AE Bits Wednesday 22  October

by Missy Nelson


Spindles of chaotic energy in the twig light of social minds; the love, the passion and the spirit of the national common breed of competition, experience and knowledge – a priceless camaraderie.

It is the day before competition and the energy in the air is still flowing from the dueling battle from the 4-way competition. Throughout the day we watch the ‘magic’ in the air and casually train, sizing up the other teams. Freefly teams are hoping to place next to Alchemy (Rook Nelson, Jon DeVore, Mike Swanson). Even though Alchemy has not trained in the past month and won the World Meet in Gap France, the Open Class teams know that they are challenge of this fascinating three-dimensional event.

Privileged to know the talented teams in the third official year of the freefly US Nationals, I chatted with several members of this event. Having asked Jon Devore and Mike Swanson if they expected to win this year’s Nationals, they humbly replied, “Well, we have not seen what any other teams are doing. And as long as we stay in frame and stick our routine, you never know what the outcome is going to be.”

Many new teams have formed to make their mark in the artistic event history and many stories have lead up to this very moment in time. Anything can happen in freestyle, skysurfing and freefly this year, and we all look forward to these athletes pushing the envelope, inspiring us all with their hard work and innovative moves.

I am honored to write the Tidbits for OmniSkore. I hope to bring you closer to some of the stories these athletes endured to come compete at such a prestigious event in our sport and take you day by day, round by round of our experiences here at Lake Wales.


The heat of the competition has raised as quick as the humidity today. Teams have now put their game faces on and are in full stride of the competition.

One different aspect of this year’s AE is that teams are able to manifest themselves to jump at their own pace which is unusual since we normally are told what loads we are on.

Mike Wittenburg of the Open Freefly team, Loki is competing at his second US National competition. I asked him if his team was well trained and how he anticipated his team to do and he commented that there is a high talent level here. “We’re well trained,” he continued, “and I expect we’ll do our best.”

The scores have yet to be posted for skysurfing or freeflying. However, Amy Chmelecki of the Sugar Gliderz, also competing in freestyle is sitting pretty in first place above the three other open freestyle teams. It’s only round one, anything can still happen.

Trent Alkek of the Texas Freefly team, Anamoly says that his team is doing really well. “We had a few moves that weren’t super clean, but we pulled it off. My mindset is just like doing 7 fun jumps in a row.”

So 10:00 a.m. and the energy is still high even though we all had to get up before the sun this morning!

Freefly Bits & Pieces

This afternoon has certainly picked up due to being able to crank out our competition rounds. More video is being shown here in the hangar and every team is studying each move of every second from each team. Just hoping to have a chance to place next to Alchemy. Well, Anomaly just rocked the house showing off their rad moves from linked head up, head down to belly with flare with a twist – quite a crowd pleaser. Trent Alkek tells me, “Second place is Gold when you’re competing against Alchemy.” And Alchemy is leading the pack starting round one with an impressive 9.4. How did they get this good? 2500 training jumps spanning over a two-year period and creative minds that get them the gold. Not to mention their blind moves, synchronized layouts and raw style. Sugar Gliderz (my team and personal favorite to win this event, wink, wink) have a really cool routine with a flow of linked freestyle moves. And again, the Sugar Gliderz are the only women in open freefly.

Dusty Smith’s team, “New School of Flight” scored an 8.5, averaging among all the other teams and isn’t exactly thrilled with the way his routine is judged compared to the others. Dusty is just chillin’ on the couch with me in his cool new Freakin’ Suit and Gatorz sunglasses. He slyly replies, “Well, we’ll see what happens after the other rounds.”

Brett Willard cruises over to give me some insight. He is competing on the freefly open team, Saki Bomb. He is a sexy man and I am anxious for what he is about to unfold… I am honored to be sitting next to one of the greatest canopy pilots in the world. “Competition is fierce. We have learned what is a challenge to us is but relative simplicity to others.” He adds, “We’ve decided to mix it up and get our jig on.”

