world when you're flying through the sky."
"It's hard to describe," Brouchac says. "It's liberating. It's a challenge."
"There's nothing like it," Gunter says. "I can't even put into words how awesome it is. I feel like what a bird must feel like flying through the air."
It's an experience Carol Clay lives for as she makes her way toward the big 18,000th jump.
"When you jump out of that airplane you're flying your body through the air," she says. "It's an incredible amount of fun when you're jumping with other people. As long as I'm physically up to it, then I'll keep doing it."
Copyright 2014 by Young Broadcasting of Richmond
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