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Photo Story: 2020 a banner year for skydiving in Napoleon

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Above, A sport jumper makes a typical running landing, as opposed to tandem first-timers who are taught to put their legs out and land on their rear end.

By John Hummer
Editor

Though it has been a different, difficult year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, things have been flying along great at Napoleon’s Skydive Tecumseh.

“It’s going well,” said Ryan “Shaggio” Levesque, first-year manager at Skydive Tecumseh, regarding business this year. Levesque moved to Michigan after a 15-year skydiving career in South Carolina. “It seems like everyone kind of wants to get out of the house and go skydiving. I think it gives everyone a little bit of a break from the reality of 2020.”

This group of Skydive Tecumseh instructors is fresh back from a fun jump. From left: Justin VanFleet, Canton; Molly Wilson, Charlotte; Jeromy Alexander, Jackson; and Mike Heio, Linden.

Skydive Tecumseh is owned by Franz Gerschwiler, originally from England. Gerschwiler has worked tirelessly to improve the storied skydive center in Napoleon. Since moving the operation from Tecumseh to Napoleon, he has built the large, spacious new skydive hangar that has everything skydivers need to prepare for and wind down from a jump.

Levesque said the weather has been great for skydiving this year with an abundance of clear, sunny days. He estimates, on average, about 200 skydivers jump from an airplane every day they’re open.

The plane gets ready for take-off as an instructor flashes the “I love you” hand gesture back at those watching from the waiting area.

“On a busy Saturday, we’re probably doing about 350 jumps,” he said.

Jeromy Alexander is one of the few “locals” that works full-time at Skydive Tecumseh. Skydiving since 2007, he is an Advanced Free Fall (AFF) tandem instructor who teaches skydiving students to eventually jump solo. He is also a videographer.

“Anyone who wants pictures, I’ll go up and take some snapshots.”

Kim Mandrelle of Livonia, in front with her instructor at back, cruises through the air approaching the landing area. It was Mandrelle’s first time skydiving. “I wanted to do it for my 40th birthday five years ago, but they closed up [in Tecumseh]. I finally got a chance to do it.” 

When asked how it was, Mandrelle replied, “It was awesome – I’d do it again in a heartbeat. My favorite part was the freefall. I was nervous, but they kind of just make you go. You don’t have time to think about it. It was great!”

Alexander may be better known as one of the City of Jackson’s council members, representing Ward 3 in the northeast section of Jackson. Born and raised in Jackson County, Alexander attended Columbia Central High School and Jackson Community College. While only in his first term as a council member, Alexander has previously served as an ex-officio member of the Human Relations Commission.

You’ve heard the question many times, “Why jump from a perfectly good airplane?” Alexander has the answers.

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“I get a lot of stories of why [skydivers] are here,” Alexander said. “Sometimes it’s birthdays, sometimes it’s anniversaries, a lot of times it’s even a weight loss goal. They’ve been working two or three years to get under that 230-pound weight limit and they’re pretty proud when they can finally get in that airplane.”

Alexander doesn’t hold back his love for skydiving.

First-time skydiver Kim Mandrelle of Livonia, with legs straight out as they teach you, gets ready to slide in for a smooth landing.

“It’s just a ton of fun out here working at a drop zone,” he says. “Whether you’re a fun jumper or working here, it’s a place that’s always happy. There’s so much excitement every single day! It just feels great to come into a job and just have a completely positive working environment and help everyone celebrate the little victories. There’s always something great happening. It’s something I love and something I thoroughly enjoy sharing that love with other people. It’s always a fun time!”

Skydive Tecumseh, located at the Napoleon Airport, is open five days a week, Thursday through Monday. For more information or to book a skydive, visit skydivetecumseh.com.

Haley Yowler, from Santa Barbara, Calif., is spending the summer working at Skydive Tecumseh in Napoleon. She is a videographer and an Advanced Free Fall (AFF) instructor. As an AFF instructor, she teaches skydivers to go solo skydiving.

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