By Linda White
Special to The Toronto Sun
For a national skydiving champion who has completed more than 8,000 jumps, the decision to open a skydiving school allowed him to share his passion with others and also ensured his place in sports history.
Joe Chow was actually studying American history at Queen's University in Kingston when he took up skydiving.
"I went to the airstrip and saw people jumping out of airplanes ... The concept was exciting, daring and thrilling," says the 54-year-old.
"After my first jump, I did it every weekend. It became the focal point of my life," Chow says. He owns and runs Skydive Toronto (www.skydivetoronto.com) with his wife, Claire, and daughter, Jennifer, both skydivers themselves. Jennifer, 28, has been involved in the family business since she was 10 and has made about 2,500 jumps.
By the time he graduated, Chow was a certified instructor. As he wondered what to do with a history degree, he chose to follow his heart.
In 1972, he opened a skydiving school in Ottawa, where he trained first-time jumpers and hosted provincial and national competitions.
As the business evolved, Chow became a certified pilot and instructor examiner. In 1989, he relocated his business to a 100-acre property north of Toronto in New Lowell, about halfway between Barrie and Wasaga Beach.
Chow discovered he had a knack for landing precisely on a mark while jumping into a neighbour's yard dressed as Santa Claus each Christmas and into community carnivals.
He began attending training camps, earned a place on the Canadian Men's Parachute Team and is the 2002 National Precision Accuracy Champion.
The parachute team is made up of 25 members who compete in formation skydiving, free fly, canopy formation and precision landing.
Chow competed at the 1998 World Parachuting Championship in Croatia and again in 2000 in Japan. On Sept. 1 he heads to France, where he will be up against competitors from 30 countries at the world championship.
"I can't believe I'm having this much fun and making a living at it," says Joe Chow, national skydiving champion and owner of Skydive Toronto.
"All this, travelling and competing around the world, is only possible because my parents brought me here from China when I was five years old," Chow says. "It's an incredible honour to compete for Canada."
He has instructed more than 20,000 first-time jumpers. The school has put out more than 180,000 jumps, has trained members of the Canadian Airborne Regiment, Canadian Security Intelligence Services, and even long-time customer Hubert Chretien, son of the prime minister, and has a top safety record.
Like other adventure sports, there are risks associated with parachuting and it must be respected, he notes. But it also affords an opportunity for personal growth.
"People get a little anxious when they go skydiving," he says. "No matter how much training you have, everyone gets nervous. But it is something that gives you a tremendous feeling of satisfaction."
He credits advances in equipment and training methods with ensuring the sport is increasingly safe.
"You try to anticipate what might happen and take the appropriate precautions," he says. "Our parent organization, the Canadian Sport Parachuting Association, has set high training standards."
The sport has afforded Chow the opportunity to set and meet goals.
"Life is one big learning experience and you have to have fun along the way. I can't believe I'm having this much fun and making a living at it.
"You have to take some risks. You learn from your mistakes and find out that things do work out and that you're in control of your life."
(Linda White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is a freelance writer based in Brooklin, Ont.)
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