The Intermediate Freefly teams are combined with new energy and interesting routines. It’s been tough for some of the teams, not scoring as high as they hoped. It’s hard coming into a National competition with no experience under your belt. It’s just hard to predict so many aspects such as how will the judges like your moves, execution and how will they judge the difficulty of your never-been-seen-before tricks. You train all season and think you have it down, you come to Nationals and you don’t score that entirely well. It’s a tough game to impress these judges. But all will definitely go home with more confidence, new knowledge and motivation to kick some butt the following year.

Bryan Moffett of Gravity Rats dressed in orange and white stops by to tell me that it’s good to see ole friends and have fun. And we realized Shannon is the competitor on the team.” He smiles at me, laughs and says, “We’ll do our best.”

Sharky Harkov of the Intermediate Freefly team, Jank, wiggled his way to share with me the hardships he endured to make it here. “All my year’s earnings have gone into this trip. My friends and family also made sacrifices to help me with my passion to reach my goals to be here.” He stopped for a second, turned off his Walkman and got a little more serious. “It’s been a rough year since Nationals at Skydive Chicago and it was hard for us to get on the same schedule to train.” He smiles and says, “I have a better time to see everyone from all over and enjoy the same realm together, weather it be different disciplines.”

And again, it always proves that training is imperative for all teams.

And if I must, I will take out my crystal ball and share my vision

Freestyle Pieces

Betsy Barnhouse from Arizona just put up some impressive first year scores. She may have a hard time beating her scores next year is she doesn’t go home and train hard again next season.

Having been a National freestyle competitor since 1999 (and unfortunately not this year), I have seen so many competitors lack the grace in their compulsory moves due to lack of training them. Why aren’t they trained? BECAUSE THEY ARE SOOO HARD!! I mean, let’s see you bust out a stag 1 ½ layout twist or three cartwheels with a side layout twist without bending your waist and pointing your toes! So, it will be interesting to see the placing after round 2.

Skysurf Bits

I have to admit, skysurfing is hard and these athletes are making it look easy. I suspect many of them trained hard this season and they are showing a lot of talent. Interesting competition.

It’s getting pretty windy out there, but it seems as though nothing but a hurricane will stop these athletes from trying to finish up today.

I’m impressed with all the talent here and share with many of these athletes, the hardships and sacrifices to do such a prestigious event. It’s funny all of the hard work, time and energy that we put into this for only a moment of glory and maybe a picture in the magazine. I guess it truly shows we do this sport because we love what we do!

Alright, it’s time for me to make another round with the Gliderz. So don’t go away, stay tuned here to where you hear it here first!

10.22.03 – Around 5 p.m.

A colorful camaraderie of those whose passion is to fly flawlessly through the skies of Florida; A general make up of young, athletic individuals whose eyes are wide open to the future of flight; Our mission, to continuously and positively help contribute to the evolution of human flying; A display of magical unity and an enthusiasm I am so honored to be a part of.

Oh yea, the competition! Sorry, I was getting carried away being poetic!

Oh my gosh… the judging is taking FOR-EVER!! Since we were on our own pace and able to jump as fast and as much as we want, 85% of the teams are finished competing. The rest of us will have another early morning to finish up tomorrow.

Yes, Alchemy is still in first and are we surprised…. No. Anomaly is rocking the house and we’re we expecting that? Hell yea!! They are sticking their routine like glue. This team shares an amazing chemistry and bond!

There is a tight race between Guano, New School of Flight and Loki. Wait a minute. Who’s Loki? I suppose I can tell you a little story about this comical team from Chicago. Three tall guys got together with a mission – to kick some butt at a National event and here they are, out of nowhere, giving Guano, New School and Anomaly a run for their money. And I will add my two cents about Loki, ‘I’m a lucky girl because I’m a Loki girl!’

And as expected, the scores are not as we feel they should be. Most teams think that they should have scored higher, but myself, I am surprised that we (Sugar Gliderz) are scoring as high as we are. Why? Well, you just never know how the judges are going to interpret your routine and I guess the judges like our freefly/style groovy moves.

