Most may only dare to skydive once to cross it off their bucket lists. But at 84, I’m travelling around the U.S. with the goal of making 1,000 skydives, total, by finishing my last 450 as tandems. My family, friends and even strangers have asked me, “Why?” My answer is simple. To prove, regardless of age, you should embrace adventure and never give up on your dreams.
To really know why, you have to learn more about me. I knew I wanted to skydive when I was five years old after my uncle brought home a military parachute from World War II. My first jump was on December 13, 1959, and I forged my parents’ signatures to do it.
By my 10th jump, I was doing turns in freefall and practising style and accuracy. This isn’t recommended by today’s safety standards, but back then, that’s how a competition parachutist was born!
I participated in local competitions throughout 1960. I was one of only two women to compete against the men at the 1961 Team Tryouts at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. In 1962, I joined the first U.S. Women’s Parachute Team, which won gold at the 6th World Skydiving Championships in Orange, Massachusetts. I then sold all my possessions and bought a Eurail Pass and an open-ended plane ticket to travel as a parachute enthusiast, visiting 21 countries.
Back in the States, in 1966, I was reunited with my future husband, whom I had met at the 1962 Worlds. We married four months later and started a family. Raising a family consumed my next 30 years until I lost my husband suddenly in 1997. I moved to Denver to be closer to my daughters and rekindled an old friendship with someone I also knew from the 1962 competition.
I took up the sport again at 64 – a real “Starts at 60” moment – because many of my friends are old friends from skydiving who encouraged me to get back into it. I was inducted into the International Skydiving Hall of Fame in 2013 and continue to participate actively in the museum events and Pioneers of Skydiving celebrations.
Now, I’m starting my “Rush for the Gold,” working hard to fulfil my dream of getting to 1,000 skydives to earn my U.S. Parachute Association (USPA) Gold Wings. This goal is important to me because I started with two goals in mind – to stand under a U.S. flag and win a Gold medal, which I accomplished already, and to get 1,000 jumps. I’ve had so many good “interruptions” in my life, but now, it’s my turn just to do what I want to do and what I want to do is earn my Gold Wings.
Overall, skydiving has given me a better perspective on life and ageing. I encourage others to keep their minds and bodies moving.
Whether it be skydiving or something else, don’t be a couch potato. Get outside in the fresh air and spend as much time doing activities you enjoy as you can.
They keep telling me I have arthritis in my hands. I joke that it’s a good thing they said so because I don’t feel it!
I’ve learned you have to take as much control of your health as possible, and I think your attitude toward your health is mental. You must have a positive attitude and keep positive energy and positive people around you.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re 18 years old or 88 years old. If you’re reading this and thinking about pursuing something challenging or a passion of yours that you haven’t yet explored, just try it. You won’t know you like something if you never try it.
A lot of people have always had an inkling in their minds to try something like skydiving. If you’ve ever thought, “Wow, I wish I was younger, and I would like to do something like that,” I encourage you to buy a tandem for your child, grandchild or friend and go with them to a USPA-affiliated drop zone. Both of my daughters have jumped tandems with me.
People 90 years old are still jumping, like Pat Moorehead, who founded the Skydivers Over Sixty organization. Even though he started later in life, skydiving was something that his soul wanted.
Skydiving is a soul thing for me, too. It’s in my DNA. It’s something I’ve always loved to do; it’s a part of me. Flying under the canopy refreshes my mind and resets me for the days and weeks ahead. Right now, I’m only doing tandems rather than solo skydives because it’s safer for me. One lousy landing could stop my whole journey.
Some have said to me, “Aren’t you scared? What if you get hurt?” I don’t worry about the “what ifs.” What if I get in a car wreck tomorrow and die? You’re more likely to get into an accident driving to a skydiving drop zone than while skydiving. Skydiving is safer than ever before. When I picked the sport back up, I wasn’t familiar with some of the equipment because it’s gotten much more advanced and safer than the WWII packs we used back then.
Life passes by fast enough. When I hear my grandchildren say the summer is gone already, we just got it, and now it’s gone – that’s the way it is. If you don’t do things when you have the doors open to do them, you miss the chance.
Don’t miss your chances. I have about 450 jumps left and hope to have my 1,000th by 2026. Will you join me by doing something bold and brave you’ve always wanted to do?