What: CU Skydiving Club
Cost: $20 membership
Benefits: Discounted first jump, rideshare to drop zone
More info: https://facebook.com/cu.skydiving
L aura Stiles doesn't really feel an adrenaline rush while jumping out of an airplane anymore.
After 350 jumps, the University of Colorado-Boulder graduate student says skydiving loses some of its thrill.
But Stiles, who's studying to earn a Ph.D in aerospace engineering, says she still looks forward to the feeling of emptying her mind for the minute or two she's in the air.
"When you're jumping, you can't think about any problems that you're having," she said. "It completely clears your mind and makes you focus on what you're doing, which is hard to do with anything else."
Starting Dec. 28, Stiles will compete in the U.S. Parachute Association's National Collegiate Parachuting Championships south of Phoenix.
She'll compete in the two-way sequential competition, in which she and her diving partner from Colorado State University will have one minute to complete a series of formations together. Each formation they complete correctly earns them one point, and they must complete the series as many times as possible during that one minute time.
Stiles, 26, is originally from Kansas City and is in her fifth year of graduate school. She jumped for the first time one summer as an undergraduate at the University of Kansas while interning in Boulder County.
Once she jumped for the first time, she says, Stiles couldn't stop coming back for more.
"As soon as I was down from the jump, I knew I had to go again," she said. "It's pretty addicting."
Now, in her spare time she works at Mile-Hi Skydiving in Longmont teaching other students working to get their
Stiles is a member of the CU skydiving club, which has about 40 members, said club president Trevor Merrill.
Merrill's parents gave him a tandem skydive as a graduation gift after high school, and he too has been hooked on the sport ever since. To Merrill, the beauty of skydiving lies not in the adrenaline rush, but in being literally in the middle of nowhere.
"It's more of a feeling of freedom," he said. "It's all you controlling your own body."
Merrill noted the sheer difficulty of the event Stiles will compete in: He said there's a misconception about diving that "you just fall from the sky and chill there." Stiles will need impeccable timing and balance while completing the series of formations in the sky, he said.
One wrong move, and Stiles and her partner will get thrown off balance, he said.
"If you move too much, you ruin everything," he said. "But if you move too little, you're moving too slow. It's very technical getting it done quickly."
The club's vice president, Tammy Stone, moved to Boulder for graduate school this semester and immediately found a community at the drop zone, or the place where jumpers or their supplies land.
"Being in a drop zone is like being in your own family in a way," she said. "Every drop zone has its own vibe to it. They take you in automatically."
The club is always looking for new members, Stone said, and $20 covers the cost of membership.
--Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.