Destined for a remarkable life.
Kate Cooper-Jensen was born into a family that was anything but conventional. Her dad was a press attache; her mom a government agent. Her first years were spent in Indonesia and Brazil. Her first language was Portuguese.
At age five, Kate’s parents pursued a new brand of adventure, one grounded in stability and a bit more predictability. They purchased a newspaper and settled into life in rural Virginia. For the first time, Kate was far removed from the hustle and bustle of the big city and deeply rooted in all things American.
Kate adapted quickly and soon fell in love with the outdoors as well as the quality mischief it afforded. “I loved jumping off of things. Loved going fast; speed. Camping. Hiking. All of it.”
“Some girls played lacrosse, some rode horses, I jumped out of airplanes.”
In 1978 Kate was 17 and a freshman at William & Mary. She was introduced to a skydiving club that operated out of picturesque West Point just 30 minutes away from campus. She was keen to give skydiving a try, but knew her mom wouldn’t go for it … so she forged her mom’s signature, completed ground school, and jumped static line under a classic round.
“And, boy, I really liked it,” recalls Kate, 41 years later.
She quickly got serious. She committed to “truly know the sport” and aspired to make 100 jumps. That first year she made 20. In 1979 she made 400.
“It was a good time to be a skydiver,” she says of her auspicious start. The West Point community was as welcoming as it was nurturing, and many of her early tribe members have become greats if not legends in the sport.
Freshly minted skydivers back then included Sandy and Brad Wambach, Bill Legard, Bruce Staples, Bruce Little, Brian and Dorsey Jasperse, and Charlie Brown. Carolyn “the Queen” Clay was 10 years into the sport by then and served as Kate’s mentor and coach.
Her mom wasn’t thrilled about Kate’s newfound passion, but she kept her horror to a minimum. Kate’s parents were individualists in their own right and raised their children on a healthy diet of “why nots” and not “what ifs”, and this was its manifestation. She respected Kate’s choice to immerse herself in what fed her soul.
For Kate, it was nonnegotiable. She’d found her “thing” and her tribe. There was no turning back.
Headed out into the great unknown in search of bigger airplanes and bluer skies.
Growing up, Kate never felt that she was good at anything. But she knew she had talent worth cultivating in skydiving, and somehow a career in it as well.
After graduation, Kate packed up her Subaru and hit the road. She followed a trail of breadcrumbs across the map and lived off little more, sleeping at rest stops and on picnic tables. She hit all of the DZs that had become home to her nearest and dearest, as well those she’d be foolish to miss on her way West.
Eventually, she settled in Perris - her home dropzone to this day. Even in 1983 it was a mecca. She moved into the back of a broken down breadtruck on the DZ, worked odd jobs to make ends meet, and soaked everything in.
Living the dream.
Before long, Kate was blazing a trail. She started to make her mark at Perris … and in the US … and across the world. She’d brought her love of FS with her from Virginia, and in Perris she found big-way. The rest, as they say, is history.
Today, Kate has logged upwards of 14,000 jumps, including 10,000 FS, 700 FF, some CF and even some BASE. She holds multiple local, regional and national awards in 4, 6, 8, 10, 16 and 20-way events, and more than 20 World Records, including:
- 60-Way Women's World Record (86)
- 100-Way World Record (86)
- 120-Way World Record (86)
- 144-Way World Record (88)
- 79-Way Women's World Record (89)
- 200-Way World Record (92)
- 216-Way (World Team 94)
- 297-Way (World Team 96)
- 282-Way (World Team 99)
- 118-Way Women's World Record (99)
- 300-Way World Record (02)
- 131-Way Women's World Record (02)
- First Women's Freefly World Record (03)
- 151-Way Women's World Record (05)
- 400-Way World Record (06)
- 181-Way Women’s World Record (09)
- 2 point 117-Way Women’s World Record and Open World Record (14)
- 2 point 202-Way World Record (15)
- 2 point 219-Way World Record (17)
- 3 point 217-Way World Record (17)
Noteworthy among her accomplishments is Kate’s participation in all the "even number" FS World Records - 100, 200, 300 and 400 - making her a member of (and the only female in) a mega elite group.
