Skydivers know how to have a great fall

click to enlarge Veteran instructor Brian Meade goes tandem with Emily Eckhoff on her first jump. - PHOTOS BY GREGORY PALMER
Veteran instructor Brian Meade goes tandem with Emily Eckhoff on her first jump.

When Brian and Tracey Meade’s air conditioner went out, club members showed up with two window units. The club is the Mid-America Sport Parachute Club, based out of the Taylorville airport. “It’s like a family,” Tracey said. “Everybody helps everybody.”

The laid-back family atmosphere makes this the best drop zone in central Illinois. According to Greg “Baglock” Palmer of Alsey, one of the club’s 10 certified jump instructors, “We take the time to get to know people.” Skydivers come from all over Illinois and Missouri to jump and enjoy the camaraderie.

Palmer has been a club member for 19 years. A friend of his at work asked him if he wanted to jump. “I told him he was crazy.” However, he decided to give it a try because it looked so awesome. He has logged 3,400 jumps, and is an A.F.F., tandem, static line, I.A.D. certified jump instructor.

Michelle and Emily Eckhoff of Springfield have wanted to go skydiving since a family vacation to St. Pete’s Beach, Fla., where the two went parasailing. “Mom has always talked about wanting to skydive,” Emily, 19, said. “I told her I want to go too.”

All first-time jumpers must sign a waiver and complete a 30-minute class, which includes a video and jump instruction. You must be over 18, in good physical condition and not weigh over 225 pounds. Safety is the club’s main priority. All instructors are certified by the United States Parachute Association. “We’re not a bunch of crazy people jumping out of airplanes,” Palmer said.

Tandem skydives are popular with beginners. On a tandem jump, the student is attached to the front of the instructor. You exit the plane at 12,000 feet, and experience 45 seconds of free fall before your chute opens. You learn to read the altimeter, pull the rip cord and steer and land the parachute.

click to enlarge Tandem jumpers experience 45 seconds of free fall before the chute opens.
Tandem jumpers experience 45 seconds of free fall before the chute opens.
Michelle, 40, jumped first. “When there’s danger, moms go first,” she said. She admitted she was a little nervous, which is normal.

Brian Meade, a certified jump instructor from Girard, walked her through the jump. “Arch your back, hook your legs around mine and cross your arms in front of you. If you get nervous, just focus on the arch.”

Meade has been jumping for 10 years and has logged 1,500 jumps. A bunch of people where he worked decided to go skydiving, and soon he was hooked. His wife, Tracey, has made 11 tandem jumps.

“It was awesome,” Michelle said afterwards. “It was the most wonderful thing ever.”

Amy Freitag of Danvers just turned 50. Now that her kids are grown, “I decided it was time to do something for myself,” she said, as she prepared for her first jump. Her husband, John, was with her. He made his first jump here in 2007. “The worst part was getting out the door,” she said afterwards. Everyone agreed on one thing. You can’t explain what your first jump feels like. You just have to come out and experience it for yourself.

The club has been based out of Taylorville since 1986, when it moved from Hillsboro. It formed 35 years ago in Sparta. There are currently 12 members. Chad Donnel is the club president, and Dean Baxter is the chief pilot.

The Mid-America Sport Parachute Club is open weekends from April 1 through Oct. 31. Call 217-824-5867 or email to schedule a jump. The website is The club offers tandem, IAD (Instructor Assisted Deployment) and AFF (Accelerated Free Fall) classes. Tandem jumps start at $200 and IAD jumps start at $175, which includes the four- to six-hour class. The AFF training program costs approximately $1,500, with seven jumps starting at $300. There are between 100 and 150 tandem jumps and 50 to 75 IAD jumps annually. Twenty-five students have completed the AFF training program.

Roberta Codemo of Springfield is a freelance writer. A former reporter for The Hillsboro Journal, her work has appeared in Illinois Times and the State Journal-Register. She may be contacted at

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