Sunday, July 12, 2020

U graduate enjoys taking a plunge into his future

October 19, 2000
MSU alumnus Luther Kurtz is part of a 10-way speed star skydiving team that won second place in a national competition last week in California. —

East Lansing resident Luther Kurtz can do something no class at MSU could teach him - he can fly.

Kurtz, who graduated from MSU in the two-year electrical technician program in 1997, is an avid skydiver, and this month he won second place as part of a 10-way skydiving team at a national competition in California.

After completing 550 dives, Kurtz said jumping out of a plane isn’t scary at all.

“Initially, I liked the rush of jumping out of an airplane,” he said. “The first time you free-fall, it just overcomes you.

“I was scared as a student. But after you do it so many times, you just learn to fly.”

Kurtz competed with Skydive Chicago, a professional skydiving club, against nine other teams from around the country. Arizona Air Speed flew to the first place finish.

The competition runs like a track meet, with multiple events. Skydive Chicago participated in the 10-way event.

In a 10-way jump, 10 skydivers line up single file in an airplane 11,000 feet in the air. One by one, they jump out of the plane and quickly try to “dock” or fly into a predetermined formation and grip the other skydivers.

A cameraman hangs out of the plane to record the jump. Each team completes six jumps, and judges watch the videotapes to get an average time for each team’s jumps.

The team with the quickest average time to get into its formation wins.

Although Kurtz said a gold place finish was in Skydive Chicago’s grasp, one loose man on a jump left them with the silver.

“We had a blast,” he said. “We won three of the rounds, and Arizona won three. But their average was better; they were tough. They do 2,000 jumps a year together, and we’re a throw-together team with good skydivers from the East that try to win.”

One of Kurtz’s teammates broke both of his ankles during a practice, which left his team one man short at the competition. Luckily, they found a replacement from a team in a different event.

“Since we had a new person on our team, it was kind of like going into the competition with only seven practice jumps,” he said.

Usually teams spend months together preparing for the competition to perfect each formation.

Twelve formations are selected at the beginning of each year for teams around the country to learn. Kurtz said his team members would memorize the formations on their own, and then come to practice. They would complete around six jumps each day.

The night before the competition, a committee selects six formations each team must perform. Kurtz said the final hours are spent perfecting those specific jumps on the ground, but teams cannot actually practice in the air.

Throughout the whole process, Kurtz said he became close and looked up to his teammates, who ranged in age from early twenties to mid-forties.

“These people have been skydiving a long time; some have completed 8,000 jumps,” he said. “We’ve gotten to be close friends.”

Kurtz got his start skydiving in Hastings, Mich., where he completed 150 jumps. He then began traveling to Chicago because of the superior program at Skydive Chicago, he said.

Ben Purdy, co-founder of the former MSU Skydiving Club, said being so serious about the sport is impressive but takes lots of time and money.

Skydiving equipment can cost up to $1,000, and every jump costs around $20, the resource development junior said.

“That mean’s if you’ve done a thousand jumps, you’ve spent 20,000 dollars on skydiving,” said Purdy, who has completed six jumps. “I’d love to get more serious and get certified, but I don’t have the money as a college student.”

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