“I did my first jump at 18 years old and it completely changed and directed my life.” Meet Melanie Curtis, co-founder of the Highlight Pro Skydiving Team and a professional skydiver with over 11,000 jumps under her belt. A former investment banker, Melanie has now been skydiving for more than 20 years, adding world record holder, stuntwoman, speaker and author to her riveting resume.
When we heard that this all-female Highlight Team was planning a jump in honor of the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment and that the jump would take place one day before International Day of the Girl, we had to know more.
Even though we couldn’t be on-site at the Alice Paul Institute to witness the brightly colored smoke and streamers (in suffragist colors of purple, white and yellow) and the giant flags displaying suffrage themes of “Votes for Women” and “Shall Not be Denied,” middle and high school Être girls sent questions to Melanie Curtis to learn more about the Highlight mission. Here is what she wants girls everywhere to know:
Ê: How did you first get into skydiving and what was your very first jump like?
MC: I did my first jump at 18 years old and it completely changed and directed my life. Jumping out of a ‘perfectly good airplane’ was something I never thought I could do. I didn’t realize it at the time but in reflecting more over the years, I realized I thought I would die, so of course I was terrified. But I went through the training, I learned all I needed to, to board that aircraft for the first time with the intent to jump out of it.
So when I jumped – when I landed, and I lived – that moment forever altered my thinking in a profound and powerful way, and how I have approached fear ever since. It’s not the cliche, ‘I can do anything,’ it’s that anything I think I can’t do, I have to at least question that thinking trying to keep me small. Everything I have achieved in my life, in building my own businesses, in creatively expressing, connecting deeply with others and rising into activism in recent years has been informed by this influence that came from my very first skydive.
Ê: We read that the inspiration for the Highlight team began after learning about leaders of the women’s suffrage movement and the desire to celebrate the 19th Amendment centennial in an unforgettable way; what does it mean to you to be part of an all-female skydiving team?
MC: It means so much to be a part of a team of such incredible professionals and trusted friends. Even more, it is wildly motivating knowing that we are representing women in a big way and in ways not historically perceived as for women. Women are underrepresented in so many areas – sports, media, government, boards of businesses, and skydiving, as only 13% of membership in the US.
We are deeply driven knowing that what we are doing could be helping women and girls everywhere to consider what bold brave moves might be possible in their own lives.Melanie Curtis
We jump out of airplanes and use our platform to stand up for what we believe matters in our bigger world, most definitely inspired by the original suffragists and all they did to secure all women the right to vote and have a say on the leaders and laws that govern us. We hope everyone is inspired in November to use their voice and use their vote.
Ê: What has skydiving taught you about taking risks, trusting teammates, and do you think that is extra important for girls to learn?
MC: Skydiving puts us into high-speed, intense environments, both around active aircraft and in freefall or flying parachutes. With that, we learn to fiercely respect how we operate in those environments and how we support each other while doing what we do. When we bring this highest level of respect and teamwork, what’s incredible is that then we end up in the most beautiful experiences of freedom and fun. And we get to share it together! In my experience, skydiving on its own is so so special, but sharing it with your people, that is one of the greatest gifts of my life, and continues to be even 23 years and 11,000+ skydives in. Add in helping others, impacting the world in a positive way, and it’s entirely off the charts.
We absolutely love that we are flying for International Day of the Girl.. for the 1.1 billion girls around the globe fully capable of becoming the leaders of the future. We hope seeing what we do inspires them to think that much bigger about what’s possible for them too. We hope it supports them rise into their own power. We hope it supports them to be brave in their own way, to trust their own voice, to fly both with us and in the ways only they can.Highlight Pro Skydiving Team
Ê: We have to ask: how many jumps did it take until you were not afraid?
MC: The short answer is probably around 100 jumps, but there’s so much more to it. I still feel afraid sometimes. Not in the same way as when I first started jumping, but in different ways as we continue to learn more and grow in the sport still today. There is so much cool stuff you can do in skydiving!!! It’s so much more than just jumping out of an airplane: it’s flying, it’s freedom, its fun, it’s teamwork, it’s play, it’s art, its breaking barriers, it’s being ourselves, it’s growing over time. Jumping into a tight landing area surrounded by trees flying smoke in front of a live show streaming to thousands of people, yeah, that can get the heart rate up!
Ê: What do you want girls watching your team jump to remember – on Day of the Girl and always?
MC: I want girls to know – to feel – that they can do it. It sounds so cliche, but for real. I want them to know that we started scared and uncertain too. That we all start scared and uncertain. That we all start with simple ideas and if we’re brave enough to follow them, so much more is possible in our lives than we ever currently think. I want them to know that being brave comes in every little step we take, big and small, in the directions we want to go in our lives. The original suffragists worked for years and in the face of countless setbacks to change the system set up to keep them down. Because of them and all they did, literally millions of American women’s voices can be heard. So badass.
No better advice on this landmark weekend.
Girls, as you start to celebrate, spotlighting the role models who came before you and the generation now rising with you, remember these words. Picture them streaming across the sky in purple and yellow, and hear them ringing in your ears like the wind.
Because every leader you know started out a little scared and uncertain. Every step she took required bravery and a leap of faith. And whether your leap of faith sends you jumping to your feet in class or out of a plane in front of a crowd, your bravery is on display.
Write it in the sky.
The Highlight Pro Skydiving Team is an all-female team of 11 highly skilled skydivers cofounded by professional skydivers Melanie Curtis and Amy Chmelecki. All team members hold the United States Parachute Association PRO Rating and their mission is to inspire all women to live bold, brave lives of their own design in skydiving and beyond. Être girls are grateful to Melanie Curtis for answering our questions and to the entire Highlight team for inspiring girls to aim skyward.