When Jules McConnel first leapt out of a plane 26 years ago, little did she know the sport of skydiving would take her to the lofty heights of an Order of Australia Medal.
The Moruya woman was one of just over 1000 Australians recognised for outstanding efforts in their field as part of this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List.
Jules was just 19 when she first began parachuting and now has more than 11,000 skydives under her belt.
“I’ve been jumping more than half my life,” she says. “I never thought it would lead to this. I was absolutely shocked when I was even nominated, and dumbfounded when I found out I’d won.”
Jules is a life member of the Australian Parachute Federation and has been the organisation’s national sport development manager since 2019.
As well as the exhilaration of jumping, she says it’s the people who have kept her firmly anchored to the sport.
“Everyone has such a positive attitude to life,” says Jules. “You find people you can connect with.”
Jules has five world records to her name: 100-way canopy formation in 2007; 36-way canopy formation in 2009; 44-way canopy formation in 2015; 150 jumps in a day; and world record canopy formation in 2019.
She won the International Skydiving Hall of Fame Path of Excellence Award in 2007 and has won numerous gold, silver and bronze medals in international competition.
It was the skydiving centre at Moruya Airport that first drew Jules to the Eurobodalla Shire 11 years ago and she continues to work there part-time with Skydive Oz.
Despite her thousands of jumps, Jules says skydiving never gets old.
“I’ve travelled around the country and overseas,” she says. “The variety, the competition, the coaching and the different disciplines … there’s lots of different things you can do up there so it never gets boring.
“And you are seeing things from a different perspective; things other people don’t see.”
However, Jules says many more people are getting to share that unique perspective with COVID-19 providing an unexpected boost in participation numbers.
“The introduction of tandem skydiving has really made it more accessible to people who aren’t so gung-ho,” she says. “There has been a massive increase in the past 10 years, although sport numbers are still the same.
“Then, with COVID-19, there’s been an increase in people wanting to try something new. A lot more people are trying it out and having a go.”
Unsurprisingly, Jules plans to celebrate her OAM in her own unique style.
“I’m going to have a skydive, followed by some champagne,” she says with a laugh.
Other regional people on the 2021 Queen’s Birthday Honours List include Lesley Violet Sowell, OAM for service to the community of the South Coast; John Suthern Williams, from Cooma, OAM for service to the merino wool industry; Jennifer Myfanwy Thompson, from Batemans Bay, OAM Honorary for service to the community of Batemans Bay; and Leslie Carr, from Cootamundra, Australian Fire Service Medal.
Governor-General David Hurley congratulated all recipients.
“Each of these individuals are unique and their story deserves to be shared widely and celebrated,” he said.
“Collectively, they speak to who we are as a nation. There are countless examples of selflessness, commitment and dedication. There is diversity and there are examples of exceptional achievement in almost every field imaginable.
“I am pleased this list includes the highest ever percentage of women [44 per cent] recognised through the General Division of the Order of Australia.
“It is important the Order of Australia represents the diversity and strength of Australia. For this to happen we need to ensure outstanding women, members of our multicultural community and First Nations people are nominated by their peers in the community.
“I am prioritising increasing awareness of, and engagement with, the Order of Australia among groups that have been historically underrepresented. We are seeing positive progress and I am determined that it continues.
“To the individuals being recognised today, many of who [his wife] Linda and I look forward to meeting during the coming year, thank you for your service and congratulations on being recognised by your peers and your nation.
“To all Australians, I encourage you to consider nominating someone outstanding from your community for recognition. The great strength of our system is that it is ‘bottom-up’ – everyone recognised through the Order of Australia has been nominated by someone else, considered through an independent process and, today, celebrated by our nation.”