When LJ Burgess interviewed for a job at Skydive Carolina on a wintry day in 2013, she didn’t know what she was getting herself into. Like, really had no idea. Case in point, until she applied for the position LJ didn’t know that civilian skydiving even existed.
Nearly seven years and more than 400 jumps later, LJ is as knowledgeable as they come about what goes on behind-the-scenes at a skydiving dropzone and what it takes to host one of the country’s most celebrated skydiving events, CarolinaFest.
If you’ve jumped at Skydive Carolina, chances are you’ve either met LJ or you’ve heard her voice over the PA system. But who’s behind the mic, and how did she come to run the show at Skydive Carolina?
We sat down with LJ to learn more about her life journey so far – check it:
As a college student at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina, LJ first declared that she would pursue organic chemistry … until one day she decided to instead study creative writing. Her truth was that she didn’t know where she wanted to focus her energy or what she wanted to do after graduation. She only knew that she was driven by her passions and that fueling them was going to require that she get a job.
During her sophomore year, LJ applied for off-campus jobs. A SnoCone spot and Skydive Carolina were on her shortlist, but Skydive Carolina was first to contact LJ for an interview. She had never been to a skydiving dropzone; never knew that skydiving was available recreationally for non-military folk.
And her understanding didn’t increase during her interview – it was cold and wet at the DZ that January day. She accepted the position without knowing what she’d be doing exactly.
LJ’s aptitude for multi-tasking was immediately tested once she started work in the DZ office. Taking calls, answering questions, making reservations, manifesting tandems – that sleepy day she’d visited the DZ was the polar opposite to a typical day-in-the-life at a skydiving dropzone.
One day, about six months in, a seasoned skydiver asked LJ when – not if – she was going to make her first jump. As perhaps he already knew, LJ was ready. That same day, she signed a waiver, chose Andrew Happick as her instructor, and completed her first tandem that very same day.
Andrew’s even-keeled personality and professionalism, in concert with his years of experience as an instructor and sport skydiver, made him LJ’s perfect partner. Inside, LJ was a colossal ball of nerves; outside, she was calm and quiet. Andrew intuitively knew when to give LJ space to process her thoughts and when to empower her with information to help her stay focused.
In LJ’s own words, that first skydive “was terrifying and exhilarating” – and it marked the beginning of several life-changing events.
A year later, LJ began AFP and started dating Andrew. In 2015, LJ earned her A License.
Her ability to keep calm during the most stressful parts of the day, her keen eye for detail and the big picture, and her mad organization skills were quickly recognized, and today LJ is Office Manager of Skydive Carolina.
As the General Manager’s right hand, LJ is integral to DZ operations. From overseeing the office, designing promotional materials and manifesting tandems, to managing sport jumpers, planning loads and planning and executing events – including Angle Camps, Accuracy Camps, the Fall Boogie and CarolinaFest – LJ never sits.
She is the face and the voice of Skydive Carolina, often serving as a jumper’s first and last point of contact whether on the phone or at the airport.
All-day every day, LJ is everywhere.
LJ’s love of the sport and the skydiving community fuels her drive toward excellence in daily operations and world-class events. And it’s a good thing that fire burns hot because life in DZ management is not for the feeble.
Located in sunny South Carolina, Skydive Carolina’s season is long. The average workweek exceeds 40 hours, and during events, LJ is known to clock upwards of 100 hours. It’s a schedule that no amount of caffeine can carry you through, only passion. Fortunately for LJ, she’s never lacked for that.
The best – and also most taxing – part of the year is always CarolinaFest. One of the sport’s favorite US events, CarolinaFest is epic. It’s big, it’s crazy fun … and it’s super organized. Skydivers talk about it from the day it ends until the day it starts the following year. The week after the event, inquiries start coming in for the next boogie.
If LJ had taken that SnoCone gig back in the day, her life would look a whole lot different than it does today. She may never have skydived or traveled around the country and to amazing European destinations, and she may not have met Andrew.
And that’s a big deal because, in beautiful, meant-to-be serendipity, this November LJ will become Andrew’s wife. He proposed in 2018 on a picture-perfect beach on the Amalfi Coast in Italy. They’ll marry on a North Carolina vineyard and honeymoon in Hawaii.
Lots of skydiving couples choose to have a mid-air ceremony and plan a freefall-filled honeymoon, but not LJ and Andrew. Between her role at Skydive Carolina and Andrew’s full schedule as a member of Rhythm XP, they’ll instead spend their time away exploring on foot.
We get it, y’all, and we wish you the bluest of Blue Skies on your special day and beyond. Congrats, Mr. and Mrs. Happick!
If you’re reading this then you know better than our LJ did that civilians can skydive – come and jump with us!
And for those looking to jump into a career in the field, LJ recommends upping your customer service game. In an experience-driven industry like skydiving, customer service is what it’s all about. Other pro tips are to volunteer to work at events, spend time at the DZ observing the ground and sky crew in action, and ask about opportunities to watch manifest in action. And her top advice: know when to take a day off. Don’t let burnout get the better of you; make time and space for self-care.
If you have questions, get in touch – chances are LJ will be the one you’ll connect with.
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