Pride: Robin Harris shining her light on inclusivity in skydiving
As we wrap up Pride Month 2021, we wanted to take an opportunity to talk with Camp Unity contributor and all-around jumping badass, Robin Harris, to discuss her experiences in skydiving and life over the past decade, and how one inevitably influences the other.
As a highly talented multi-discipline pilot — she can fly either canopy or wingsuit on an XRW jump! — and a woman who transitioned for gender affirmation while at a competitive level in skydiving, she’s got a whole bunch of unique insights on what it’s like to be in the sport when other jumpers perceive you in different ways. We’re lucky to be able to share with you a snapshot perspective on her skydiving career and journey to living an authentic life. Let’s jump right in!
Robin was one of the few lucky ones among us to start her skydiving journey for $0. With a tandem at Skydive Tampa gifted from a friend, she finished an overnight shift and drove straight from work to the DZ. “I remember falling asleep on the ride up in the Cessna, and being asked if I really wanted to do this...I loved my first tandem so much, I walked right to the office from the landing area to sign up for AFF.”
With a bit of tunnel time under her belt, Robin flew through AFF as well as a couple of SoFPiDaRF-worthy canopies (e.g. Crossfire 2 119 at 78 jumps, loading 1.ill-advised; see: “School of Fast Progress in Downsizing and Radical Flying”). After lots of canopy coaching, she landed on her first cross-braced canopy, an 84.
Along the way, her wingsuit dreams were coming together at Skydive City. In her own words, here is Robin’s story:
“My passions were all things flying, wingsuits, and swooping. I actually didn't jump for 2 weeks because I wanted my 201st to be a wingsuit jump and the local instructor, Scotty Burns, was out of town. I got my coach rating at about 150 jumps and my AFF-I at about 700. After that, I started competing in canopy piloting at the FLCPA. I also began teaching wingsuiting around that time. In 2015, my 2nd year of competing in canopy piloting and first real season, I got the gold in Advanced for the season!
It was shortly after this I had some huge life stuff resurfacing and some hard truths to come to.
Honestly, I don't think I would be me if it wasn't for skydiving. 5 years ago I was in a really dark spot in my life and unfortunately suicidal, if it wasn't for skydiving and a core group of some fellow skydivers I would not be here right now. The freedom I feel jumping finally allowed me to be open and honest with myself and who I really wanted to be as a human being.
After almost taking my life from another suicide attempt in August of 2016, I decided I needed to transition to be my true self and happy. Over the next 5 months, I started my transition in secret, only telling a few that I was closer to, or knew would be okay. In these months I became increasingly aware of some of the toxic culture and sexual misconduct around the DZ. About a month or two before coming out and going full-time, I remember a jumper randomly coming up and pinching my nipple to say hello and being mortified, shocked, and in pain — holy cow did it hurt with my breasts growing.
I came out in January the next year as signs were becoming noticeable and I just couldn't take living the lie anymore. I had told everyone privately that I cared to and so made a long Facebook post with lots of details, so I didn't have to answer a million questions. I quickly logged off and turned all electronics off, as I was scared of what would happen — scared that I may never skydive again with how people handled things.
I actually had a friend come to my house and tell me to log back on. Besides a few people who thought it was a prank someone had done on my account, the support was amazing! I couldn't believe all the positive comments, messages, and calls I got!
Shortly after I came out I was asked to help the USPA with drafting a policy for transgender inclusiveness. Unfortunately, that did not go over well with some and I stopped competing in Canopy Piloting so as to not cause more drama or issues with them. Over the past few years, I slowly started getting fewer students. Through some financial difficulty (finding work when trans is almost impossible in Florida), when covid hit last year I decided to let my AFF-I lapse.
My transition for sure has been the biggest hurdle to overcome in skydiving, seeing how much different people will treat you just being a woman, let alone a woman like me. I am so thankful for all those who stayed with me and supported me through that time.
Now that covid is dwindling and my transition is done, I am going to start training to compete in wingsuit performance.”
Regarding evolving skydive culture, acceptance, and creating DZ environments that are inviting to anyone and everyone who loves to fly, Robin says “I'm so excited to be seeing groups like WSN, Camp Unity, SIS, and HPS all pushing forward in different ways. I was ecstatic to help Camp Unity by moderating their first live stream discussion and to do this interview as well. I hope to be able to help them and possibly new groups down the line, if and where I can. These groups are all super amazing, helping open up doors for others and pushing inclusivity, my only hope is that would happen faster!”
On a lighter note, Robin has a couple of excellent pieces of non-technical wisdom for all new jumpers:
1. Don't get swept up in drinking culture.
2. Living on the DZ is fun for a bit, but don't do it too long.
THANK YOU, Robin, for sharing your story and continuing to be both an example and advocate for others struggling to live their individual truths, especially LGBTQIA+ jumpers, both on and off DZ grounds. While it’s never easy to broadcast the painful parts of our lives, we can’t thank you enough for letting us ask you a bunch of questions and for being so genuine and open!
Blue Skies and all the love,