Celebrating Sister Sky
“Though she be but little, she is fierce.” That’s a quote from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but it could just as easily be a modern-day description of skydiver, visual artist and the entrepreneur behind Captured Sky, Michelle Nirumandrad.
At 5’ 2” and known as “Bubbles,” Michelle is teeming with creative ideas, intense energy, big-time tenacity, and a whole lot of moxie. While working with Michelle to create a sick piece of custom Sky, we learned that – like most skydivers – her journey has been filled with interesting twists and turns.
This is her story –
Michelle was born and raised in Columbia, South Carolina. Her Dad, ever ambitious, immigrated from Iran with no English and next-to-no money to study engineering. While in school, he met her mom, a North Carolina native and happy-go-lucky daydreamer. Together, they gifted Michelle the yin and yang of her personality – focused yet free spirited; driven to achieve and also delighted by the journey.
As a kid, Michelle was a self-described wallflower. Schoolwork came easy, but cool points with the in-crowd did not. Unfazed, Michelle spent her free time cultivating her creativity and sense of adventure with long romps in the woods, and took advantage of the extracurriculars and wonder-filled field trips afforded by her booksmarts.
Then, at age 12, they moved to Texas and the bright light within her was all but extinguished. No woods, no afterschool extras. She felt isolated and alone, and yearned for her Carolina life. Until college …
Take Me With You
Michelle started as a biology major at the University of North Texas, then pivoted to political science and set her sights on law. In preparation to change the world through financial reform, she participated in moot court and mock trials, and was an outspoken advocate and dissenter. While she found no one to join her cause, she did find an unexpected ally who’d help her fulfill another dream: skydiving.
One night in 2008, after casually sharing her aspiration to one day skydive, Michelle learned that the concert piano major down the hall was a nascent jumper. Immediately, she ran to his door and – interrupting him mid-musical phrase – implored, “TAKE ME WITH YOU!”
The very next weekend, she jumped at Skydive Dallas (now Skydive Spaceland-Dallas). Her goal was to go tandem once, check it off her bucket list, and move on to the next. Instead, she found that she was instantly, inexplicably home.
Before that first jump, Michelle thought skydiving was reserved for the rich and famous. But, boy howdy, when she realized that skydiving was for everyone – including money-strapped college kids – she was PUMPED.
She started AFF, jumping once or twice a month to maintain currency. Once she got her A, she sprung for her own gear and nixed rentals from her budget. Slow and steady she got her B, famously shouting “I’m going to be a professional” after landing her 50th jump.
Michelle was ecstatic about every single aspect of skydiving – from the freedom of flying in the wide-open sky and over gorgeous green pastures, to the tight-knit community and camaraderie that came with the sport. Her soul was fed and her spirit soared – she felt alive and, for the first time in a while, truly happy.
Her enthusiasm was so palpable, that she earned the nickname BIS (meaning Bullet In a Submarine, pronounced “Bizz”), which ultimately morphed into Bubbles.
A year later, Michelle had her eye on one thing: videography. More than anything, she wanted a camera on her head so she could document her jumps and, more importantly, afford to keep on jumping. Two things stood in her way: 30 jumps and a camera mount.
By chance, she won a free day of skydiving from Skydive Dallas … a straight-up golden ticket. She hatched a plan her pals deemed impossible, but Bubbles wasn’t having it. She rented an extra rig, hired ground support and crushed 31 jumps in one day. By day’s end she was sore and exhausted, but she skipped across the finish line to 200.
That was a Thursday. Her Dad – though not a fan (like, at all) of her choice to skydive – got to immediate work and by Sunday she was rockin’ a freshly engineered mount on her helmet. As was her plan, she started making money and, of course, putting it right back into her progression.
Message in a Bottle
Next to catch Michelle’s attention was the wind tunnel. Passionate about teaching body flight, she considered an incoming iFly as the ideal outlet. She rode her bike to the chain link perimeter of the jobsite to monitor its progress.
One afternoon, a curious engineer asked her if she was aware of what was being built, to which she replied, “Yes – and I’d love to be an instructor! Can I bring you my resume to pass along?” He agreed … but Michelle never saw him again. No problem; Bubbles hatched another brilliant plan. On a particularly hot Texas day, she strategically stuffed a cooler full of cold water into the chain link, spelling out the engineer’s name like a giant Lite Brite, and clipped a folder with her resume to the fence.
Her clever scheme worked, and in 2013 she began work as one of only three female instructors in the company. For the next three years, Michelle flew 80 to 120 flyers a day, achieved Level 3 status, and was proud as punch to coach the youth league. It plum wore her out, though, and not long after having her first child hung up her instructor suit.
How Do You Catch A Cloud?
From the beginning, Michelle was enamored with the idea of bringing back a souvenir from freefall. A shell from the beach, a rock from the woods, but what from the sky? She wracked her brain for the mechanism that would make it real; tangible.
She was obsessed. She thought of it constantly, even personifying it. “Sister Sky” became her muse, her mistress. “She,” the absence of so much and yet the source of hope and inspiration. Soft and supple, fierce and intimidating. She influences what we do, how we do it, when we do it. How could Michelle harness Her energy, carefully carry Her into her everyday? And then it came to her: instead of taking from Her, she would give to Her.
Together, they would paint.
Ducks in a Row
The race was on to suss out logistics. Bubbles was determined to succeed, and committed to being cautious. At no point would she allow her creativity to jeopardize the reputation of her DZ, her peers or the sport.
Under the cloak of ambiguity, Michelle peppered her rigger and UPT with questions about her Vector. She researched paint options and their potential for degradation and corrosion of her gear; toyed with possible paint surfaces, fasteners, cleaning agents, containers; and practiced potential EPs. After about a year, she was ready.
She started small and in secret, first strapping 3” by 3” canvases to her forearm and stashing paint-filled eye droppers in her suit – but no one noticed. Slowly, she stepped up in size and quantity and, in time, everyone noticed. When Captured Sky became a thing in 2013, she’d earned a full thumbs up from her S&TA.
Her creativity in overdrive, Michelle started jumping with up to four canvases strapped to her forearms and thighs, her paint tucked into the empty pockets of a weight vest. On landing, she burned the conditions, amount of captured sky (i.e. time in freefall), title of the piece, and date into the frame. Every jump yielded a fresh collaboration between Michelle and Sister Sky, and her work became more nuanced, layered, complex – and in demand.
In the seven years since establishing Captured Sky, Michelle and her incredible work has been featured across a variety of platforms – magazines, blogs (including Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!), podcasts (shout out to Gravity Lab Radio), art galleries, and numerous boogies and events.
At 3,300 jumps in and expecting sweet baby number three with husband (and badass videographer), Frank Cole, Michelle shows no sign of stopping. While grounded, she’ll continue waxing with Sister Sky, playing with elements she deliberately celebrated in freefall to create the Kissed Collection.
Looking ahead, Michelle hopes Captured Sky has the opportunity to represent her community and increase exposure for the sport through a solo gallery exhibition – complete with paintings, mixed media pieces, and her paint-splattered rig. Her universal message is simple: “I’m a house mom who gets to do amazing, wonderful things. And so can you.”
To girls with a passion, jumpers with new or big ideas, and to entrepreneurs anxious about the leap, she says: “Never give up. When the odds seem insurmountable, keep pushing. Not even the sky’s the limit. Envision the achievement, and let your mind make it happen.”
Words from the wise, y’all. Boom.
From all of us at SSK, thank you for sharing a piece of captured sky with us Michelle. Between your breathtaking work and your steadfast advocacy for the industry, we salute you.