One of Sydney Kennett’s first memories is the feeling of free falling from a 12,500-foot drop zone. When she was four years old, Sydney’s dad took her to iFLY Denver, where she dove into a cylinder-shaped tunnel with massive fans producing gale-force winds that propelled her tiny body into the air.
Now 11, Sydney is making history as one of the youngest competitive indoor skydivers. “I like the freedom of doing whatever you want in the tunnel,” says Sydney.
Indoor skydiving—also called “bodyflight”—is a fast-growing sport that requires athletes to perform short routines inside a vertical tunnel where wind speeds can reach up to 185 miles per hour. When Sydney started flying, she had no idea that someday she’d be competing in national competitions against youth and adult athletes.
iFLY Denver is Colorado’s only indoor wind tunnel, and the experience of flying there is so realistic that professional skydivers and the military frequent iFLY for training purposes. That was the draw for Sydney’s dad, Andrew Kennett, who was an avid skydiver in his younger years, logging more than 1,000 jumps over a decade.
“The last time he skydived was into our wedding,” says Sydney’s mom, Michelle Kennett. Like many parents, Andrew become a little risk averse after having kids, and so he was thrilled to find a safer alternative to one of his favorite hobbies.
A Natural Flier
Sydney admits that she doesn’t remember much about that first flight with her dad. But when he took her back to the tunnel a few years later, Sydney was hooked.
“We started doing this thing called Kid’s Club,” she says, referring to an offering now known as Flight School. Sydney was having a blast flying with other kids, and was picking up all the beginner skills lightning fast. Before long, she was enrolled in private lessons with an iFLY coach, who introduced her to more advanced techniques.
Flying came naturally for Sydney, who had done gymnastics in preschool and elementary school. “She’s super flexible, and that’s something she uses in the tunnel,” Michelle says. “When she puts her routines together, she has moves other fliers can’t do.” Her straddle split spin, for example, has earned Sydney plenty of accolades at competitions nationwide.
“When she started flying, we didn’t know anything about the competition side, which is fairly new in the U.S.,” says Michelle. Then, in 2015, Michelle and Sydney saw a flyer for a bodyflight competition in Chicago, and decided to give it a shot. Sydney loved it. In fact, she’s been traveling around the country ever since, competing in Seattle, Texas, Virginia Beach, and Phoenix.
Sydney has been the top ranked U.S. junior indoor skydiver since a podium finish at a competition in Tampa in December. Last July, the young athlete was invited to Madrid to be filmed for a bodyflight documentary. When she wasn’t making movies and winning competitions, she was training at tunnels in Denver and Oceanside, California, further developing her talent.
Sydney competes in three different disciplines: freestyle, dynamic, and vertical formation skydiving (VFS). Freestyle flying is done solo and dynamic flying and VFS are partner events. Not many kids do dynamic because the rules can be difficult to understand. When Sydney competes in VFS or dynamic, she’s usually competing against adults.
Sydney’s favorite discipline is freestyle because it allows her to show off her personality with innovative moves and action-packed routines. “Sydney can be pretty shy, and it’s really interesting to see her go into the tunnel to be showcased in front of a ton of people,” says Michelle.
A math whiz and dirt biking enthusiast, Sydney started middle school this year. “It’s fun, but kind of confusing sometimes because you’re moving all around the building,” she says, admitting that it can be tough missing classes and friends when she’s traveling for competitions. But she’s learned how to balance everything pretty well. “The benefits definitely outweigh the challenges,” says Sydney.
Indoor skydiving is an up-and-coming sport, and there’s a push right now to get bodyflight into the 2024 Olympics in Paris. Sydney would be 18 by then, and—yes—it would definitely be a dream of hers to go to the Olympics.
For now, though, Sydney has her sights set on an international competition, the three-year-old FAI World Cup of Indoor Skydiving. Often referred to as Worlds, participants have to qualify to participate in this yearly event, which features five flight disciplines, each with multiple classes, including a junior class. In most events, only two teams per country can be selected to represent, and Sydney hopes to qualify in 2019, when she’s 12. Even though Sydney isn’t quite old enough to qualify this year, Michelle says “she’s going to compete in nationals [a qualifying competition], just to see what happens.”
In fact, Sydney’s training for the May event right now. For an indoor skydiver, tunnel training is done in 15-minute increments, and also requires some stretching to maintain flexibility. Indoor skydiving isn’t a cheap sport, but Sydney is sponsored by Cookie, a popular manufacturer of skydive helmets, as well as LiquidSkySports, a company that makes jumpsuits for indoor skydiving, and, most recently, iFLY.
Worldwide, there are only a couple hundred youth fliers. But Sydney is hoping to change that. What’s “kind of cool” about indoor skydiving, she says, “is anybody can do it.”