How an immigrant pulled himself up by his bootstraps – and strapped on a parachute.

Taking the Leap: Juan Juarez survived a robbery at gunpoint along the border – and immigrating at age 14 – to jump out of planes for Skydive Monterey Bay.

Long before Marina’s Juan Juarez was jumping out of planes for pay, he was faced with an impossible choice.

He was 15. He’d emigrated alone to a rural town near Kuna, Idaho, from Mexico nine months prior to meet his dad and brother there. Now his father, Ramon, asked the newly adjusted teen to make a life-defining decision.

“[My dad said], ‘Well, I’m going back to Mexico,’” Juan remembers. “‘You want to come or do you want to stay?’”

Juarez, now 26, had barely embraced his new identity, and already he was being asked to consider casting it away.

After telling his father Ramon he wanted to stay, Juarez received a piece of advice that would stay with him.

Te tienes que atar un huevo,” Ramon said.

That translates literally to “tie back an egg,” or, in Spanish slang, tie back a testicle. In other words, young Juan had to be tough. The early lesson still helps.

“It makes me who I am right now,” Juarez says. “He put me in the jungle and expected me to do my stuff.”

In a period that tested the toughness Ramon so valued, Juarez bounced between homes and jobs, staying with recently immigrated family friends, then with his brother, then in a trailer as he cycled through construction and restaurant jobs. 

At what Juarez describes as a low point, he even became a “coyote,” helping ferry undocumented immigrants from Phoenix to Idaho for a $150 a trip.

And if not for what he describes as “divine intervention,” his road to a skydiving career and his eventual goal of a college education in Sacramento might’ve ended before it began, on the highway outside of Phoenix.

He was the passenger in a blue Chevy Astro van, with another man in the driver’s seat and a recent immigrant in the back. They noticed an identical van up ahead of them, and – thinking that they might elude a police car they saw earlier – the driver floored it and passed the doppelganger.

The aggressive move prompted the cop to pull the van over. Juarez was the only one who could speak English, and the driver didn’t have a license.

“I was like, ‘OK, God, something has to happen. Please, something. This is out of my hands,’” he says.

Unbeknownst to Juarez and the driver, their passenger had been to the U.S. and miraculously possessed a driver’s license from Oregon. The officer sent them off with nothing more than an “OK, drive safe,” and a request that the man with a license drive.

The incident inspired him to straighten up. He settled in Boise, where he met his now ex-wife. The birth of his first child heralded a new atar un huevo moment.

“Seeing my son, it was just, ‘OK, now I’m different. This is it. I’m not doing anything else,’” Juarez says. “I’m just working to make a better life for him.”

Though Juarez split with his wife, who’d given birth to his daughter and now lives in California, he continues to support his children emotionally and financially. At the recommendation of his old boss in Idaho, Juarez leapt at the opportunity to move west to work for his boss’s friend as a parachute packer in Marina, where he can now visit his children every few weeks.

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Juarez arrived at Skydive Monterey Bay a complete novice but became what a coworker calls an “expert packer” after a year-and-a-half. Then he began jumping. And jumping. Some 500 leaps later, he qualified to be a tandem jump instructor.

Tying back huevos helped there too.

“He doesn’t show any fear [while skydiving],” says videographer Tyler Mitchell, who’s worked with Juarez for four years. “When he first started taking tandems, no one would suspect he’s the new guy. He looks less nervous than some of our more veteran guys. He’s good at getting people to relax and have a good time.”

Much of his competence comes from a voracious appetite for information.

“He knows way more about everything about the sport than I do,” Mitchell says. “He knows a lot more about the gear… than a lot of other people. He just loves learning.”

In fact, Juarez once shelled out nearly $2,000 for a set of encyclopedias so he could learn English. When his father was away at work, he would sneak into the garage, disassemble Ramon’s motorbike, then put it back together.

Having just completed his GED, Juan now has his sights on U.S. residency – he’s eligible for a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for those brought into the country as children – and an engineering degree. 

He’s already got a huevo tied back in anticipation. 

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