Defying Gravity: 13-Year-Old Skydiving Champion Soars to Great Heights


Jill Knutson, 13, of Rye, New York, started skydiving at just 10 years old. Since then, she’s taken off with her skydiving career and has her sights set on the Olympics.

Skydiving: it’s the exhilaration of jumping out of a plane flying 13,000 feet in the air; the once-in-a-lifetime experience many of us dream of trying, or for some, the embodiment of our worst nightmares. For 13-year-old Jill Knutson, however, it’s just part of the daily routine.

“I don’t think skydiving is scary at all,” said Jill, a Rye, New York, native who has been practicing the extreme sport since she was 10 years old. “The feeling of flying is nothing short of the best thing ever.”

Academy Student Stories: Jill Knutson

When Jill’s parents decided to skydive in celebration of their 13th wedding anniversary in 2011, then five-year-old Jill was inspired by the professional skydivers who soared from the plane with her parents. For the next five years, Jill would aspire to freefall herself, until finally, at 10 years old, she was allowed to try indoor skydiving for the first time.

Jill instantly fell in love with the sport and began practicing regularly in the wind tunnels at I FLY Westchester in Yonkers, New York. However, indoor skydiving would not be the end of the extreme sport for Jill, who won’t turn 18—the minimum age to jump from a plane—for another five years: Instead, she spent hours researching skydiving facilities around the world that would let her jump at a younger age. Finally, she found a facility in Memphis, Tenn., that allows jumps for children as young as 12.

“As soon as she turned 12, we waited for the right weather, and Jill took her first skydive,” said Jill’s mother, Giselle.

In the months that followed her freefall, Jill decided to take her love of the sport one step further, entering her first indoor skydiving competition in November 2018. Since her initial foray into the world of competitive skydiving, Jill has performed with impressive results, and between camps, tournaments and competitions, her schedule became so busy that she left her classes at Rye Middle School. Instead, her family enrolled her in Laurel Springs School, an accredited online private school that would give Jill the full flexibility she needed for training.

As Jill’s career in competitive skydiving has progressed, she has advanced all the way to the national stage, competing at the 2019 US Indoor Skydiving Open National Championship (USIS) this past January.

Academy Student Stories: Jill Knutson

At the USIS event, Jill competed both as part of team “Fire Alarm Flyers” in Vertical Formation Skydiving (VFS) and individually in Intermediate Freestyle Skydiving, earning a gold and silver medal, respectively. In 2020, Jill hopes to go global at the World Indoor Skydiving Championship, but her aspirations don’t stop there: Jill ultimately seeks to qualify for the Olympics.

“Jill is a wonderful student who strives for excellence in everything that she does,” said Dasha Bindler, M.S., a Gifted & Talented Academy Counselor at Laurel Springs School. “We are proud to allow Jill to train hard for her sport and to excel, yet to still continue her studies. She is an excellent, determined and responsible student.”

However, skydiving and school are not the only areas where Jill applies her exceptional abilities: she also does Brazilian jiu-jitsu, judo and snowboarding. When she’s not participating in sports, Jill likes to paint and draw.

As for the rest of us, Jill says everyone should try skydiving “at least once,” experiencing the “amazing” feeling of wind on our faces as we freefall. If you’d prefer to stay on the ground, be sure to keep an eye out for Jill as she continues to rise through the ranks of competitive skydiving over the next few years.

To learn more about Laurel Springs, please contact our Admissions team today at (800) 377-5890!