Fly like an eagle: Cadet's dedication to skydiving earns him gold medals

Team EagleBear in their 20th point of their national record-setting skydive. The Two-Way Vertical Formation Skydiving team consists of brothers, Andre Gerner (left), a masters animation student at UCLA and Cadet 2nd Class Joseph Gerner (right), an aeronautical engineering major at the Academy.

Team EagleBear in their 20th point of their national record-setting skydive. The Two-Way Vertical Formation Skydiving team consists of brothers, Andre Gerner (left), a masters animation student at UCLA and Cadet 2nd Class Joseph Gerner (right), an aeronautical engineering major at the Academy.

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Ever since Cadet 2nd Class Joseph Gerner first parachuted in 2010, he travels to Eloy, Ariz., every holiday break and family vacation to tighten his skills in the sky.

After countless jumps and hours of training with coaches from Axis Flight School, the cadet received his first gold medal at the 2012 National Collegiate Parachuting Championships in the Intermediate Sport Accuracy category. In 2013, he and his brother, Andre Gerner, "team EagleBear," struck gold in the Two-Way Sit-Fly competition in Lake Wales, Fla., and scored first place in the 2014 NCPC Two-way Vertical Formation Skydiving team in Eloy.

Cadet Gerner said the real joy of parachuting comes from those rare jumps where everything clicks, all jumpers are of the same mind and the result is something artistic.

"I love the sense of freedom skydiving provides because it's airmanship in the purest sense," he said. "The air is a powerful force. Fight it, and it always beats you. Surrender to it, and you accomplish little. But submit to it and work with it, you can create art."

The Gerner brothers first competed under the team name, EagleBear, at the U.S. Parachute Association NCPC in 2011. At the time, Cadet Gerner attended Embry Riddle Aeronautical University while Andre Gerber attended UCLA. Their team name was derived from a hybrid of their respective schools' mascots. 

"Although I now represent the Academy when I compete at the NCPC, we have since retained the original name for continuity," Cadet Gerner said.

The cadet's devotion to skydiving runs in the family; his dad, Andre (Class of '81), is team manager of EagleBear and began parachuting at the Academy.

"It's been an interesting ride," said the cadet's father. "EagleBear had the sole distinction of being the only competitors of the 2014 NCPC to set new U.S. National and Arizona state collegiate records."

Cadet Gerner was hooked after his first jump in November 2010, completing his first six jumps of a 25-jump USPA-license at the Adventures in Skydiving School. 

"My brother and I finished our 25th jump and were awarded our licenses in December (2010)," he said.

Cadet Gerner said he had interest in being a part of the Academy's parachute team, the Wings of Blue, but was unable to take Airmanship 490 in time, a pre-requisite to apply for the team.

"Bar none, the Wings of Blue are the best resourced and capitalized collegiate parachute team in the world, and are passionate about making the most of it," he said. "In many respects though, I feel as though this opened more opportunities than it closed, as I have had the opportunity to work with some amazing jumpers in the civilian world, and preserve the family dynamic this all began with."

According to the cadet, EagleBear trains regularly in Fremont, Colo., and the iFly-Denver tunnel. At competitions, EagleBear set new state and national skydiving records. Now, the team has their sights on competing in the USPA Nationals.
The cadet said they trained intensely for nationals last year but were forced to withdraw from the competition due to bad weather.

"The USPA Nationals differ from the USPA NCPC, in that while the NCPC is restricted to full-time college students and conducted over Christmas break, nationals are held earlier in the year and are open to all skydivers who are U.S. citizens and attract the best skydivers and professional teams in the country," Cadet Gerner said. "I am once again hopeful for an opportunity to represent the Academy and compete in Advanced Two-Way VFS as a senior at the 2015 USPA Nationals at Eloy, Ariz., in October."
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