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When you’re a kid, you usually have improbable career goals (I’m going to be Superman!), but Jordan “Jet” Temkin really did learn to fly—sort of. Last year, the Fort Collins resident won the Drone Racing League’s inaugural world championship, earning a $100,000 contract to become the first professional drone racer. (Viewers can watch him defend his title when ESPN begins broadcasting the DRL’s second season on June 20.) In this futuristic sport, Temkin pilots high-tech drones with front-facing cameras through neon gates in diverse venues—the Miami Dolphins’ NFL stadium, an old car factory in Detroit—earning points each time he passes a checkpoint or crosses the finish line. He wears goggles similar to virtual reality headsets that give him an up-close view of what his robot sees as it cuts around corners and narrowly avoids collisions.
Just three years ago, though, Temkin never expected to spend so much time in the pilot’s booth. After graduating from the University of Colorado Boulder in 2014 with a degree in art, he planned to become a photographer. Drones just seemed like an innovative way to capture images from a different perspective—until he met a crew of enthusiasts who inspired him to start competing. In 2015, Temkin moved to Fort Collins to live with two other pilots and devote himself to the velocity-driven sport full time.
A love of speed isn’t all you need to succeed in drone racing, though. Spatial awareness, quick reaction time, and a propensity for risk-taking are all crucial. Temkin believes this is why so many drone pilots live in Colorado, where the same talents come in handy while skiing or mountain biking. Plus: “If you want to fall through the sky, what better place to do it than the Rocky Mountains?” Temkin says. The DRL hasn’t hosted a race in the Centennial State yet, but Temkin hopes a contest will eventually take place on a fourteener. Bagging Mt. Bierstadt without setting foot on its crowded trails? That sounds like a winning plan.
Fly With Jet: When he’s not traveling for the DRL, you can often find Temkin flying with the local chapters of amateur drone racing league MultiGP, which anyone—regardless of skill level—can join for free. Meet pilots from Aurora, Parker, and Denver at MultiGP’s regional finals on August 19.