Kate also competed in both the World Cup and World Championship of Skydiving in 4-way FS Women representing Denmark, and placed 6th at the World Meet in Dubai in 2012.
Additionally, she participated in and/or organized National Skydiving Records in Denmark, Poland, Australia, Russia, the Netherlands and Ukraine, and Women’s Records in the UK, Costa Rica and Thailand.
Fruits of her labor.
Some might say Kate was rewarded for her “risks” in the early days, but she says she was blessed. The people who influenced, mentored and coached her - as well as those who jumped and competed alongside her - were, and continue to be, considered among the best of the best.
“The number is legion,” she says when reflecting on who shares in the credit of her success. In addition to her West Point peers, she immediately names the Conatser family (Skydive Perris DZOs), Jerry and Pat Swovelin, Mark Pollock, BJ Worth, Tom Piras, Guy Manos and Dan BC (Brodsky-Chenfeld).
And while the journey has been a personal dream come true, it has for a long time been bigger than Kate. As one of skydiving’s most revered athletes and competitors, she has done much to advance the sport, perhaps most visibly on the female side of the sky.
She’s an internationally respected big way camp and record organizer, as well as coach. She organized the very first 100-way attempts on the West Coast, and co-organized the first ever 100-way star and two-point 117-way; the Women’s Records for 118-way and 131-way; the European Women’s Sequential & World Records for a four-point 53-way and three-point 56-way; and was part of the organizing team for the 1996, 1999 and 2004 World Team Events.
Kate was also one of the primary stunt performers for Drop Zone, the 1994 action film, and has numerous television and print commercials and campaigns.
In 1997, Kate co-founded Jump for the Cause (JFTC) with Mallory Lewis, Brad Hood and Tony Domenico. Over the course of the three women’s big-way events they have so-far hosted, JFTC has raised nearly $3 million for Susan G. Komen and the City of Hope cancer-care center in California. Their 2009 jump - a 181-way Women’s World Record - included women from 31 countries.
Hall of Greats.
In 2019, Kate will be one of 10 inductees to the International Skydiving Hall of Fame.
When asked how she feels about her nomination and acceptance into the HOF, she candidly shares, “Shocked. Total disbelief. Humbled. In my eyes, others are more worthy.”
Forty-one years in with a list of accolades as long as your arm and Kate still squirms at praise over her performance and accomplishments.
And she’ll likely take the stage in October with a few more notches in her belt and perhaps helmet head to boot. In the week leading up to the induction celebration at Skydive Perris, she’ll be competing in Episode 3 of the 2019 Sequential Games.
As she considers who she’d like to present her with the award, she wishes she could call on Carolyn Clay or her mom, both of whom influenced her in ways she couldn’t possibly express.
In their absence, she’s focused “on this side of the realm”. Choosing from among all of those who have been a guiding light is near impossible - and she’s not giving out any clues as to her thoughts until her mind is good and made up.
“Life has been good to me.”
When Kate looks back and pivots to look forward, she’s grateful: “The sport has given to me far more than I’ve given to it.” Happiness. Love. Liberty. She’s had everything she wanted, and more.
In addition to her skydiving accomplishments, she’s climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, Mt. Kinabalu, Mt. Ranier and Mt. Whitney, run a marathon, scuba dived in amazing places and camped in breathtaking locales. This Spring, Kate and her husband, Carsten, hiked the Inca Trail and climbed Machu Picchu, following in the footsteps of her parents during their globetrotting days.
She met Carsten in Eloy in 2002 while he was trying out for the 300-way. A PhD in Physics, as well as an ice climber and mountaineer with over 5,000 skydiving jumps and a healthy handful of BASE under him, Danish-born Carsten was a kindred spirit with a beautiful soul. They married in 2006 and spent eight lovely-but-gray years in Denmark before Kate led a willing Carsten back to sweet, sunny Perris.
And the Perris community is thrilled to have her back. Kate and Dan BC operate P3 (Perris Performance Plus), the premier FS skydiving group that hosts to at least five major events each year. “The focus of my energy now is coaching. I’m helping to create skydivers better than me. It brings me incredible joy and satisfaction.”
This is the stuff of legends.
Blue skies, Kate. And welcome to the Hall of Fame; you’ve earned it.