Where Are They Now? Mike Wittenburg, professional skydiver in Dubai
By Jane Donahue For the Sun April 5, 2012 5:36PM
Mike Wittenburg, a 1994 graduate of Naperville Central, is a professional skydiver with Skydive Dubai. | Submitted
Updated: June 1, 2012 10:22AM
In Mike Wittenburg’s career, the sky is the limit. The 1994 graduate of Naperville Central High School makes a living as a professional skydiver in Dubai.
“I’m definitely living my dream,” said Wittenburg, 36. “I do what I love every day, and am surrounded by my wife and kids. At first I was scared, but when you start to learn the equipment and understand how a parachute opens, you realize how safe it is. I am definitely more comfortable skydiving than driving on a busy interstate.”
The Naperville native said he didn’t set out to become a professional skydiver; instead, it was something that “happened.” While growing up, Wittenburg became interested in snowboarding and would frequent Four Lakes in Lisle to hone his skills.
Central teacher and coach Andy Nussbaum remembers the former student as an adventurist, even then.
“I remember he was into snowboarding when it was just coming into public consciousness,” Nussbaum said. “He was doing that when nobody had ever heard of it. For him to be doing something like skydiving now doesn’t surprise me at all.”
Elana Wittenburg shares the sentiment.
“Mike started skateboarding, went to snowboarding, and after that, it was skydiving,” his mom said. “Hopefully there’s nothing next. I knew that skydiving has always been his passion, although I never thought it would be his career. This really is his dream job.”
After high school, Wittenburg spent five years snowboarding in Colorado and California while getting his associates degree at Colorado Mountain College.
“After school I was still obsessed with snowboarding,” Wittenberg said. “I wanted to figure out a way to always have my winters off so I could live in the resorts each year.”
Landscaping seemed like a way to meet his objective, and with a $3,000 loan from his grandmother, he started Prime Cut Landscaping in Naperville. He worked — and snowboarded — until injuries sidelined him. But in 1999, when a high school friend invited him to go skydiving in Hinckley, he found a new passion.
“The moment I landed, I signed up for the accelerated free-fall course,” he said. “I was hooked and started jumping all the time.”
He said it was an expensive hobby, so he set out to find sponsors to help with expenses.
“The first year I did 250 jumps, the next year 500 and the year after 1,750,” Wittenburg said. “I knew at that rate, I would go broke if I didn’t start looking for sponsors.”
The sponsors came, and as a member of a three-way free-fly team, he went on to win a national championship and break records. He said with that exposure came opportunities, including making videos and a trip to Dubai to coach a skydive team in the United Arab Emirates.
“The Crown Prince of Dubai happens to be an avid skydiver,” he said. “I was able to do a couple of jumps with him and organize some bigger formations for him to participate in. The next thing I know, I was calling up my wife saying ‘Julie, can you pack your bags?’ Now we live in Dubai.”
With his wife, Julie, and children, Kaleigh, 7, and Noah, 5, Wittenburg makes his home in Dubai.
“I never really thought I could make a living skydiving; it just sort of happened — a lot of hard work and a lot of being at the right place at the right time,” he said. “I live in a high-rise in downtown Dubai. Every morning when I take the elevator down, it’s full of people in suits heading to their office jobs, and I’m usually in shorts and a T-shirt and am able to skateboard to work. Life is good.”
Columnist Jane Donahue is looking for graduates of Naperville schools who have made Naperville proud. To offer candidates, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.