AV People: Cory Schaeffer of Listen Technologies

This is the first in a new series of columns where we tell the personal stories of people working in the AV industry.

When people think of Cory Schaeffer they think: experienced AV professional, co-founder of Listen Technologies, wife of fellow AV professional Tim Schaeffer.

What many don’t realize is both Cory and Tim are avid, and certified, paragliders. What’s even more astonishing is their love of paragliding came after a tragedy that would keep most any human being as close to the ground as possible for the rest of their lives: a plane crash.

Let’s go back to go forward.

Tim and Cory met in the mid-1980s while both working for Gentner, now ClearOne. Tim was an independent sales rep and Cory was a sales manager. They interacted at trade shows, on sales calls, and at other industry events. They were friendly and cordial, but definitely not romantic.

Shortly thereafter they began dating, but Cory quickly realized things could get awkward quickly. A sales rep and sales manager seeing each other can be somewhat of an industry no-no. But they thought it would be okay as long as there wasn’t a conflict.

Until one day, there was a conflict of interest. Tim refused to resolve it. So Cory did what any sales manager had to do: she fired him.

In 1997, they married. Tim said, “She fired me. So, I got even and married her.”

A year later, Cory spent much of her time planning and preparing to launch Listen Technologies.

Life for Cory and Tim was blissful. They were both in successful careers and they were madly in love.

A few years later, the unthinkable happened.

“It was Saturday, January 11, 2003 and Tim and I had a “date” around 12 noon to go on a hike,” said Cory. “He was going to “fly” that morning as he was obsessed with his latest hobby. We have a rule… ALWAYS call before you take off and call when you land, doesn’t matter if you’re flying the plane yourself or if it’s being flown by Delta or United.”

A phone call before takeoff was no big deal to Cory. It was their thing, their promise, their routine. But about 40 minutes later, Cory got a call from Tim, who handed the phone to a medic.

Tim’s plane had crashed in, of all places, a cemetery.

Unfortunately Cory hadn’t been given much information other than where he was headed — Northridge Hospital. However, she couldn’t shake the feeling of anxiety — her husband had just been in a plane crash.

Cory later learned that once at 5,000 feet of altitude, the rented plane Tim and his co-pilot were flying had a prop fall apart that tore the right wing, rendering the plane no longer flyable. They had lost all aerodynamics and just couldn’t hold on. Tim and his co-pilot pulled on the yoke (aka: the control column or “W” shaped steering wheel) to no avail.

They were going down.

At the time they were flying over Westlake, California and the 101 Freeway, one of California’s busiest freeways. They were hoping to make it onto the freeway, but then saw what they thought was a golf course and tried to control the plane enough to get it on the golf course.

Then they gave up.

They gave up trying to gain control.

Once the wing was gone, there wasn’t a chance they’d get it back.

While Tim’s plane was giving up control, there was a fire crew at a nearby Albertson’s grocery store that saw what was happening. They knew the plane was going down and immediately rushed in its direction. They radioed for “air lift support” because they knew it was going to be bad.

That radio call is a large part of what saved Tim’s life.

As Tim’s plane fell lower and lower, it narrowly missed the roof of a Costco and skidded hundreds of feet in what was not, in fact, a golf course, but a cemetery.

The fusel lodge was destroyed and a plane that had six seats had only two remaining — the pilot and co-pilot’s.

The plane came to a stop at a mausoleum wall. Grounds keepers rushed to the plane as soon as it came to a stop. Just as it landed the firemen were coming on site.

Tim and his co-pilot did not walk away, as they both suffered broken backs, arms, and ankles. But they were alive.

When Tim was in the hospital, the cemetery where he had crash sent a huge bouquet of flowers. Cory said they liked to make the joke and say that the card in the flowers read, “It was nice seeing you… come back when you can stay longer.”

But this story isn’t specifically about Tim’s plane crash; it’s about what the plane crash did for Cory and what it did for Tim. It brought them together. They experienced the unthinkable and lived to tell about it.

“Tim and I have an extremely close relationship. Always have,” shared Cory. “This experience took our relationship to a level that we’d likely never achieve. For a period time, I had to do most everything for him. We were humbled and reminded how short life really is.”

Tim hasn’t flown a plane since.

A year later, Cory, Tim, the co-pilot and his wife met at the cemetery where they crashed only a year earlier to pop some bubbly and celebrate life and be thankful for their good fortune. It was a sobering moment.

Just as they were sharing a drink, a groundskeeper came their way. They thought they were in trouble for drinking on cemetery grounds. Well, it turns out it was the grounds keeper that had come to the plane after it had crashed. Needless to say, they were all happy to see each other and thank each other. After leaving the cemetery they headed to the fire station to thank the firemen that had saved their lives.

Cory remembered the visit so vividly, “It was great to talk to them and for them to see what they did on that day mattered to two families and will forever. They joked about it because it’s awkward for some to be “thanked” and I know for sure that on the day of our visit, they were reminded of all the good they do for so many.”

Tim’s road to recovery wasn’t easy, but within a few years, Tim was back on his feet. After some coaxing from Cory’s business partner Russ Gentner, Tim left his position with Klotz Digital and joined the Listen Technologies team as the VP of Strategic Development in 2008. Hopefully Cory won’t have to fire him this time.

Then in 2009 while working in Bluffdale, Utah, they were in a conference room that had large, glass windows on all three sides — and suddenly, out the window, Tim spotted a group of paragliders. Cory immediately saw the gleam in his eye and realized they were in trouble.

The next day they signed up for a tandem paragliding flight.

During their first tandem flight, Cory looked over at Tim and already he was taking the reins and controlling the araglider. When they landed, Tim knew he wanted to take lessons.

“If you can’t beat him, join him,” sighed Cory. So the two of them signed up for lessons.

 

 

Since that time, they’ve been hooked. For the first year, they took lessons about once a week and gained their certification and started flying on their own.

For Cory, it’s been a journey that not only tested her emotionally and physically, but also spiritually. Paragliding has given her a new sense of freedom.

I could hear the joy and peace in her voice as Cory described what her “hobby” is to her, “Paragliding solo is amazing. It’s beautiful. It’s spiritual. It’s exhilarating and rejuvenating. It’s the only thing I’ve ever been able to do to completely clear my mind to the point where the only thing I can focus on is my breathing and the wind on my face.”

It’s amazing to think that after everything they’ve been through Cory and Tim are as strong, ambitious, and totally adventurous as they are.

Their life goal is to travel the world paragliding. They’ve paraglided in Seattle, Maui, Santa Barbara and Mexico — and their list of dream destinations isn’t short.

And although they love “flying” through their paragliding passion, their thoughts never go far from where they were ten years ago.

To see where they are today, it’ll be even more exciting to see where they go ten years from now.

Molly Stillman is the Director of Marketing and New Business Development for rAVe [Publications]. Reach her at molly@ravepubs.com