The Tech View From 10,000 Feet

July 3, 2011

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Some of John Nahabedian’s relatives look at him funny, but I don’t.

If you had to pick two characteristics about Nahabedian from a short conversation that began with introductions, was then filled with tales of jumping out of planes and competing at it, and ended with a suggestion that the Georgia Tech Sport Parachute Club is populated by ordinary folk, here are my picks:

# He really loves to do something that a lot of people – family included – think is bananas; and . . .

# The rising senior biology major is a young man of reinforced conviction, and in those veins he believes that he does what he does in part because of his DNA.

A grandfather was a paratrooper in World War II, and although Nahabedian did not know him well before the elder jumper’s passing more than a decade ago, he’s convinced there is an important genetic link of sorts.

It’s not just bloodlines that makes Nahabedian think this way; it’s all the conversations he’s had over the years about sky-diving.

From all those free-form conversations he’s formed this opinion: you either love the idea of jumping out of the sky and trusting your life to linen and strings (or are already into it), or there is no way, period; not now, not in the future.

“As a biologist, there is a gene that regulates being an adventurist and it’s either on or off,” said Nahabedian, who also is treasurer of the Biology Honor Society. “When you talk to people, there really doesn’t seem to be much gray area.”

In some ways, the GTSPC is like, say, the Tech basketball team except they work with parachutes.

The club practices, competes and recruits.

These folks are like a lot of you, too, in that the economy of recent years has whacked them in the knees. In this regard, they are normal.

Sky-diving is pricey to begin with, and the GTSPC’s budget – derived in part from the Student Government Association – has fallen flat(ter) of late.

Actually, before some confusion was straightened out last year, the SGA cut the club’s budget for reserve chutes and the budget for their Automatic Activation Devices. I’m no sky-diver, but from John’s explanation that’s something that wakes you up if you pass out in the air, or get disoriented.

Much of that specific funding was restored, but then there were sizable limitations placed on the GTSPC’s travel budget.

That’s interesting because the Tech sky divers, who’ve been doing what they do since 1969, have long held a stellar reputation nationally. The group had a productive trip to nationals in Arizona last December.

Without going into much detail, there are competitions in accuracy landing and formations (two-, four-, and six-person).

You don’t have to compete to be in the club, but everyone in the club sure takes pride in the club’s competitive accomplishments.

“We’ve won gold medals almost every year,” Nahabedian said of nationals. “We always get medals in something, and gold medals every few years or so on average. We have world-famous alumni . . . who are part of sponsored competition teams at air shows and events.”

There are some tricks to all of this.

To enter the Tech sky diving club, one must already be certified. Nahabedian said that costs about $1,300.

The budget cuts have pared competitive sky diving down for Tech, and the schedule as it now stands will include one state competition, next month, and nationals in December.

The club had a roster of 23 last fall, but has been socked by graduation.

“We were as low as six at one point, and now we’re back up to about 12,” Nahabedian said. “It’s very difficult to convince people to join. Ten graduated in the spring, and even more will graduate at the end of summer and fall. We’ve never been this low in my time. It’s been a little rough.”

The GTSPC receives instruction, which Nahabedian said is some of the best available, and sky divers work occasionally in a wind tunnel in North Carolina that he claims is the world’s biggest.

I’m at the beach in South Carolina, and not in a position to research that, but I’m fascinated by Nahabedian and his fascination.

He first jumped out of a plane when he was 18, and since graduating from South Forsyth High School his love of sky-diving has grown with only external limitations.

“Sky-diving is definitely a passion. I think that when you fall in love with sky diving, it becomes a passion,” he said. “You can’t just quit, and you love to talk about it. It’s complicated.”

There is anecdotal evidence to support his contention that not everybody is fascinated. N

ahabedian’s parents have come to grips, more or less, but if I was reading correctly between the lines during our phone conversation, he finds himself in a defensive spot from time to time – even among those who share his DNA.

“My parents at first were very worried but they said that they had always wanted to do it . . . they actually went with me,” he said. “After doing it, it wasn’t for them, but the Georgia Tech club is one of the safest organizations in the nation. They know that, and accept it especially since they know I run the club.

“On the other hand, some of my extended family, they look at me like I’m stupid. I have to accept that.”

There was a time, when I was a younger, more dexterous, less easily-frightened man, that I wanted to do this. That window has closed, but I still get it; I really do. If you’d like to get into sky diving with the Tech club, here’s some help:

First, to contact Nahabedian for information and/or about joining the GTSPC, e-mail him at president@gtskydive.com

Here’s the GTSPC web site: http://www.gtskydive.com/

Here’s the GTSPC Facebook page: (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Georgia-Tech-Sport-Parachute-Club/157481734315990)

Here’s is a video that Nahabedian said is sweet: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02IX7uWyoWU;

Here are facts that Nahabedian sent via e-mail:

– The Sport Parachute Club has been an organization at Georgia Tech since 1969 and has held many awards and recognitions throughout the years.

-The club stretches back towards the pioneering days of skydiving with some of our members being the ones that improved upon and created the extremely safe equipment that we rely on today.

-The club members and club graduates can boast more than 100 top three finishes in Collegiate, National and World Competitions in recent years alone.

-Georgia Tech is the most decorated non-military sport parachute club in the nation, and with safe gear and a top notch program, the awards will continue to be won.

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