photo of phoenix xp skydiving team

Following Up With Phoenix XP

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Have you ever had a dream, so big, that you did everything to prioritize that and go for it with unlimited determination? That is only the beginning of the story of an all women’s team who only formed in early 2017. If you haven’t heard of them, you will. They’ve been quick to gain momentum and support from the skydiving community, and they’re only just getting started. Their mission – to represent the USA in the all women’s 4-Way FS category at Gold Coast Australia in October later this year.

Photo of Phoenix XP at Skydive Perris. Left to right: (Morgan Womble, Amanda Lampton, Elliot Byrd, Lauren Byrd and Christine Bruchac).

Lauren Byrd [LB], the captain of Phoenix XP, is the one who assembled the team and is comprised of herself, Morgan Womble [MW], Amanda Lampton [AL] and Christine Bruchac [CB], and camera flyer, Elliot Byrd. We recently had a chance to catch up with the ladies since their debut at the USPA National Skydiving Championships at Skydive Perris last September. Here, they talk about the beginning of the team, to earning a chance to represent the US, and their future.

What interested and inspired you to be on an all-women’s team and to try out?

LB: I was interested in forming a new team after the 2016 season. When I heard that GK4F [current World Champions] was dissolving, I saw an opportunity to get some driven, high-performing women together to form the new US Women’s Team.

MW: The opportunity to be involved with a team with a clear goal is something that is difficult to find in the sport. Many teams want to compete and do well…maybe go to Nationals, but not necessarily put in the effort to be the best. I wanted to be the best, and this team has that goal in mind. An all-female team made me nervous at first, BUT I figured that with the right group of women it could be an amazing experience… and, thus far, it has been.

AL: Trying out for a women’s team is what thrust me into competitive skydiving in 2012 in the first place. Christy Frikken invited me to try out for Wicked in the second round of tryouts. That team had a number of challenges that year that ultimately lead it to disband after Nationals in 2012. When I heard (again from Christy Frikken) that Lauren was spear-heading an effort to create a new team in the vacuum left by GKF4, I jumped at the opportunity to try out. I wasn’t totally convinced that I would do it if offered a spot, but I wanted to see what the possibilities were.

I work in a profession that is male-dominated (aerospace engineering), and supporting women in the field and those related and in similar situations has been near and dear to my heart for a very long time. It probably started as a kid when I realized that my mom faced similar issues as a computer science major in the ‘70s and an IT Manager in the chemical industry. The opportunity to pass on what I’ve learned as a woman in engineering and a woman in skydiving, provide mentorship for current and future women, and to represent is something I very much wanted to take advantage of.

CB: There were a number of things that inspired me to be a part of this team.  First were all the women that were/are involved.  Everyone was such an amazing flyer and motivated, I knew they were going to challenge me to be a better flier. Second, I was impressed with the commitment level that the team was asking for from the beginning.  There is a lot to do in a short amount of time and it is always a challenge to find like-minded skydivers. Third, I loved the goals set out from the beginning– a multi-year team with high ambitions.

team phoenix xp training at Skydive Paraclete XP

What were tryouts like?

LB: Tryouts for this team weren’t as nerve-racking as you’d expect. For a team like this, it’s important to find people that not only fly well, but fly well together. Everyone that was invited was already a great flier, the purpose of tryouts was to see how we would function as a team. Were our flying styles compatible? How did people respond to feedback? Could we put up with each other for 4 day training camps and high-stress situations?

MW: Tryouts were awesome, but certainly nerve-wracking. I had only done some of the advanced pool at the time, so I was doing my best to keep up and stay focused. The women at the tryouts were incredible. We had a very talented group, and it was amazing to see the confidence and skill that was out there.

AL: They were fun. It was like a bunch of new and old friends getting together to fly, but with a purpose. We started talking about goals and the season and such, so I was getting pretty excited about the project. I suppose there were some nerves, but I’m fairly confident in what I bring to the table. I’m good at what I do and think I’m very coachable, so all I could do was lay it out there and see if it fit with the other ladies and the vision of the project.

