Skydiving seems an odd hobby for Sydney Kennett, considering her fear of heights. Fortunately, she does her flying inside, dancing atop gales blowing in a vertical wind tunnel at upward of 100 mph. For Kennett, it’s more than a casual pastime: The Parker preteen is one of the best young indoor skydivers in the world, her every airborne flip fueling interest in the growing sport of “bodyflight.”
Many think of indoor skydiving only as a novel way to entertain kids on the weekends—which is how Kennett first took flight at age four. The Centennial State’s sole vertical wind tunnel, the iFly in Lone Tree, is located near her home, and a couple of return visits a few years later confirmed that she had a gift for manipulating her body, Matrix-style, inside the blustery tube. Kennett soon began competing in bodyflight’s freestyle category, a discipline, like gymnastics, in which competitors are scored on the difficulty of their routines and how well they complete them. Athletes are free to choreograph their own moves. “There are pretty much no rules,” Kennett says. “It’s just really fun.”
So far, judges seem impressed with Kennett’s triple flip twists (she’s working on her quad) and spellbinding spins. She’s competed across the country in cities like Las Vegas and Chicago, often beating flyers twice her age. Her biggest victory came in 2018, when she won the junior freestyle competition at the U.S. Indoor Skydiving Open National Championship. Kennett defends her title this month in Virginia Beach, and the fledgling sport’s visibility has a lot riding on her outcome.
Well on her way to becoming the face of bodyflight, Kennett has already earned sponsorship deals with suit outfitter LiquidSky Sports, helmet brand Cookie, and iFly, the world’s largest indoor wind tunnel company. In fact, iFly uses video of her routines in ads, which helped grow the Lone Tree location’s weekly classes (the Kids’ Club program was renamed to Flight School in March 2017 to better reflect the training component) from three regular students to, now, 12.
The sport is growing internationally, too. In 2016, only 63 athletes competed in the Global Kids Challenge, which requires participants to send videos of their routines to tournament judges. That number increased by more than 150 percent the following year. If interest continues to rise, Kennett may one day compete on the biggest stage in the world: The sport’s backers hope bodyflight will be included in the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. And that’s a height to which, Kennett says, she wouldn’t be scared to soar in the least.