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Business Observer Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023 3 weeks ago

Surgeon’s passion is to jump out of planes — with a parachute, of course

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Dr. Jennifer Bocker has performed somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 jumps.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Executive: Dr. Jennifer Bocker, chief medical officer at Doctor’s Hospital in Sarasota. In addition to her administrative role, Bocker, 49, is a board-certified general surgeon with specialty training in level 1 trauma surgery and head and neck surgical oncology. Bocker, who moved to Sarasota in December 2021 from Colorado, where she worked for a medical practice, also has an MBA. 

Diversion. Skydiving. Bocker has performed somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 jumps, which, she says, makes her a baby in the sport compared to others. Her husband Brian Ball, for example, has 8,000 jumps. Bocker has one skydiving world record, in the women’s large format sit position. 

 

Big bucket

Bocker jotted down the idea to try skydiving in 2006, when she was in the middle of her fellowship at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. A Chicago area native, Bocker had been so buried in work, she recalls, she hadn’t done much outside the hospital. So a few days before her sister and a cousin visited her, she came up with a bucket list. It ranged from running a marathon and volunteering with kids to taking trapeze classes and skydiving. (Learning to sail is one goal on the list she hasn’t done, but with her move to Sarasota she hopes to get to that one soon.)

Dr. Jennifer Bocker says going skydiving feeds her adventurous spirit. (Nancy Koreen.)
In the clouds

They found a place in upstate New York for skydiving, and Bocker was hooked almost immediately.  Her nerves, she says, were calmed quickly with a block-everything-out focus. “When I first jumped out of the plane the perspective was so beautiful,” she says. “There was nothing else you could think of while you were doing it.”

 

Small world

On that first jump Bocker saw four people jumping together in formation, dressed the same. She learned they were competing in an event, which drew the hyper-competitive Bocker to skydiving even more. Even better: though they wouldn’t officially meet until 2011, at another jump, one of the people in the other team of four she spied that day of her first jump in New York turned out to be Ball — now her husband. (The couple officially met at another jump, in Sebastian, north of Vero Beach.)

 

Right side up

Bocker says anyone who has skydived “for a certain period of time” will have something go wrong on a jump. She’s used her reserve parachute a few times, saying it all comes back to muscle memory and training. She controls the fear by controlling her breathing. “Everything.” she says, “just kind of slows down.”

Dr. Jennifer Bocker has been skydiving since 2006. (Leland Procell.)
Honor the past

Bocker trained with a group of women for a skydiving event called Project 19, set to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote. Bocker was one of eight women chosen to form the base of the formation, and the team was aiming for the women’s head down large formation skydiving world record. The team trained in Arizona and went as far as Abu Dhabi, to practice in the world's largest indoor skydiving tunnel, for the event. Project 19 was ultimately canceled due to the pandemic. 

 

Core focus

Bocker concentrates on her core for training and exercise, including taking kickboxing classes. She also runs, bikes and swims. She finished the New York City marathon in 2005, completed the Lake Placid Ironman in 2012 and competed in the nationals for her age group in an Olympic distance triathlon in 2013.  She’s been out of triathlons for several years, but looks to get back into it 2023. 

 

Because it’s there

The question of why a doctor — a trauma surgeon — partakes in such a risky passion comes up more than occasionally, Bocker says. Her answer? “I have an adventurous spirit,” she says, in addition to being obsessed with safety protocols. “I always wanted to be doing things and experiencing new things.”

Her list of already-done trips includes a liveaboard scuba trip for 10 days to the Galapagos Islands; scuba trips to the Great Barrier Reef, Bonaire, a  Dutch island in the Caribbean Sea and Utila, Honduras; and climbing 12 of Colorado’s 14ers, mountains over 14,000 feet. 

 

Namaste the day

Skydiving is also Bocker’s place of Zen from her high-stress and intense job. “It’s the one place where you can really go and just be totally focused on your mind,” she says. “Some people can do that with yoga but at least for me this is the one place where I can go and I’m not focused on anything else.”

 

Family time

More adventure comes from Bocker’s role as an aunt. “When my nieces and nephews turn 12-years-old they get to choose anywhere in the world that I have never been and just that child and I go there for two weeks,” Bocker writes in an email. “These trips have included my niece/nephew and I skydiving in New Zealand, paragliding, climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge, summiting Mount Fuji in Japan along with summiting all three mountains in the Holy Trinity there ( Fuji, Haku, and Tate), scuba diving, surfing, white water rafting, and so much more.”

 

Add it up

Notably, many other skydivers Bocker has met come from either high-stress jobs, like medicine, or have a background in physics and math with a mindset to figure out everything with precision. Her husband, for example, has a PhD in computational applied mathematics and is a senior engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. 

 

Open door

Bocker says one of her most memorable skydives was in the Maldives, on a private island rented by the skydivers with a plane brought in special for the trip. “We had the island to ourselves and were the first jumpers to ever skydive there,” Bocker says. “Plus the skydiving community is very tight knit so having so many of your friends in a beautiful location to jump, relax and enjoy life was incredible.”

 

Top of the world

A bucket list skydiving trip, Bocker says, would be to skydive over Mount Everest — an actual thing. (It costs at least $25,000 and is out of a helicopter.) 

Mark Gordon is the managing editor of the Business Observer. He has worked for the Business Observer since 2005. He previously worked for newspapers and magazines in upstate New York, suburban Philadelphia and Jacksonville.

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