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‘It’s almost every kid’s dream to fly’: Columbia teen rising high in indoor skydiving

Nearly three years ago, Brennan Shaw was staring out the window of his father’s car on Interstate 95 when his eyes lit up after seeing the indoor skydiving iFly location in Nottingham.

“Hey, look at that!” Brennan recalled saying to his father, Scott Shaw. On their way to a Cub Scout camping trip, the Columbia residents made a quick detour first.

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“I couldn’t pull over the car fast enough,” Scott Shaw said. “We just sat there [inside the iFly] and watched with our jaws to the floor. [We] couldn’t believe this was a thing.”

The following weekend the entire Shaw family went back, suited up and went inside the 65-foot wind tunnel.

“I just thought it was absolutely amazing,” Brennan said. “It’s almost every kid’s dream to fly.”

Now 13 years old, Brennan has been an indoor skydiver for about three years. After his first attempt, Brennan said, he has been hooked.

In January, Brennan placed third in the Freestyle Junior Intermediate Open competition at the United States Indoor Skydiving Open National Championship in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

He said his event mirrors figure skating in that you build your routine to music. His routine was set to “Burn the House Down” by the band AJR. The day after the competition wrapped up in Florida, Brennan saw AJR in concert at The Anthem in Washington, D.C.

When designing his routine, complete with flips and an infinity break — which Brennan described as “really fast barrel rolls while spinning” ⁠— he worked with a coach.

“It was a team effort,” Brennan said.

January’s competition marked Brennan’s second time competing in the nationals. Last year, he placed seventh in the same event in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

A goal of Brennan’s is to place first in nationals so he can qualify for the world championship.

Brennan has also competed in the Global Kids Challenge, at which each skydiver performs in their home tunnel, records their routine and sends it in to be judged.

Besides the thrill of being at a competition, Brennan enjoys making new friends, where “everyone is really helpful and supportive.”

Scott Shaw said it’s really refreshing to attend iFly competitions as a parent.

“A lot of sports out there are cutthroat; this sport is not like that all,” Shaw said. “We want everyone to succeed. No one wants to push themselves up by putting others down.”

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Brennan’s first flight

A smile crept across Brennan’s face when he described what it is like being inside a wind tunnel.

“You feel pretty weightless,” he said.

Despite not being a fan of heights, he was drawn to put on a suit and try indoor skydiving.

For first-timers, an iFly employee holds them in the tunnel. Brennan didn’t like that, so he worked hard to quickly move on from being held to being on his own. It took him about a month to be able to fly on his own.

Now Brennan suits up about once a week. He works with various iFly coaches at either the Nottingham or Gaithersburg locations, perfecting moves and learning new ones. Around competition time, Brennan ramps up his practice time, working on his routine a few times a week.

Outside the wind tunnel, Brennan stretches frequently and learns new moves through online videos.

Brennan’s custom-made black flight suit, featuring a blue dragon on the back, is based on his own design. With his favorite color being blue, Brennan has a blue helmet and wears black Under Armour sneakers with shades of blue along the bottom of the shoes.

Besides spending his time “flying,” Brennan is on winter and summer swim teams, loves to ski and is a junior lifeguard. He is a seventh grader at The Journey School, a Montessori school in Spencerville.

There are iFly locations all over the world, including Australia, France and the United Kingdom, and dozens in the United States. Flyers at iFly can be as young as 3 years old and as old as 103.

Wes Hall, a lead instructor at iFly Nottingham, is both an indoor and outdoor skydiver.

“As a skydiver, we see the [wind] tunnel as a fast way to learn,” Hall said.

Being an iFly instructor is “a very rewarding job,” especially when seeing new flyers become successful at the sport, he said.

Scott Shaw, who has flown in a wind tunnel twice, is always in awe of the flyers.

“Humans aren’t supposed to fly. It’s amazing,” he said. “There’s a lot of kids who swim, who play soccer, but there are not a lot of kids who do indoor skydiving. It’s neat.”

Brennan already knows how he’s spending his 18th birthday — jumping out of a plane to finally experience outdoor skydiving.

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