Georgia Tech’s Jack Broadhead uses skydiving to reinvent himself, help others

Jack Broadhead smiles after competing in accuracy landing at the 2023 Skydive Arizona competition.

Credit: Anika Manchanda

Credit: Anika Manchanda

Jack Broadhead smiles after competing in accuracy landing at the 2023 Skydive Arizona competition.

Confusion and concern ran through Casey Kloess-Finley’s mind the first time he met Jack Broadhead. The two met at the Jumping Place Skydiving Center in Statesboro in 2018.

Kloess-Finley was about to take a passenger on a tandem skydive when he noticed the 17-year-old introverted newbie packing parachutes because of their large size. Although Cathy Kloess, the late mother of Kloess-Finley and the owner of Jumping Place, trained Broadhead, he still questioned her decision for the right reasons — he had no skydiving experience.

“He looked like a brand-new high school kid that just found out about the world outside of video games,” Kloess-Finley said. “But what I’ve seen in him is the blossoming of a child to a man. … He’s 180 degrees different than when I first met him.”

Broadhead’s relationship with skydiving looks completely different at 23. He’s skydived over 400 times, competed nationally and most important, breathed Georgia Tech’s skydiving club back to life.

However, this breakthrough didn’t come until the first jump on his 18th birthday.

The five minutes were filled with fear, speed and excitement, capped by confetti from his co-workers and family members. Broadhead couldn’t remember the first few seconds of the jump, but knew that he wanted to do it again.

And already in love with packing’s nuances like the material and redundancy, he used the sport to help him break out of his shell.

“I have been very shy all my life, and that job was very helpful. I actually had a job that was important,” Broadhead said. “A lot of it is just meeting so many different people and everybody’s teaching you something. The atmosphere at most places is very learning focused and encouraging. … That helped me grow up a lot.”

Broadhead’s plan to continue skydiving in college hit a roadblock when he got to Tech — the school’s club died out a year earlier. The then-freshman went in circles, emailing people yet not receiving helpful answers.

That’s when Cathy Kloess suggested another avenue for him to continue skydiving: the United States Parachute Association Collegiate Nationals competition hosted in Lake Wales, Florida, that year. Although it was scheduled during his Christmas break, the freshman and his father made the seven-hour road trip, and it paid off.

The skydiver competed in only accuracy landing, a skydiving discipline, and didn’t do well, but was still able to connect with other collegiate skydivers from around the country and form long-lasting friendships.

Broadhead (bottom left) poses with skydiving friends from Western Michigan University and UC Berkeley at the 2023 USPA competition in Lake Elsinore, CA.

Credit: Bryan Eggleston

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Credit: Bryan Eggleston

The event has become an annual tradition for Broadhead, no matter where it’s located. And even though he’s the only Tech student to compete, he’s participated in multiple skydiving disciplines since his first year.

“The competition was awesome, but the people are more fun, and the competition brings us all together,” Broadhead said. “I had a lot of trouble last semester with school … but jumping every now and then with some of my friends was such a nice release.”

Broadhead’s push for the club’s revival worked in 2021, when a graduate student helped him restart it. The duo struggled to find members consistently, though, snagging just one or two occasionally.

Now a graduate student, the club has a core group of 10 skydivers that jump weekly, traveling to iFly or the club’s drop zone at Skydive Atlanta. Broadhead taught the club’s current president, sophomore engineering student Logan Purkiss, and other members how to jump using his instructor rating, giving him the ability to teach people how to get their skydiver’s license.

Additionally, the tight-knit community helped Broadhead stay motivated in school. He’s not alone, though, as other skydivers are engineering majors as well.

“There’s few better ways of bonding than jumping out of a plane,” Purkiss said. “It’s for sure a really good way to get my mind off things like schoolwork ... being able to take a day and go to the drop zone and do something pretty insane.”

Broadhead planned to get different types of instructor ratings and competing at nationals again, but after last year’s competition, he’s focused on having fun.

Broadhead doesn’t know how much time he will have to jump in the future because of academics and his job, but when he does get the chance to, he will make sure to share the love with others.

“Before I started in this (skydiving) world, I remember a couple times where after school I wanted to go to Taco Bell, but I was too scared to even order for myself,” Broadhead said. “(Skydiving) and engineering school have really shaped me, I’ve grown up a lot. And it’s all been around skydiving.”