ImpactSpring 2011

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a biochemist!

When people think of biochemists, they probably don’t think of award-winning skydivers. Or vice versa, for that matter. But if you’re talking about 31-year-old Tiffany Lamb ’00, then the two descriptions do go together. Tiffany majored in biology and chemistry at UIndy and is now a senior scientist at Ventana Medical Systems in Tucson, Arizona, working on cancer detectionand cancer diagnostics. She’s also a freestyle skydiver, taking the bronze medal at the World Championship skydiving competition in Russia this summer—and the gold medal at the national championship in Chicago this fall.

.Skydiving wasn’t always a part of Tiffany’s life. In fact, she didn’t discover it until just nine years ago, on a weekend trip to Chicago. Tiffany and a friend decided to give skydiving a try at the Chicagoland Skydiving Center, and when her friend backed out, Tiffany went ahead and did a tandem skydive with a professional instructor. “We’re talking love at first jump,” she says.

Oh, chute
She came back two days later and did another one, then signed up for the skydiving instruction program called Freefall University to become a certified skydiver. “I wasn’t scared that first jump,” she says, “because it’s so unlike anything you’ve ever done. Your brain can’t prepare itself for what you are going to be doing.”

Twenty jumps and several weeks later, Tiffany completed the training program and was officially addicted to the sport. At the time when Tiffany was learning about skydiving, she was working with the Illinois State Police at the forensic science center in Chicago. When she completed her PhD in biochemistry at Rush University in Chicago, she decided to look for jobs in Arizona because of the ability to skydive year round. She also began to look into competitive skydiving.

“I thought, if I’m going to be learning all this and working hard, I might as well be working toward a competition,” she explains.

Tiffany grew up doing gymnastics, so she naturally gravitated toward freestyle skydiving, a competitive discipline wherein one person performs acrobatic maneuvers during a freefall, while another person films the 45-second performance. The whole event is similar to watching a floor routine in gymnastics.

Jumping at the opportunity
She began training in 2005, jumping at Skydive Arizona when she could and practicing in a wind tunnel when necessary. In 2007, she was ready for her first national competition. She finished third and qualified for the USA Skydiving Team for the first time. In 2008, she and teammate Travis Mills, her “camera flyer,” competed in the FAI World Championships in France and placed tenth. The following year found them at the FAI World Cup competition in the Czech Republic, where they placed fourth. In 2009 Tiffany once again qualified at the national competition to participate in the FAI World Championships, and she and Travis headed off to Russia in August 2010. This time they came home with the bronze.

They were the first American women’s freestyle team (the gender of the performer determines the gender of the team) to earn a medal at the World Championships.

“It’s so exciting and fun to skydive,” she says, “and it’s definitely something that everyone should try once. Some people will fall in love with it like I did, and some people will try it and never do it again, but I’ve never met anyone who did it and didn’t have a good time. “It’s just an amazing experience.”
­—Jennifer L. Huber ’07

Freefalling facts
Height from which she jumps: 13,000 feet
Speed at which she’s hurtling toward the earth: 110 to 200 mph
Time it takes to reach the ground: 60 seconds of freefall: 5 to 7 minutes under the canopy
Number of Tiffany’s jumps so far: 1,200+
Parents’ perspective: “They are very supportive of me. My mom even makes my jump suits!”
Coworkers’ perspective: “They think it’s pretty cool and are all supportive. My boss has done two tandems already, and I think I can convince a few more coworkers to give it a try!”
Dream drop zone: “Somewhere where I could see beautiful snow-capped mountains as I jumped.”
Why she loves it: “It’s a form of freedom. I love that feeling. It’s also the best way to see a sunset.”

To get a sense of the Tiffany’s aerial acrobatics, go to YouTube and search for 2010 WPC TEAM USA Freestyle (click on the first video that comes up), or go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E3efEoPIU3Q&feature=related.
No, really—you should see this.

Marty
the authorMarty