Team - Sponsors - Coaching
When people think of skydiving and great skydivers in the United States, they often think of places like Southern California, Arizona, and Florida. For a place that only has about seven months of comfortable jumping weather a year, people don't usually think of New England in the same regard. The fact is, sport skydiving began in New England, and it, too, has had its share of great skydivers and great skydiving teams. Over the years New England has produced such reputable teams as "Form Service," "Mass Transit," "Identity Crisis," and most recently "Mass Defiance."
The story of Mass Defiance begins on a plane ride home from where else but the U.S. Nationals. During the flight home in 2003, Ben Liston and Brian Stephens began plotting about what it would take to build a nationally competitive 4-way team and how to compete against other teams that can train year round. They discussed training methods, jump numbers, tunnel camps, and of course cost, but most importantly, who in New England could be on such a team. A short list was compiled, and at the top were two names, Jim Rees and John Silva.
As if reading Ben and Brian's minds, only a month after the 2003 Nationals ended, Rees e-mailed Stephens stating that he, too, was looking to put together a 4-way team and that he had both Ben and Brian on his list. The three sat down to discuss their mutual plans and to determine who best to fill the fourth slot. Everyone agreed John Silva was an excellent fit and should be asked to complete the team. Stephens, who had been teammates and jumped with Silva in years prior, was asked to contact Silva and extend the invitation. Winters in New England replace skydiving season with ski season, and Stephens was off for a week to hit the slopes. He said he'd call Silva on his return. Again, like reading each others minds, Stephens returned from his ski trip to a voice-mail left by Silva. Silva said that he was looking to get back into the sport and was interested in any team plans for the upcoming season. With everyone already on the same page, it seemed that the team was just meant to be.
The first team meeting happened on a cold and snowy February night over beers and chowder in a local Irish pub. Team goals, jump numbers, a schedule, and other key details were all laid out and planned for the upcoming 2004 season. Rees had already contacted the fifth member and videographer, Rick Smith, who agreed to shoot video, and proposals would be sent out shortly to all the local dropzones to find the team a home. All that was needed now was a name.
Mass Defiance found a home at Skydive Pepperell, in Pepperell, Massachusetts. There the team built a dynamic where everyone brought something to the table. Jim Rees, the seasoned veteran of the team, had already won an advanced class gold in 2001. His experience and knowledge of what it takes for a team to reach that level proved invaluable. John Silva, a strong mentally focused skydiver into visualization and the mental aspects that make good skydivers great, emphasised the team's mental focus and the importance of seeing the "pictures." Ben Liston continuously watched the other top teams and compared the techniques that were making them successful. His precise individual form in the sky and dedication to team operations beyond training, kept the team on track and looking good throughout the season. Brian Stephens threw in raw speed in the sky and an obsession to analyze team training videos for hours on the ground. The in-depth knowledge of where mistakes were made streamlined training days and aided in the team's progressive training schedule. Rick Smith was the glue. While the 4-way was creeping and prepping the next jump, Smith was in communication with manifest, packers, and the pilot. He not only allowed the team to stay focused on the jumps, but also provided the humor and perspective when frustration interfered. Everone's individual talents filtered throughout, and their friendship on and off the DZ kept their spirits healthy. All of it allowed Mass Defiance to create the successful New England team that they had set out to build and compete at the top.
Throughout the 2004 season, the team trained hard doing anywhere from 10-15 jumps a day during 2-4 day training camps. Multiple times, when the weather looked questionable (as it often can be in New England), the team would rally mid-week and fly down to Florida just for the weekend to fly in the wind tunnel. Towards the end of the season they brought in friend and coach, Robbie Spencer, who put the final tweaks on the product. Although there was no local league for the team to gain competition experience, they managed to do roughly 300 training jumps that season and felt well prepped for Nationals.
Mass Defiance went into the 2004 Nationals with the simple goal of jumping their best. Always hoping for a medal, but not expecting it, things just seemed to come together during the meet. After 300 training jumps, they put up their best jumps of the season at Nationals and found themselves in the middle of the medal race. In the end, however, it wasn't meant to be, and while some might have considered the team's 4th place finish (only 4 points away from gold) demoralizing, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The 2004 plane ride home was filled with nothing but chatter about how to come back next year and clean house.
While they hoped to continue with the original 2004 line-up, due to work and family commitments, Smith had to step down from being the full-time videographer. It was difficult to lose such a crucial member, but they saw potential in "Scuba" Steve Feldman. Scuba, who had only 150 jumps at the start and no video experience, quickly proved himself as capable. His athletic skill and natural talent allowed for some fast-paced learning. Under the tutelage of Smith and other local jumper/videographer, Gary Harbird, Scuba was shooting impeccable video by Nationals.
The 4-way made excellent strides during the season as well. Being driven by the high scores of other top teams and the pressure of their expected performance at Nationals, the team trained smarter rather than harder. Although just another 300 jump season, Mass Defiance trained hard over the month of August, making a pre-nationals trip out to Perris for tunnel and freefall training and 100 jumps total in that month alone. The result was a head turning 15.4 average at Nationals, the second highest in advanced class history. Their efforts earned them a gold medal in advanced, and an average that would have placed them in the top ten in open. A silver medal in intermediate 8-way was icing on the cake. The 2005 Nationals was a complete success, and this time the plane ride home was nothing but smiles.
Mass Defiance made its Open Class debut in 2006, but chose to train lightly that year in order to give back to the skydiving community in their region. Mass Defiance made a point to jump with the other skydivers at all the major dropzones in New England and took it upon themselves to resurrect the New England Skydiving League (NESL). Mass Defiance did still manage to improve and placed 8th at the U.S. Nationals with a 16.7 average.
In 2007, Mass Defiance placed 5th in the Open Class at the U.S. Nationals. Their 19.3 average set a new record for the highest "non-pro" average in history.
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