If you’ve ever wondered how to become a skydiver – let us tell you a story. Imagine: You’re a brand-new skydiver. You just earned your solo skydiving certification six months ago. And you’re putting together a team to compete in the US Nationals, the apex competition for sport skydiving in the USA.
If true, you’re pretty much a badass. And your name is Dee Caminiti — because we can’t think of another human being who has undertaken such an impressive feat.
To trace Dee’s journey to becoming a skydiver and participating in hardcore sport skydiving competition, you have to start at the beginning. “I was born and raised in Queens,” she explains. “I had to stay close by, because my mom was sick growing up. I went to college in Long Island, so I wasn’t too far from home. At a certain point, I made the choice to leave and join the army. I enlisted while I was in college in 2005.”
It was around then — 2006 — that skydiving first popped up on Dee’s radar. “In college in ROTC, we competed for a US Army Airborne slot,” she remembers. “We had to compete for it and earn it, and I didn’t think too much about jumping out of an airplane. I’m competitive, so I was in. But when I got there, I was like, Oh God. This is real. If I fail, I took a slot from someone. It was static line, with a round parachute, and it was an awful experience. I never wanted to jump again after that. I jumped 5 times during airborne school, and that was it for me.”
In 2007, Dee commissioned as an Intel Officer in the Army. In 2010, everything changed. Over the course of the next 3 years, she endured a dozen surgeries all over her body, very nearly losing a foot in the process. She lost her mobility for a couple of years. At the time, her doctor was pretty sure she’d never walk again. “I folded for a while, and I believed what people said — that I wouldn’t be able to walk again,” she muses. “But I pulled out of it. I just learned to walk differently.”
She stayed in until 2014, logging one deployment in Iraq. While she served, she worked hard, learning as much as she could about her field. As a result, when she eventually left the service, her prospects were absolutely golden. Dee likes to say that she “got lucky” when she got out, quickly landing a job at Colorado’s legendary Spacecom. “I interviewed with the right person, and they said — okay, you have an Intel and computer science background; you should fit in. I felt like I didn’t understand anything in the beginning, but I really started to love it and to become really engrossed in cyberspace.”
From Spacecom, Dee went on to pick up a Master’s in Cybersecurity Technology. She was soon placed on DIA’s Cyber Threat Analysis team, where she analyzed threats to the US cyber supply chain. After that, she switched to a different government organization supporting Special Operations Units, as an Intelligence Integrator. She did that for about 5 years.
Though Dee had been certain that skydiving was a one-shot deal for her, the sport kept popping up. One notable instance of this was recently in North Africa. Dee was serving with a group of guys who were all sport skydivers and talked about nothing but skydiving. “I was all, like, What’s your problem?! It’s terrible!,” she laughs. “They told me that what I’d done was static line, and it was different than what they do by a long shot, but I refused to believe them.”
The notion of becoming a skydiver however persisted. Finally, Dee decided she’d give it another try. In June of 2017, she decided to venture out to a dropzone on the Carolina coast to make a tandem skydive and experience her first actual freefall. “We were over the beach, in this beautiful scenery,” Dee remembers. “And the minute I was at the door, I couldn’t even focus on the scenery. All I could focus on was that I wanted my instructor off my back. I wanted to be doing this on my own.”
When the jump was over and Dee saw him packing the parachute, she asked him about what he was doing. He blew her off — but Dee is not a woman easily dissuaded. The following month, she came out to see us at Skydive Paraclete XP. She earned her A license in a single month. “That was it for me,” she grins.
Dee’s 18th jump was her graduation jump from Paraclete’s AFF program. To celebrate, her instructor, Fritz Carr, asked her to organize a 4-way RW jump. “I had no idea what he was talking about,” she remembers. “He gave me the random pool, and asked me to pick out three and organize a jump. That’s a graduation tradition; everyone at Paraclete does it. He talked me through the exit [a stairstep diamond] and we went out and did it. It went great. We turned 8 points on that jump. I knew immediately that this is what I wanted to do.”
“It was training season, so everybody at that time was training for Nationals,” she continues, “I saw Lauren [Byrd] and Phoenix XP in all their gear — all these special suits. I didn’t necessarily know what all that was, but I was determined to know what I had to do to get there.”
You can’t do 4-way alone. Dee had to build a team—and fast. She started Hype XP. Dee’s perfect teammates magically magnetized around her: a group that intimately understands the challenges she faces as a person still working through a long list of life-changing injuries. The team’s player-coach, Steve Rulli, will coach the team through the season and then jump with the team at Nationals.
“It’s almost like we all came from the same background,” Dee explains. “A year ago, my teammate Greg Bush weighed 245 pounds. Now he weighs 145 pounds. We are putting weight on him so he can keep up with our fall rate! Then there’s my other teammate, Sam Lecrone. He was in a terrible motorcycle accident. It’s weird how we found each other, healing from traumatic backgrounds. We are a group of resilient people. We are just getting it done. And we talk every day,” she continues, “just motivating each other and keeping our spirits up. I couldn’t ask for a better first team to be on.”
Sure, the team is Rookie, but make no mistake: these rookies are uber-dedicated. In fact, two of the team members earned their licenses less than eight months ago. The team will be doing all their training at Skydive Paraclete XP, though Dee lives in Virginia, Greg will be coming in from Texas, and Sam drives an hour to the dropzone each day. To train, they’re keeping a laser focus on nailing the basics, holding off until close-to-perfection before they complicate the jumps.
“Especially after the surgeries,” Dee explains, “time is a big deal to me. It’s something you can’t get back. All of us are very cognizant about time, and about doing things right, and not creating bad habits. We’re not millionaires, either, so we’re making a lot of sacrifices. Sometimes I’m just having yogurt and English muffins instead of a steak dinner, living in a tent on the DZ instead of a hotel. But that’s the commitment the three of us have made, and we’re happy to have made it.”
These days, as well as logging a prodigious number of jumps towards the goal of training for the Nationals, Dee is an entrepreneur. She owns her own business specializing in open-source intelligence services, media services, web design and mission-driven global support. “I get to do a lot of things,” she grins, “and I get to instruct everything I do. I teach here at Fort Bragg.”
“It’s very gratifying to see people’s light bulbs turn on,” she continues, “taking my students from being staunch non-technology users to students able to brief you as if they are experts within 2 weeks is amazing to watch. There’s a lot of psychology involved. I grew [what I love] into a job. I’ve learned so much over my time in the field about behavioral patterns — people’s personal patterns; their online signatures; they don’t necessarily know that they have one. It’s really illuminating.”
Arguably, at the end of the day, it’s that innate engagement with psychology that can be credited with giving Dee the incredible edge she uses to slice so deeply into the sport of competitive skydiving. “Sometimes I’m asked why I finally fell in love with skydiving,” she muses, “and what keeps me going. There are two emotions that come with skydiving that arrive to us a lot in life: vulnerability and trust. No one likes to feel vulnerable. And it’s very hard, after a military career, to develop trust. That’s just how it is.”
“Doing AFF,” she continues, “was for me about completely surrendering; to make a leap of faith and be okay with it; to look stupid in the tunnel; and to trust your equipment and your instructor… and, then, learning to trust yourself. That was major for me. Skydiving gives me that,” she beams. “It gives me the ability to experience those two key emotions and be comfortable with them, and I take that with me in life. Vulnerability? That’s true strength.”
Ready to step into Dee’s shoes and become a skydiver? Sign up for your first tandem skydive with us today!