Competitive East Texas skydiver lives for the thrill

Published on Tuesday, 22 October 2013 23:04 - Written by SHANE STARK sstark@tylerpaper.com

More than 10 years ago, Matthew Greene dove out of an airplane for the first time. This year, the Whitehouse resident took that adrenaline rush to new heights.

In late September, Greene and his Dallas Khaos Khobalt teammates claimed gold in the intermediate four-way division at the U.S. Parachute Association National Skydiving Championships. At the annual competition, DKK perfected its collective aerial art to place ahead of 39 other teams that had converged on the Chicago area.

Even though Greene has thousands of jumps to his credit, each free fall presents the utmost thrill. Especially in competitions, which Greene compares with other sports.

“You have a huge adrenaline rush,” he said. “It’s like any competition. The adrenaline is huge because everyone else is competing, too. The moment we step off the plane, we have to come out of the plane perfectly. If you see us not come out right, it’s a mess.”

Such attention to detail is something Greene probably never envisioned in 2001, when a sudden curiosity culminated with his first jump — a tandem, in which an instructor went along for the fall as well. Experiencing a newfound sense of intrigue from that experience, Greene decided to make his first solo jump the very next day.

His life was, literally, in his own hands.

“The tandem felt like an amusement park ride,” said Greene, a 39-year old ICU trauma nurse. “The day’s jump gave me all the responsibility. I don’t think I took one breath. I was just trying to remember everything (the instructor) told me to do and just make sure I did it all right. I’m always willing to try cool new things — as long as they seem reasonable.”

Greene, who works at East Texas Medical Center, grew increasingly curious about skydiving over the years and offsets costs by videoing jumps. “Instead of paying to jump, they pay me to jump,” he said. Someone who’s also competed in marathons and cycling, he accumulated between 80 and 100 jumps with Gladewater-based Skydive East Texas during the first year and now has an estimated 2,400 jumps.

Since ascending to competition, Greene and his teammates have trained in such places as Austin and Arizona using simulated wind tunnels — which are, “a column of air closest to the real thing; you get in there and free fall engineering formation to formation,” he explained. But nothing compares to the real thing, which Dallas Khaos Khobalt practices dozens of times, consecutively, on weekends heading into competition.

All the practice paid off last month at nationals, which according to a United States Parachute Association news release is “the country’s biggest, most prestigious skydiving competition, drawing more than 600 competitors from across the country for 10 days of breathtaking skydiving in multiple events, including formation skydiving, artistic freestyle, landing accuracy and much more.”

The release continued: In DKK’s event, intermediate four-way formation, “The team leaps from an aircraft more than two miles above the ground and then races against the clock to prescribed geometric formations in freefell before opening their parachutes.”

During competition, teams use only body language and memorization to transmit formation responsibilities and, therefore, verbal communication doesn’t exist once freefell begins. With the most experience on DKK at nationals, Greene acted in a quarterback-like capacity with all team members being delegated utmost responsibility.

“My role, since I have the most skydives and experience, it to look over the formations,” he said. “And as it builds when we switch to the next formation, I’m the first to let go. I’m always facing in, and I can see most of the time the kind of pace for how fast or slow we are moving.

“Team cohesiveness is really important. You have to be on the same page working together. We do a lot of practicing on the ground. We have skateboards we call creepers practicing these moves laying on our bellies.”

Greene, a Pennsylvania native and Temple University graduate who came to East Texas about 15 years ago, has taken a break from skydiving to focus on his family, his job and returning to school. And since DKK topped the national field in the intermediate division, the team is required to move up to the advanced division should it plan to stay together.

While still deciding his next plan, Greene plans to remain busy. He compared his role in an ICU trauma room to his role in a skydiving formation.

“I try to keep an eye on everything,” he said. “I really enjoy my job and enjoy my hobby. I like pushing myself.”

About USPA: “Founded in 1946, the United States Parachute Association is a non-profit associated dedicated to the promotion of safe skydiving nationwide, establishing strict safety standards, training policies and programs at more than 220 USPA-affiliated skydiving schools and centers throughout the United States. Each year, USPA’s 35,000-plus members and hundreds of thousands of first-time jump students make more than 3 million jumps in the U.S. USPA represents skydivers before all levels of government, the public and the aviation industry and sanctions national skydiving competitions and records. For more information on making a first jump or to find a skydiving center near you, visitwww.uspa.org or call 800-731-USPA.”