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Q&A w/ Sydney Kennett, American Wind Tunnel Wunderkind

The 15-year-old Coloradan is a 3x US Junior Freestyle Champion and one of the top indoor skydivers in the country 

December 6, 2021
Owen Clarke

American Sydney Kennett’s indoor skydiving resume reads like a CVS receipt (i.e. it’s fiendishly long), but surprisingly, the wind tunnel champion is only 15-years-old! A three-time US Indoor Skydiving Nationals Junior Freestyle Champion (2018, 2019, 2020) and 2020 WindGames Junior Freestyle Winner, Kennett is on top of the wind tunnel game right now, and all while she’s still only a sophomore in high school.

Right before her trip to the 2021 US Indoor Skydiving Nationals at iFLY El Paso, the young flyer found time to talk with Indoor Skydiving Source about her impressive career to date, her life outside the tunnel, and her plans for the future.

How old were you when you started flying? How did you find out about the sport?

My first flight experience was when I was only four years old. My parents had taken my sister and me, along with some friends, to iFLY Denver, and I had a blast! I didn’t start flying regularly until I was eight, which is when I started participating in the kids club, now known as [iFLY] Flight School. 

My dad also used to be a skydiver and he always knew he wanted one of his kids to follow in his footsteps. Since I’m too young to skydive he thought we might try indoor skydiving instead, and then my love for the sport took off. Flying was like nothing I had ever done before! I had tried so many sports… Soccer, ballet, rock climbing, gymnastics… and I liked them all, but [it was] nothing like how I felt this first time flying.  I was so hooked! From that moment on, all I wanted to do was fly!

It’s obviously a few years off, but do you have any interest in skydiving or BASE jumping outside? Why or why not?

Originally I had no interest in skydiving at all (since I’m afraid of heights) but my family has recently gone down to one of the drop zones in Colorado to show us what the sport looks like a few times, and I think I would want to try it now! 

I don’t know about BASE jumping, but skydiving is definitely an interest because it’s unlike any other sport that you can do.  Flying in a tunnel is basically the same as flying in the sky, but I can’t imagine what it must be like to fly without walls. That would be really cool.

Building off that, what is it about indoor skydiving that appeals to you? Is it the adrenaline, the competitive side of it, the acrobatic or gymnastic techniques involved, maybe something else…?

The adrenaline from competing, having fun… being able to do something new and experience a whole new dimension basically.  There is just no sport like it on earth – you get to fly in three dimensions with your friends like you are in the Matrix. 

Also, I have come up with new tricks that have never been done in the sport before, so that is pretty cool to be a part of growing a newer sport.  I also really like the people, especially my early coaches. We are friends for life.

In your eyes, what are some of the unique factors intrinsic to the sport of indoor skydiving? A lot of people seem to think, at first glance, that it’s just skydiving in a controlled setting. Obviously, this is way far from the truth… It’s a different beast entirely. Can you expand on that?

I have actually talked to my dad a lot about this because he used to skydive, and obviously, I haven’t. He flew in a tunnel a little bit too.  He told me, in the tunnel, you have to be much more precise about your flying because the walls are there and it can hurt to hit them. 

Besides that [there are] two big things. One: Kids can fly in tunnels.  I have friends all around the world that fly because of wind tunnels.  It’s crazy.  That can’t happen in skydiving.

And Two: It’s just more easily accessible. I can fly when there is a blizzard outside, at 10 pm at night, etc.  The progression seems to be much faster in indoor skydiving in less time, too, because someone can walk up to you in the tunnel and fix your body position. 

What year are you in school? Favorite subject to study?

I am currently a sophomore in high school, [and it’s] awesome to be back in school! I was homeschooled in middle school, so I could travel and train in big tunnels (my home training tunnel is an old 12-foot octagon) so before big competitions, I need to run my routines and tricks in a big tunnel as the timing is different when you have more room. Freshman year I did online school [because of COVID], so this year it is nice to actually experience high school!  I really enjoy chemistry along with the engineering class I’m taking.

What’s your home life like? You have two parents… Any siblings? Pets? Where do you live?

I live on a small farm in Parker, Colorado. It’s my parents, my older sister, and I, along with our three dogs. We also have llamas, alpacas, a horse, and too many chickens to count. I have my dog Ernie, who is [called] Ernie because one of my favorite coaches, Mike Silva, had Bert. I just got my driver’s permit, so I am learning to drive, which is a ton of fun!  

What else are you into besides indoor skydiving?

I really enjoy dirt biking, enduro and track, and have done a lot of riding this year! My dad, mom & sister all dirt bike, so it is a ton of fun when we can all do that together.   I also love skiing, I am so excited for this year’s season to start! Hoping it is a great snow year!

My dad took me up a bunch last year to go skinning in the backcountry which was a blast! Besides sporty stuff, I also love to cook & bake, draw, go wake surfing and ice skating, and hang out with Ernie.

Credit: Andrew Kennet

From the looks of it, you’ve got a pretty serious thing going here. You have sponsors, a website, lots of comps under your belt, people interviewing you, etc. How do you juggle all of that with being a high school kid?

It hasn’t been an easy thing to do, and it took a couple of years to really get the hang of it all I’d say.  We’ve grown a lot as a family through this process, because having [my] parents as coaches was tough at first, but now we are a pretty well-running machine. 

I think also, it’s not like most sports, in the sense that it takes hours of time. You can go to the tunnel once or twice a week for a few minutes [to train].  It has really all been such a blessing though, to have such kind sponsors in iFLY, Deem, and Cookie, and to be a part of groups like SheShreds and Colorado Sportswomen. So it makes all the hard work worth it. My parents have also taught me a lot about how to hold myself as a “professional.”

Is the sport something you hope to pursue professionally as an adult, or do you have another career in mind?

I am really looking forward to coaching a ton and mentoring kids like my coaches did for me in the early years- especially at the new tunnel opening up in Colorado Springs and hoping that lasts for many years. I am leaning towards some kind of engineer or a pathologist for a career choice. 

 

Editor’s Note: Following this interview, Kennett placed 1st in the Junior Open Freestyle category at the US Indoor Skydiving Nationals, qualifying for the upcoming 2022 FAI World Cup in Belgium next April. She also placed 8th in Solo Speed.

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Written by,

Owen Clarke
Owen Clarke is an American action sports and adventure travel journalist, with particular focus on mountaineering and adventure motorcycling. He is a Contributing Digital Editor for Climbing and Gym Climber magazines, and a lead writer for the adventure film company Benegas Brothers Productions. He has summited over 50 major mountains around the world, from the Southern Alps of New Zealand to the Peruvian Andes to the Moroccan Atlas. He is also Editor-in-Chief of his own digital publication, Dead Foot Collective.

Published: December 6, 2021 | Last Updated: December 22, 2021

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