When it comes to sending a message, the Highlight Pro Skydiving Team doesn’t mess around. And with the message of female empowerment combined with a sport that involves falling to the ground at 100 mph, the possibilities are endless.
Four members of the elite all-female Highlight skydiving team will be performing an aerial display Wednesday at the Cotton Bowl Stadium. They’re coming together to kick off the Athletes Unlimited’s 2021 Inaugural Volleyball Season. They’re also celebrating International Women’s Day and the beginning of Women’s History Month.
Athletes Unlimited is an alternative to the traditional model of professional sports, using a “player-centric” model to design leagues among various sports, according to Athletes Unlimited’s website. It also seeks to challenge professional sports norms by promoting “fringe” sports onto bigger platforms.
As the women jump out of a plane 5,000 feet above Fair Park, they will be accompanied by brightly colored smoke in Athletes Unlimited’s team colors — blue, purple, yellow and orange — and flags that read: “#BeUnlimited.” And as team captains take the game ball, the skydivers will land on a 30-foot square logo in the middle of the field.
And while the event isn’t open to the public due to COVID-19, the magnitude of the message can still be heard on several social channels. The volleyball games will be streamed for free on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Twitch. They can also be found on CBS Sports Network, Fox Sports and the Dailymotion.
Melanie Curtis, HPST co-founder and member, will be one of the women jumping at the event. A veteran skydiver with more than 11,000 jumps, she said the event Wednesday represents something much greater than sports.
“What Athletes Unlimited is doing now, what skydiving is and embodies, is exactly what the suffragists did back then,” Curtis says. “They really stepped up and stood up for what they believed in. They were brave enough to challenge systems and ideologies that were set up to keep them down.”
Highlight Pro Skydiving Team
Directly speaking, the Highlight team dives out of planes and helicopters across the country to celebrate women’s initiatives and equality. They fly through colored smoke with phrases like “Equality can’t wait,” “Votes for women,” and “Shall not be denied,” on streamers and flags. Their gear is also in purple, white and yellow, “which American suffragists use to represent loyalty, purity and hope.”
In 2019, the team came together in celebration of the women’s suffrage movement and those who secured women’s right. They wanted to inspire other women to seek out skydiving and champion conversations of gender equality. “The idea was to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment in a way no one could ignore or could soon forget,” the team wrote on its website.
It was sorely needed. The sport of skydiving itself represents gender inequality in sports. According to the USPA, 87% of skydivers are men, and only 13% are women.
Funded by the Women’s Skydiving Network, the team is now made up of 12 women who are veteran skydivers. They hold the United States Parachute Association PRO rating. (They’re qualified to fly and land in difficult places and near onlookers.) Each has an average of 20 years experience and 200,000 total jumps among them.
Curtis explained the feeling of skydiving as transformative and challenges what one believes is possible for themself.
“Inside of that experience, there’s this very visceral feeling of freedom,” Curtis said. “But there’s also a very profound, mind-opening experience as well, which really opens doors for people in many ways, which I can personally attest to has absolutely been my life experience.”
A Like-Minded Partnership
Even though the team hasn’t been around long, they have jumped at high-profile events like the World Cup of Skydiving opening ceremonies and the VA Ratify ERA Women’s Equality Legislative Summit. And on Wednesday, they will be making another jump to kick off the Athletes Unlimited volleyball season.
Athletes Unlimited’s volleyball season brings 44 of the best female volleyball players worldwide together for competition at the Fair Park Coliseum in Dallas from Feb. 27 to March 29. The volleyball season will even include American Olympian teammates Jordan Larson and Molly McCage, according to the release.
Like the Highlight team, Athletes Unlimited seeks to challenge the norms of professional sports. Jon Patricof, CEO and co-founder of Athletes Unlimited, said in a press release that they were proud to partner with the Highlight team. They also plan to celebrate Women’s History Month with original content and storytelling across their social channels.
“Much like our mission with Athletes Unlimited, the Highlight team is committed to elevating awareness for equality,” Patricof wrote.
As part of its alternative sports model, Athletes Unlimited allows the athletes to be the owners. And by doing so, they create pay equity in sports, which is “relatively new.”
“Especially [when looking] at skydiving and the under-representation of women in skydiving — we see that kind of under-representation everywhere,” Curtis says. “And we can look at it in the conversation of equality at large — anti-racism work — that it’s important, representation matters, inclusion matters.
“Skydiving is a lot like that in the sense that even doing one jump can radically transform what people believe is possible for themselves.”