His 18th birthday brought the turn toward the new passion and sport. Thomas Hughes decided to make a tandem skydive a couple of days after his birthday in Lake Wales. The next step happened quickly. He decided to check out the wind tunnel and visited SkyVenture Orlando with a friend who had been there before.
The decision came easily, as Thomas remembers: “Once I was back in the plane, with the door open ready to jump, I was sure that I wanted to continue further into the sport.???
One day, he was once again flying in the tunnel, when the SkyVenture Orlando manager approached him to offer a job. Thomas already had a good job serving at Disney World at that time and was first reluctant to accept. That changed instantly when he found out that free tunnel time came along with the new job. Thomas was now handing out SkyVenture Orlando coupons on the busy streets of Orlando’s tourist area for a couple of days a week.
There he staid not much longer than about a month. The next move happened as soon as an instructor position opened up. Thomas was included in the next training course for instructors, which takes about two to three months.
He started to work on his AFF instructor license at the same time in Lake Wales and graduated from the course with former Airspeed member Chad Smith and his future Sebastian XL team member Steve Hamilton working as his AFF course instructors. Thomas was now a full-time skydiver and did as many jumps as he could afford over the next year, while he was still working at SkyVenture Orlando.
Kinetosis continued with this line-up until Russ Snyder left and Kyle Starck, fellow instructor at SkyVenture Orlando, decided to join the team. It was time to change the team name, and “DeLand Tunnel Rage??? was officially formed.
The four raging SkyVenture Orlando instructors planned to make 200 training jumps between January and the USPA Nationals in October 2000 and managed to complete approx. 100 jumps. However, Eliana Rodriguez, Thomas Hughes, Kyle Starck and Glenn Mendez were able to add a lot of 4-way tunnel time to the team agenda. In fact, DeLand Tunnel Rage did not jump at all within the last six weeks before the competition and trained only at SkyVenture Orlando.
Tunnel Rage discontinued after this success, and Thomas took a break from 4-way to do some Freeflying. By then he had already earned his uncrowned title as the “King of the Tunnel??? and showed off his unprecedented flying skills in the tunnel and in freefall.
Thomas’ next step up into the Open Class competition was his move into world-class 4-way competition at the same time, and it happened in November 2001. His former AFF instructor and Airspeed member Chad Smith invited him and Eliana for a try-out in Arizona. They both agreed and jumped with Airspeed members for two days.
After the first disappointment, Thomas re-focused and prepared for the XL jumps. He still remembers the situation: “I realized that it just wasn’t meant to be and I began to look forward to jumping with XL. We made ten jumps for the try-outs, which went very well. Pete called me back the same evening and asked me to join the team.???
The rest of Thomas Hughes’ career is well known. He trained and competed with Sebastian XL in 2002 and 2003. The exciting duel of the British team with Norway for the bronze medals at the Mondial 2003 in Gap, France, ended up with a 1-point advantage for the DeLand Norgies and a 20.5 average for Sebastian XL with Thomas. It was probably the most exciting competition in Thomas’ short career as a 4-way shooting star.
Arizona Blade was not eligible for USPA medals in 2004 due to Thomas’ participation with XL at the world meet in 2003 and still impressed with a great performance as a guest team at the USPA Nationals 2004. Blade won the NSL Championship with the same line-up a few months later at SkyQuest 2004.
Natasha Montgomery wanted to move on and formed DeLand Fire for the 2005 season. Thomas Hughes became only the alternate and videographer since his eligibility status would still be in the way at the USPA Nationals 2005 where DeLand Fire wanted to win the gold medals and qualify as the US national team for the world meet in 2006. Thomas’ situation with DeLand Fire would be discussed again at the end of the 2005 season.
His eligibility status was indirectly clarified when the Air Sport General Commission (CASI) of the FAI (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale) changed the international eligibility rules in October 2005, based on the “Pete Allum Case???. Thomas would now be eligible to compete for any US team at the world meet in 2006.
However, DeLand Fire finally decided to continue with the same line-up in 2006 after winning the USPA Nationals 2005. Thomas was without a team for the moment. It did not take very long though until the next opportunity came up. Arizona Airspeed had been in contact with Thomas already for a while hoping that he would join the team when Dennis Rook left at the end of the 2005 season.
Thomas thought about the offer for a while and compared it with other opportunities that had come up in the meantime. He did not want to leave his current home in DeLand where he could enjoy his other hobbies of cycling, surfing and free diving easily. However, the perspective of winning the 8-way gold medal in Germany 2006 was finally convincing enough, and Thomas Hughes accepted the Airspeed slot for the 2006 season. The NSL News audience will surely hear more of the ongoing impressive skydiving career of the “King of the Tunnel???.