Of course, one of the most talented female athletes, my teammate, Amy Chmlecki, came over to check and see if I need a glass of wine. While she was checking on me as I sit in the corner near an outlet, she shared her point of view of the competition. “I’m competing in 2 categories, Open Freefly and Freestyle. Freefly has been frustrating because we didn’t get to train as much as we’d like as a team, but freestyle has gone surprisingly well and I’m in first place. I didn’t think I have an ounce of grace or style in me!” She adds, “ I’m also really excited to jump with Steve Curtis.” Steve Curtis trained freestyle with Omar, longtime reigning male freestyle champion and Arizona Airspeed Camera Flyer. Yea, I’d be honored to jump with him too! Amy then looks at me, her hair tied in a funky knot and wearing her favorite overalls, she smirks and replies, “I hope my freestyle suit lasts because it’s about to rip a huge whole in the butt.”

The very colorful Brandon Chouinard of Intermediate Freefly team, Vibe is here for his first National experience. He assures me that his team is not hooking up with other girls and that he is totally single. And ladies, let me tell you, he is an all around guy, one you would want to take home to mom, and one you can go and have a fun time. ANYWAYS, he did share a few details of the event with me. “Well, we came here with two different free rounds. One we busted and another we jammed. We repeated the one we busted thinking that we could stick it, but we were wrong in assuming which possibly cost us a few points and possibly placing.”

Merriah Eakins of Team Flew-Id had a chance to sit down with me and share a few of her thoughts about the competition. She expressed how thrilled she was to be here and that all the freestyle ladies came out to compete again. “It’s become like a family of freestyle,” she says. “It’s so awesome to be a part of Nationals because it’s so good to have everyone together to socialize and to party!” Merriah and her husband Karl have been competing in freestyle for several years and placed 2nd at last year’s open freestyle Nationals. She’s in the race for getting back up on the podium and I asked her if she felt as if she were performing as well as expected and she told me that she was… her and her 60 training jumps! What a tough girl! She left home to miss a hot air balloon boogie and one of her AFF students is probably reading this along with you, cheering her on at home. “It’s expensive to get here,” she adds, “but certainly well worth it.”

The beautiful and talented, low jump number freestyle competitor, Kristen Koscielniak quickly came over to have a little chat with me to share her experiences here at Nationals. Kristen first assured me she is not a recovering alcoholic. Then she wanted to acknowledge all the little people that have made her dream of being last place possible. “I have worked very hard to get here, but the indispensable knowledge was well worth the challenges of this journey.” What an awesome and gifted girl she is. I had her as a student at Skydive Chicago only 2 years ago and she was our freestyle intermediate champion last year. I am so proud of her.

How lucky am I? I got to sit down with Skysurfer, Lawrence Heltzer of Elsinore Electric who has competed for the last three years. This is his first year in the Open class. Lawrence is a very open, dynamic person whose passion in skysurfing surpasses the twinkle in his eye. It is always such an honor to know a person who tries to give back to the sport as much as he learns. Lawrence made his way all the way from California. I couldn’t believe that he would want to travel all the way here just for a short event and a possible medal. “Yes, it is expensive, but I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” He commented. We also talked about how skysurfing was about to be omitted out of Nationals and he shared this with me, “It seemed like there was a terrible lull in skysurfing with lack of interest. But, when anyone expresses interest I get so excited for them and help them get started. Once you’re on your way, it’s addictive!” I even got to spend more time with him as he was so open to share his view on a discipline we know little about. “I’m excited to compete against someone better than myself (referring to Keith Snyder, world class skysurf competitor) because I’m always getting to learn. However, it’s not about a competition with others, it’s a challenge against myself. I review my videos coaching myself and every time I see improvement, I get more excited. Skysurfing is in my blood.”

We are fortunate that the FL weather cooperated with us here. Probably the best FL Nationals weather recorded in history (well, maybe, I just haven’t remembered one this good)! So all Artistic Events will wrap up tomorrow and we’ll have had another successful presentation of the most bad-ass fliers in the country. A special thanks to all those who sat down and chit chatted with me. These athletes represent the best we have in the entire United States and deserve praise for all of their hard work, contributions and wonderful, charismatic personalities.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s update, see what’s happening and learn about another competitor, maybe your favorite… and remember, you heard it first, here at!!

Your artistic event reporter is saying Goodnight, fly safe and spread the love!

Missy Nelson Sugar Gliderz

Email Missy at

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