CB: It was very collaborative but a little nerve-wracking  You always want to put your best foot forward within the first flights, but it is also always a learning experience to fly with new people.

What has the training season been like for you? The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

LB: I honestly couldn’t ask for a better training season. Each challenge that we faced, we approached as an opportunity for learning, “an exercise in mental toughness training” as I would say. Working with JaNette was a fantastic experience. She offers a very comprehensive approach to coaching for teams.

team phoenix xp in formation

MW: The training season was certainly a change for me in comparison to my previous teams. We did 4-day camps, Thurs-Sunday about 1-2 times per month, so it certainly was challenging staying mentally focused through the camps. We worked so hard to get in tunnel time and a hefty amount of jump numbers for the season. We were up at ridiculous hours (5:30-6:00am regularly) to get to the DZ so we could get wheels up as early as possible. But we were prepared for this, as we had been coached not only to physically prepare for these camps with rigorous workout routines at home, but also mentally prepare at home by visualizing and reading books about being mentally tough, which certainly helped me compete at my highest level. I certainly had never been on a team that required homework…haha.

The Good: I absolutely loved seeing our progress throughout the camps. We are very lucky to have such a great support system with JaNette Lefkowitz coaching us, and Paraclete XP and Byrds Eye Studio supporting our efforts. It is also really cool to have three other women be just as dedicated as I am to growing and improving as a team with the same goal in mind. I must also say that our other teammate, Elliot Byrd, has also been an integral part of our success. His videography is phenomenal and he is always looking out for the best interest of the team.

The Bad: It wasn’t all peaches and cream for me. Coming in as the least experienced on the team I had to really focus on visualization at home to be prepared for each camp, as some of the blocks were foreign to me. In particular the 12…Uhhhggg…it gave me one hell of a time. BUT with the support of my piece partner Amanda, and JaNette, and the team encouraging me to push through, I figured it out and now LOVE the block. It is great to have such a supportive team.

The Ugly: Hmmm… we all can get hangry… so to combat that we ensure that we are well fed and bring lots of snacks! Nothing worse than hungry, thirsty skydivers.

AL: It was awesome. It was the kind of season I had wanted for years with all the ups and downs, trips and triumphs, disappointments and successes. The travel to NC was hard, both the time and the cost, but my family and team made it as painless as possible.

The training was great. It was hard and tiring, and we all had our minor injuries, but we learned a lot about us as a team, how we train, how we compete, and, of course, 4-way in general. In addition, I’m quite the sun baby. Getting to spend so much time outside and in the sky was like being fully charged all year.

Managing personalities was an interesting challenge. We have to get along for at least another year, so when an issue or dispute comes up, you can’t just gloss over or tell them to suck it up, you have to deal with it and figure out how to grow and progress from that.

CB: The training season was a challenge but very fun!  We all get along very well so I look forward to training not only for the jumps and/or tunnel but also to spend time with my teammates. We also have an amazing coach with JaNette who helped us with so much – not just how to fly or exit but how to set a training plan and stick to it. It was very beneficial and helped us progress quickly as a team.

phoenix XP training at Paraclete XP wind tunnel

What were your expectations going into Nationals?

LB: Being a first-year team and for most of us, our first time competing in the open category, we didn’t have expectations of being close to the podium. But that doesn’t mean that the meet was free of pressure for us. If we were going to be selected to represent the US at the World Meet, we wanted people to know that it’s because we deserved it. Personally, I wanted our jumps to feel good and to feel like us.

MW: To be honest I wasn’t sure how Nationals would go… Being a first-year team is tough, especially when you have limited competition experience together. We had done a bunch of draws, and we had an idea where our average would lie, but we weren’t sure what type of competition we would have at Nationals. There was chatter about a few other teams going for the Women’s bid, but we knew we had done everything in our power to prepare to the best of our abilities. We did a handful of practice jumps before the competition started, and to our pleasant surprise they were the best, most together jumps we had done all year. That was certainly a confidence booster! We felt ready to go!

