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Alan Merhar’s heart splits its time between two homes: the sky and the kitchen. As well as being an impressive skydiving athlete in his own right, he’s a crowd-favorite skydiving instructor here at Skydive Tecumseh, teaching AFF students the ropes of our beloved sport. He’s also a top-notch aerial videographer. And he’s a professional chef. He’s been working in professional kitchens for 26 years (currently, specializing in Modern Midwestern fare), and he gets as excited about culinary techniques as he does about parachutes.
While it might seem at first glance that those passions are unrelated, he’ll be the first to tell you they aren’t. What is skydiving, after all, but taking simple ingredients–a plane, a sky and a bunch of parachute-wearing friends–and using highly skilled techniques to make magic from them?
Alan hails from Romeo, Michigan–in the sprawling suburbs, 32 miles north of Detroit. His father’s work was selling industrial air compressors; his mother’s, graphic design.
“I did one jump with my mother when I was 18,” he remembers. “I knew immediately when I did the first tandem that I was going to pursue it at some point, but I didn’t have the money to continue, nor did I live near a dropzone. But when I moved to Tecumseh about a dozen years later, it turns out that I lived right down the road from the dropzone. I worked two minutes away. I got into the AFF program. and it was highly addictive. I tackled it pretty hard.”
Alan still remembers his first day at the dropzone. He describes it as “exhilarating, exciting, scary…all of it.” He immediately clicked with his instructors.
“They were really good at getting me the information that I needed,” he recalls, “And making me feel comfortable about it.”
They set a solid foundation for the new jumper. Even now, years into being an AFF instructor himself, he still channels that friendly energy with which he himself was welcomed into the sport.
“It’s important to realize that every person is an individual,” he explains, “and requires a potentially a different teaching style. Every person will take on new knowledge differently. At the end of the day, it is my job to not only give them the tools to do the jump but but to put them in the right mindframe–to make them feel comfortable and confident about what they are about to do.”
There are, of course, challenges in a job with this many outlying variables. Alan approaches these challenges with signature calm, respect and authority.
“The biggest challenge of the job is never knowing what you are going to get,” he explains. “You can students that rock the ground school and can demonstrate that they know all of the information when asked–but once the [aircraft] door opens up, you just never know. Then, on the other hand, you can have the people who struggle even getting through the ground school and don’t seem to be retaining much at all, but it turns out that they’re a rockstar in the sky. You really have to be ready for anything. Ready to be surprised.”
According to Alan, those surprises are overwhelmingly good surprises. He has lots of grin-inducing tales of student success–but his favorites involve the little miracles of struggling-students-turned-happy campers. He’s always ready with an example, and you can sense the pride in his voice when he talks about his resolute “baby birds.”
“One student was having an extremely difficult time relaxing,” he recounts. “She would spin all the time, even with multiple instructors. She’d spin, spin, spin, the second you let her go. It had gotten to the point where it seemed like [expensive, far-off] wind tunnel training was going to be the only way.”
“But I had faith we could figure it out together,” he continues, “And we worked on it on the ground. I coached her to show me exactly what she was doing in the sky. Come to find out, she was putting more tension on one leg in the wind. It was hard to see in the air, but from her demonstration on the ground, I could tell. Literally the next jump after working on it with her, she was able to fix it, and she was fine on there on out. It is so rewarding to see determination like that–someone who is willing to keep at it, and who wants it that bad. Finally, you get to seem them overcome a hurdle, and it is pretty cool.”
Often, those smiling successes stay in the sport–and Alan is able to see them achieve all kinds of successes and milestones in the sport.
“It’s highly rewarding taking somebody all the way up,” he adds, smiling, “From their first day as a first jump student, then watching them progress through their skydive career to the point where they become instructors themselves. That might be my favorite part of the job.”
If you’re interested in following in those hallowed footsteps, Alan has nothing but encouragement for you. He earnestly invites you to share his sky–and add your unique ingredient to the feast of the senses that is skydiving.
“Relax and enjoy the ride. That tends to translate to success,” he grins. “Smile and breathe. It helps.”