Visitors have been dropping into the Alice Paul Institute and its historic Paulsdale headquarters throughout the 19th amendment’s centennial year, but none quite as literally as the Highlight Pro Skydiving Team team did Oct. 10.
With their tiny Cessna plane just visible through the leafy canopy dotting the Paulsdale property, four women jumped from 5,000 feet in the air, with colored plumes of smoke marking their descent and flags bearing slogans like “Shall not be denied” waving behind them.
The divers, who hail from all over the country, hoped to share a message of inclusive female empowerment during the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote.
“I feel like I’ve been very fortunate: I had my dream, and I’m living my dream,” said Kaz Sheekey, the first jumper of the day. “I took bold, brave risks to get there, and I want to encourage other women to say, ‘This is what I really want to do’ and, whatever it is, to go after it.”
The jump also occurred 24 hours before the International Day of the Girl, an annual observance the United Nations General Assembly adopted to celebrate girls while recognizing the unique challenges they face around the world.
Sheekey, along with teammates Keri Bell, Amy Chmelecki and Sara Curtis, hoped they could inspire girls to overcome their fears and reach for their dreams.
“We’re pushing our own boundaries and encouraging other women to do so,” Chmelecki said.
“I always dreamed of flying as a girl, so when my brother asked in January ’93 if I wanted to go skydiving, I was on that train,” Sheekey added. “I thought I was only going to do it once because it was so scary, but I overcame that fear to keep doing it.
“I haven’t looked back. I ended up up throwing away my old career and coming into skydiving full time.”
Since that first jump, Sheekey has made 10,000 more and earned 12 National Championship medals throughout her career as a professional skydiver.
And she was thrilled to participate in a jump that had her landing at such a celebrated feminist’s home.
“The last couple of years, I really started reading about the 19th amendment’s history and especially about Alice Paul, how strong and brave she was,” Sheekey noted. “We’ve had 100 years of being able to vote, which Alice Paul and her peers fought so hard for, they were tortured for, they were imprisoned for. Coming here felt like celebrating those women.”
According to API’s Executive Director Lucy Beard, partnering with the skydiving team to make the jump happen was an easy choice, given the two organization’s shared core values.
“Highlight’s and the Alice Paul Institute’s missions are perfectly aligned: Both organizations encourage girls and young women to be inspired by the achievements and stories of women who fought very hard to win the rights they can now take for granted,” Beard said. “We want those role models to motivate the girls and young women to pursue lives based on courage and competence.”
The executive director believed the event did API’s namkesake proud.
“It was thrilling to see the skydivers land at Paulsdale,” said Beard. “While Alice Paul and her family could never have imagined such a spectacle happening on their front lawn, I’d like to think that they would have been applauding like all of us were. They would have recognized the grit and the determination, as well as the discipline and the training, that each jumper demonstrates.”
And even though the pandemic has canceled, postponed or revamped numerous events celebrating a milestone anniversary for women’s rights, the skydiving demonstration was able to spread the message that women and girls of all backgrounds should keep reaching for the sky — or jumping from it — and helping others do the same.
“We should be following our dreams!” Sheekey exclaimed. “We have these opportunities that women before us fought for, even if we’re not there yet. But there’s still a long way to go for all races to have those opportunities, not just white women. We need equality for all.”