Local teacher skydives with the Golden Knights

Published 7:36 pm Monday, August 19, 2019

They’re the best of the best, flying through the skies under canopies of black and gold, and one local teacher had the opportunity to skydive with the U.S. Army’s Golden Knights on Aug. 9.Washington High School art teacher Damon Walcott was able to experience free fall from 2.5 miles above the earth, alongside six other North Carolina Regional Teachers of the Year.

“I’ve always had that on my bucket list, knowing that I would never take the initiative to do it myself,” Walcott said of skydiving. “When this came across, I thought, ‘What better chance than to do this with the pros?’ These are some of the best (skydivers) in the world.”

With the regional teacher team by his side, Walcott chose to take the plunge. Each of the regional teachers did so to raise awareness for a cause near to their hearts. For Walcott, that cause is art education and the importance of art in the community.

“I wanted to highlight art education in our state and how important I think it is for it to be part of the standard curriculum and not seen as an extra,” Walcott said. “I also tried to highlight some of our nonprofit art organizations around our state and how much they do for our school. I pointed out my friends at Arts of the Pamlico, because they’re near and dear to my heart.”

There was one issue — Walcott is not a fan of heights.

“This was my first time ever jumping, and I have a terrific fear of heights,” Walcott said with a laugh. “I don’t even like to drive over large bridges, so this was a big stretch for me, way out of my comfort zone.”

But with the Golden Knights by his side, Walcott managed to overcome that fear. After a 30-minute crash course, the teachers and skydivers were up in the air. A short ascent later, and the aircraft were hovering at 12,500 feet, and Walcott was preparing to jump from a perfectly operational airplane. Besides Walcott, N.C. Charter School Teacher of the year Douglas Price, and their tandem jumpers, the plane was filled with skydivers bound for national competition.

“I just looked, and as I saw these individuals, I thought to myself, ‘This is probably the best parachute team in the world, and I’m in the plane with them, and this is just amazing that I am this close to people that are this good,’” Walcott said. “The fear just kind of let go. I thought, ‘If anything, these are the best people to be with if anything should happen. I’m landing on the ground.’”

Out the door, the tandem jumpers experienced 46 seconds of loud, intense free fall, an experience Walcott says is like sticking your head out of a vehicle going really fast on the highway. Then with a pull of a ripcord, silence and peace as the two gently floated to the ground.

“What great people,” Walcott said of the Golden Knights. “It was an amazing team. Everybody was professional and humble. I thanked them all for their service, and they thanked me. I can’t say enough about how positive, motivational and amazing that team was. I thought, ‘This really is the best of the best right here.’”

To learn more about the North Carolina Teacher of the Year Program, visit www.ncpublicschools.org/educatoreffectiveness/recognition/toy. To read more on the Golden Knights, visit www.goarmy.com/events/golden-knights.