Had it not been for traffic school, Danji “DJ” Marvin might be a man of the cloth rather than of the sky. His significant contributions to the sport make us grateful he stuck with skydiving, but – always positive and principled, with tremendous generosity of spirit – we can see how DJ would have been a great pastor, too.
DJ’s journey to CEO of The Ratings Center, co-host of Gravity Lab Radio and Marketing Director for LB Altimeters is long, winding, and fascinating (as every good skydiver yarn tends to be). Along the way, he has accrued over 8,500 jumps – including 3,400 tandems, of which about 500 were front rides! – and is a Coach Examiner and AFF Instructor Examiner, and former USPA/UPT and Tandem Instructor Examiner. In addition to being a proud member of the SSK family, DJ is sponsored by Cookie Helmets, Itandehui Skydiving Suits, Larsen & Brusgaard, Option Studios, Performance Designs, Skydive Spaceland–Houston, and Velocity Sports Equipment.
This is DJ’s story –
DJ’s dad – now a 28-year veteran – met his mom while stationed in Japan with the US Marines Corp. A self-proclaimed military brat, DJ moved frequently, oftentimes only staying put for part of a school year.
Bouncing from one Department of Defense campus to another, DJ’s earliest years were spent in Virginia, Tennessee and Alabama. By age 10, though, the Marvins returned to Southern Japan for their longest stint in one place: four years. Best yet, they were near his mom’s hometown. Being immersed in her culture and forming bonds with his extended family was time DJ will forever hold sacred.
DJ rounded out his youth stateside, in Hawaii and San Diego, and loved every minute of it. In fact, DJ describes his international adventures as a beautiful experience that most definitely made him a better person. He learned to be open to new experiences and to embrace people from walks of life: “You may have grown up philosophically, religiously, politically different from me – and I appreciate you.”
After high school, DJ attended seminary with the intent of becoming a pastor in the Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) Church. In keeping with IFB beliefs, he was encouraged to challenge ideas and to actively listen to those of others. He enjoyed his studies and loved who he served alongside, but over time realized that he was walking a path he thought his parents wanted for him. When he humbly approached them to confess that he wanted to go in a different direction, they surprised him with their full endorsement. He pivoted to electrical engineering.
That was 1996.
In 1997, DJ got a speeding ticket that required he attend traffic school. He found a school that employed comedians, magicians and other entertainers to deliver the curriculum; DJ couldn’t overcome his curiosity. Turned out they had comedians aplenty, but lacked magicians … and DJ had a penchant for magic. He worked in the aerospace industry on weekdays, and taught magic traffic school on weeknights and weekends.
One Wednesday evening, DJ found accomplished skydiving instructor and videographer, Steve Barker, in his classroom. DJ was enthralled. There was little talk of the rules of the road that day. The sky was calling, and DJ had to go.
Two months later, DJ jumped at Air Adventures Skydiving (now home to Skydive San Diego) … and two weeks after that he jumped again, just to be sure of his level of interest. As he suspected: 10-out-of-10 interested! A few months later, money saved and ready to burn, DJ knocked out his First Jump Course with Carmen, now a life-long friend.
Was anyone in DJ’s life surprised he went all in? Nope! Having grown up on military bases, around paratroopers and, of course, playing with GI Joes, aviation had always been top of mind for DJ. Like his mom, DJ was athletic and, coming up, he rode bikes, skateboarded, snowboarded, skied, and bungee jumped – so the extreme aspect of skydiving felt natural too. This was also the era of Point Break, Dropzone and Terminal Velocity, and the X Games were just two years old. Skydiving was to be part of DJ’s real life one way or another, it was just a matter of time.
A hundred jumps in, DJ moved to Elsinore and took a super-flexible job as a business manager with a traffic school. He jumped like crazy, and worked in between. He was living the dream until one day he woke up and realized he was making some questionable decisions. It was time for a change.
Resistance Is Futile
By this time, DJ’s parents lived in Indiana. He went “home” to regroup and reset, shifting gears entirely to work at an auto dealership – first in sales, then in the body shop. He liked the work and was good at it (still works on cars, in fact), and for a time he was satisfied; happy, actually.
In 2002, Lee Werling – known as Skypunk – passed away during a BASE jump. His death woke something dormant within DJ. He gave his full attention to figuring out what it meant to live life to the fullest. He stepped away from work to gain perspective and, in short order, got it in spades.
DJ started shooting video at Skydive Greensburg (now Skydive Indianapolis), and quickly went on to pursue his Coach rating. DJ was training with Jay Stokes then, who was – and continues to be – one of DJ’s role models, as a skydiver and as a human being. Perhaps it was clear to Jay at that time, but it wasn’t to DJ: he was training to be an Examiner.
He told the body shop he wasn’t coming back.
Life By The (Long) Horns
In late 2005, DJ accepted an invitation from DZO of Skydive Spaceland, Steve Boyd, Sr., to work the winter in Houston. Two or three weeks into the gig, Steve offered him a full-time job. As much as he wanted to take it, DJ declined. He had a girlfriend back in Indiana who he wouldn’t ask to leave her career. As it happened, though, Steve knew of a comparable job in the area and Valerie, now DJ’s wife, was down to give it a shot. She aced the interview, got the position, and they moved to Texas a year ahead of schedule.
For the next three years, DJ was a Lead Instructor at Spaceland. Teaching and curriculum development came naturally, and he was a sought-after coach. Everything coalesced that fall. DJ and Valerie were married and debt-free – it was now or never to take the leap.
The Marvins incorporated The Ratings Center (TRC) in October 2008 and the rest, as they say, is history. Today, TRC is one of the most respected skydiving schools in the nation, serving people from across North America, South America, Europe and Australia. Twelve strong, the TRC team offers Coach, Tandem and AFF ratings courses, as well as Canopy, Freefall and Tunnel coaching, primarily from Skydive Spaceland campuses in Houston, Dallas, San Marcos and Atlanta.
Words To The Wise
Approaching 30 years in the sport, DJ has many words of wisdom to share with industry newcomers and those climbing the ranks:
- Patience, Passion, Perspective
Remember how it felt when you first started skydiving – the excitement, the enthusiasm, the energy, and the frustrations. Supporting people in their skydiving journey requires mindfulness.
- It’s All About Community
Our international community is everything. We are a collective; a tribe. Together, we set the tone, adopt best practices, and act as a whole to further the sport. Patterns and behaviors are up to us.
- Be A Leader
One of DJ’s favorite quotes is attributed to John Quincy Adams: If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader. Our actions speak louder than words; lead by example.
Down The Line
Those who know DJ won’t be the least bit surprised to learn that DJ’s aspirations for the future center on his relationship with his wife. Chief among his goals is to be 90 years old, walking hand-in-hand on the beach with Valerie, and for folks to say, “Look how adorable they are!”
DJ has always been open about his love, respect, and admiration for Valerie – and is just fine about being teased for it. Growing old together means maintaining four pillars of health: physical, mental, emotional, and financial. He has long been unwavering in his dedication to each, and it has served him well in every area of his life.
We are proud to have you as a member of Team SSK, DJ! We wish you good health, good luck, and blue skies, always!