For Troy Crotty, an intense fear of job interviews led to an unlikely new career doing what he loves most – jumping from aircraft at 14,000 feet. By Cindy MacDonald.

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Taking the leap: Troy Crotty, 46, skydiver

In 2001 I did a learn-to-skydive course and after those initial two jumps I didn’t come back for six years. A work colleague who used to skydive got me back into it. And at the time I was looking to go to a new job at work and was absolutely terrified of job interviews and thought, “You know, if I can learn to skydive, I can do anything and I can learn to overcome that fear.” As it turns out, I’m perfectly comfortable standing on the outside of an aircraft 14,000 feet in the air then doing 220 kilometres an hour, but I still hate job interviews.

I’ve just had a bit of a life change – I was working for New South Wales government as an IT specialist for 11 years, then I got redundancy from my job and I’m now, as skydivers would say, living the dream, getting paid to do that one thing in my life that I really, really love. It’s so good. I didn’t have any vision of becoming a skydiving instructor when I started – I think I just got addicted to the feeling of jumping. I now run the ground course [at Sydney Skydivers], which is a daylong course for those people who are doing their first-jump course. I really love teaching. I also do tandems and I’m probably one of the most experienced skydiving instructors at the drop zone at Picton at the moment.

Going up with tandem skydivers I generally talk not so much about the jump itself but distract them and talk about what they do for work or point out the scenery – from Picton we can see the Blue Mountains, Wollongong, Shellharbour, the ocean, and on a clear day like we sometimes have in winter we can see the city [of Sydney] as well. I just try to keep them feeling calm and comfortable. It’s very rare that someone doesn’t love it. People are often speechless. Some are quite relieved that they’re actually on the ground but still very excited, and others will say, “Look, I’m definitely going to do that again.” When people say that, I turn around to them immediately and go, “Now?” Out of the many hundreds of tandems I’ve done, I’ve only had one say yes. But when I did my first skydive in 2001, as soon as I got back on the ground the instructor said to me, “Do you want to go again?”, and without even thinking I said, “Yes!”, and paid my money.

Prior to skydiving I’d never been athletic but competition skydiving has actually driven me to be fit for the first time in my life. I now swim, run and do gym. General fitness, a strong core and a reasonable amount of strength are necessary if you’re going to be doing a lot of jumps in one day. When we were training for world championships we would aim to do 12 jumps in a day, and over a two-week period we’d be pushing up towards 80 jumps. It’s hard work on your body.

We pack the parachutes so they open as gently as possible, but throwing a bunch of fabric into the wind at 220 kilometres an hour, there’s a certain amount of chaos that comes into that. Occasionally you might end up with a stiff neck or some aches and pains. But it’s not like playing rugby league or anything. It’s just the same kind of tiredness and muscle fatigue you get from doing any activity over and over again. I did once have a little encounter with a leg strap that caused some problems for me, but no permanent damage, I’m pleased to say.

In the roughly 4000 skydives I’ve done I’ve had three malfunctions where the main parachute hasn’t opened exactly the way I wanted it to. There’s always a safety margin built in where you’ve got time to try to resolve the problem or disconnect that main parachute and deploy your reserve parachute. We rely on the rote training that we do. We employ a principle that we call over-learning, so that in such a scenario you don’t need to think, you just respond to the situation in the way you’ve been trained to. Every time I deploy my main parachute, I tell myself, “This is the one [that will malfunction]”, so you are prepared for it and nothing can come as a surprise.

Yes, I have lost friends in the sport. The longer you are around skydiving, it becomes more of an inevitability that an accident could happen to someone you know. But one thing that is pretty much always certain about skydiving accidents is that it’s human error. You’ve got more control over skydiving than you do, say, on a horse.

For formation skydiving, you need an ability to fly your body. There are about 50 formations that are used all around the world. You need to be agile and able to think fast. The top teams are doing a formation every second. The way a point is scored in formation skydiving is that everyone in the team has to be on the correct grip at the one time to create the prescribed formation. And then there needs to be a clear break where every single person is not touching another person, and then back on grip.

In indoor skydiving we do pretty much the same things in the wind tunnel that we do in the air. It’s about formations and how many points you can score in a certain time. The tunnel is 16-foot [about 4.9 metres] in diameter – you basically walk in, lie down and float. You’re not falling. We use it predominantly for training as well as for indoor competitions.

I don’t think I’ll ever, ever, ever stop skydiving. Until my body falls apart. I enjoy every single skydive that I do and I just try to make it enjoyable for my passengers and my students, too.

This week’s highlights…

• Skydiving: Australian Open Indoor Championships, day 2

Saturday, iFLY Downunder (Sydney West), Penrith, NSW

Rugby: Bledisloe Cup – Wallabies v All Blacks

Saturday, 5.35pm (AEST), Eden Park, Auckland

NRL: Sydney Roosters v Brisbane Broncos

Saturday, 7.35pm (AEST), Allianz Stadium, Sydney

Netball: Grand final – West Coast Fever v Sunshine Coast Lightning

Sunday, 11am (AWST), Perth Arena

AFL: Melbourne Demons v Greater Western Sydney Giants

Sunday, 3.20pm (AEST), Melbourne Cricket Ground

• Motorsport: British MotoGP

Sunday, 10pm (AEST), Silverstone, England

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on August 25, 2018 as "Taking the leap".

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Cindy MacDonald is The Saturday Paper’s deputy editor.

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