AL: I’m going to take a leaf from Dan B.C.’s book and say that “expectations” can be a bit dangerous. The only things we can control are our attitude and our performance. Sure, I had a point average in mind, but my main focus was to compete and to compete to the best of my ability.

How did competition go?

LB: The meet went really well for us. I felt like we had a connected performance throughout the meet. I felt present and focused during each round and feel great about our performance overall. There were some very challenging skydives that I think we executed very well. There were hiccups of course, but the important thing is, we didn’t hold on to them throughout the meet.

MW: Comp went well. Of course, there are always the first round jitters, but we got through those and felt like we had a solid competition. The Open class was very, very competitive this year but we were very happy with our performance and came out feeling like we have only just gotten started!

AL: I think it went well. It was not a perfect competition for us; there were some stumbles. In general, though, it felt like “us” flying for the vast majority of the competition. In the process, we learned some things about how we compete as a team, manage engagement, and mitigate anxiety.

CB: It went well! I was pleased with where we ended up for the year and feel very positive on where we can go into next year.

phoenix xp on podium at USPA Nationals

What was it like getting the official invite to represent the US at the next World Meet?

LB: Amazing. Standing on the podium with Airspeed to receive our US Team patches is the highlight of my skydiving career thus far.

MW: It was amazing! This is something that I have always dreamt about but thought it was so out of reach. It is crazy to think that if you put your mind to something, dreams really come true. I kept looking at the medal and patch we received at the ceremony and kept thinking, This is awesome! We are the USA Women’s team!! When can we start training!? Haha!

AL: As cliché as it sounds, it was kind of a dream come true. That invite has been on my radar since 2012. I left a team I enjoyed (Dallas 350), and with whom I would likely have gotten a personal best point average this year, to try out for and fly with Phoenix XP. Going into and at the end of the competition, I, of course, knew we had the invite, but actually receiving the official invite and the patch was an enormous moment for me. If you look carefully at the photos, I’m perilously close to a full out ugly cry.

CB: It was an amazing, surreal experience!

What are your plans for training?

LB: We took about a month off from training after nationals. We are still working on our physical fitness goals during this time, but it’s important to give your brain a rest from the daily video study and visualization. We are back training in the tunnel starting this weekend. We hope to get in about 300 jumps and 20-25 hours of tunnel prior to the World Meet.

MW: We have just finalized most of our dates for this upcoming season. We will train similarly to how we did last year, and we will have measurable goals that we will focus on throughout the season. We are also going to try to get some international competition experience, if possible, before Australia next year to see how that aspect affects us.

AL: We took a month off, but are already back at it. We plan to do at least as much as last year, so ~15 hrs tunnel and ~300 jumps. We want to represent the U.S., and we want to give the top women’s team a run for it at the World Championships, so we will do everything in our power (and budget) to do just that.

CB: Lots.

Any plans after World Meet?

LB: I plan to keep Phoenix going even after the World Meet. After all, someone needs to represent the US at the 2020 World Meet!

MW: We have not discussed our plans for after Worlds. The hope is that this will be the first of many World Comps to come!

AL: Well, a short vacation in Australia, for sure. After that, I’m hoping that at least the majority of the team wants to give it another go and commit to the next selection/competition cycle. It’s tough, though, and things change, so we’ll see how this year goes and have that discussion when it’s time.

CB: There have been a few discussions – we will keep you posted.

woman dancing in freefall with ballet slippers

As a member of the Canadian National 8-way skydiving team, we have trained at many DZs over the years. By far, we have never been treated as well at any other drop zone in the world. This is our new go to DZ. Cannot say enough good things about this operation!!!

Heather Porteous