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How wounded vets can earn solo skydiving licenses

Shannon Corbeil Avatar

When Army Airborne soldier Jonathan Lopez lost his arm after being hit by a drunk driver while stationed in Germany, he thought he’d never skydive again — that is, until veteran-founded nonprofit Operation Enduring Warrior (OEW) gave him healing, community, and, rather literally, wings.

 “I survived three deployments without a scratch but then was struck a few miles from base,” he told We Are The Mighty. After two years of painful medical treatments including two amputations for his left arm, having metal rods placed in his femur and tibia, and countless hours of rehabilitation treatments and physical therapy, Lopez found himself going down a dark path that included suicidal ideation — a concerning trend among veterans.

Seventeen years after his accident, he discovered Operation Enduring Warrior and the program sent him to Arizona’s AXIS Flight School to learn advanced flying techniques that would enable him to control his freefall and his parachute with one arm. Now, Lopez has a solo skydiving license and skills that allow him to fly with his legs and land any chute out there with safety and confidence.

U.S. Army Veteran Jonathan Lopez guides his parachute one-handed after losing his left arm.

OEW and AXIS Flight School develop highly customized training plans to meet each individual’s physical capabilities and goals. “Every jumper presents a different challenge,” said Lopez, who described how one double amputee sits in a bucket that allows him to strap into a chute while protecting his tailbone. 

“The bottom line is to ask yourself what is possible — and then to find out,” Lopez shared. Not only does OEW provide opportunities for veterans to get into their bodies and out of their comfort zones, it is a community not unlike the one veterans thrived in while on active duty. “It’s that ‘go for it mindset’ that we built in the military,” he observed. “We help each other achieve something that seemed impossible.”