The Start Of Her Journey: Eliana Rodriguez

The first time I thought about making a jump was when I was about 15 years old. My father asked me if I wanted to skydive after seeing an advertisement in the newspaper. I immediately said yes! I always loved roller coasters and I thought this would be another fun ride. Little did I know at the time that this curiosity about jumping would later change my life. We soon found out that I was too young to jump so I forgot about it until I joined the military.

When I was 17, I joined the Army and I asked my recruiter if I was going to get the opportunity to go skydiving. He said I could request it once I was in. Unfortunately it wasn’t as easy as he made it seem. My request was denied at my first two duty stations.

My last year in the Army I got stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, home of the airborne. I was excited that I was finally getting my chance to jump. My request was finally approved! My unit soon realized that I would have less than a year on my contract after finishing airborne school. Unless I reenlisted I was going to be denied Airborne school. At that point I had already made the decision to get out of the military. I didn’t get to go to Airborne school. The guys in my unit who were Airborne suggested that I go to a place nearby where I could rent a parachute and make a jump.

Photo By: Stikkos

On Oct 1, 1995 I made a tandem jump in Raeford, North Carolina. I was 20 years old. I loved it! After my tandem, I almost walked away that day thinking I couldn’t afford to do the first jump course that the DZ was offering. As much as I love my first jump, the AFF course was too expensive for me at the time. Through one of the skydivers on the plane with me, I learned there was a local military skydiving club. The club offered the first jump course at discounted rates for the military. I was so excited, I signed up! I initially chose the static line course, it was the least expensive option. I started with hop & pops and 5, 10, & 15 second delay jumps. I realized that it was taking too long and my time in the military was coming to an end. My instructors suggested I switch over to AFF to get me off student status in time for my move back home. They started me on Level 5. Going to altitude was completely different from my 5-15 second delay jumps. For AFF levels 5-7, I found myself backsliding, spinning and ending up on my back. I felt out of control and began to feel very scared and nervous. I started to wonder if this sport was for me. I had to repeat levels 6 & 7. I had wonderful supportive instructors who wanted to help me graduate AFF before I had to move. They took me to the tunnel to help fix my body position. This was a time when there were no civilian wind tunnels like we have today. Little did I know how fortunate I was to have this opportunity. After that first day in the tunnel, I graduated AFF in time for my move.

Photo By: Gen Montreuil

In April 1996, I moved home to Florida. I started going to college while working part time as a waitress at a restaurant. At first I was nervous about going to a new drop zone and almost didn’t make it out there. I decided to give it another try just as I was getting uncurrent at 31 days. I thought it would be fun to make a jump at each drop zone around central Florida and there are many. I didn’t realize at the time that skydivers had a home drop zone. I first jumped in Deland and my second stop was in Titusville. This time I brought a friend with me to do a tandem. Everyone was so friendly and my friend decided to start AFF so I stayed in Titusville for the next two years. I jumped as often as I could afford, about 100 jumps a year. I had the time of my life!!

In 1998, after about 2 years and 200 jumps, the Skyventure Wind Tunnel was being built in Orlando, Florida. A friend suggested that I go apply to be an instructor. She learned that they were in need of more instructors before their grand opening. Initially I was hesitant and didn’t think I had enough experience. She was very encouraging and introduced me to her friend who had just gotten a job as a tunnel instructor. Between the two of them I was able to meet the general manager and get an interview. I got hired as a tunnel instructor, I couldn’t believe it!! It was a dream to get this opportunity. Working at the wind tunnel changed everything for me. I was able to develop my skills at a rate that I wouldn’t have been able to afford at the time. It put me in a place to meet so many amazing skydivers from all over the country and the world. I got to watch the best coaches in the world work with their students and national teams. It was an environment that connected me more to the community and that really nourished my growth and progress…and my soul. While working at the tunnel I was introduced to 4-way formation skydiving. I was completely hooked after joining my first 4-way team, Illusions, an all female team.

Photo By: Gen Montreuil

This was the beginning of my journey as a competitor!

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!

Leave A Comment