The thrill of free falling

Th­ese oc­to­ge­nar­i­ans are sky­div­ing be­cause it’s what they have al­ways wanted to do.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Senior - By ERIN ARVEDLUND

BETTY Diem, 84, care­fully took out her hear­ing aids. She was ready to sky­dive.

She was at the air­plane hangar, where in­struc­tors had suited her up in div­ing gear, a GoPro cam­era, and gog­gles.

Diem and her re­tire­ment com­mu­nity neigh­bour Frances Lock, 85, as­cended 4000m to ful­fill a wish on their life­time bucket lists – jump­ing from an air­plane – at Sky­dive Philadel­phia in Perkasie, about 30 miles out­side Philadel­phia, United States.

The air­field glowed with sum­mer dragon­flies and timothy hay, and the puffy clouds fi­nally cleared enough for take­off. Diem was part­nered with Matt Forgille, a tan­dem diver with a hip­ster beard. Lock was part­nered with Chris Howard, a hunky Aus­tralian sky­div­ing in­struc­tor. “He had me se­cured pretty much ev­ery­where, ” Lock said.

Why would th­ese oc­to­ge­nar­i­ans sky­dive?

For the same rea­son they and Amer­ica’s many se­niors do lots of risky things.

“I’ve al­ways wanted to do it,” said Diem, a re­tired ca­reer Air Force nurse.

“The movie Bucket List was ac­tu­ally great for busi­ness,” said Aaron Teel, drop zone man­ager at Sky­dive Philadel­phia, where the cost starts at about US$200 (RM880) a per­son, plus ex­tra for up­grades such as video and photos. As they waited al­most four hours to jump, Diem and Lock couldn’t sit still. They’d had to can­cel a week ear­lier be­cause of bad weather. When all sys­tems were go, Lock climbed the steps to the PAC 750 XL air­plane with her cane, which she left be­hind for the jump.

Sky­div­ing from an al­ti­tude of 4000m gave Diem and Lock a full minute of free-fall time be­fore their tan­dem divers opened the chutes at about 1,700m – an ex­pe­ri­ence cap­tured on video.

Three of Lock’s four adult chil­dren waited in the hazy sun, try­ing to spot the plane cir­cling above.

Then, four dot-sized kites ap­peared in the sky – one orange, one yel­low and green striped (the cam­era­men), and then two more. The women’s para­chutes grew larger and larger, and they swooped down gen­tly onto the grass along the run­way.

How did the ladies pre­pare for the jump of a life­time?

Diem and Lock are res­i­dents of Wes­ley En­hanced Liv­ing in Doylestown, a re­tire­ment com­mu­nity that helps ar­range ways to ful­fill its se­niors’ bucket lists – the things they’ve al­ways wanted to do but never got to. Some wish lists have in­cluded learn­ing to build a vi­o­lin, work­ing as a sous chef at a restau­rant, and rid­ing hot-air bal­loons or roller coast­ers, even a Seg­way on the Route 202 by­pass.

Along with some other se­niors, the two women first at­tempted a zip line, and then a con­trap­tion known as the “I-Fly” – an in­door wind tun­nel that sim­u­lates the rush of a sky­dive and the feeling of weight­less­ness.

“What’s to be afraid of? One of my sons and his wife went sky­div­ing, and af­ter that I wanted to do it,” Lock said. “Ev­ery life is a fear­some thing.”

Diem lived a life of ad­ven­ture af­ter grad­u­at­ing nurs­ing school in Philadel­phia.

She en­listed in the Air Force and flew many mis­sions be­tween 1961 and 1983 as a flight nurse – in Thai­land, the Philip­pines, France, Ger­many, and New Mex­ico, and else­where in the States, some­times treat­ing the wounded, or ser­vice­men who had malaria, some­times fly­ing drug ad­dicts in the mil­i­tary into treat­ment hos­pi­tals. She even at­tended jun­gle-sur­vival school.

“But the pi­lots al­ways told me, ‘Why would you want to jump out of a per­fectly good air­plane?’ So I never got to jump,” she re­called. Es­pe­cially af­ter hear­ing about air­men who had parachuted into Viet­nam and were cap­tured and im­pris­oned, Diem wanted to wait un­til she was safely back in the United States.

In 1983, she re­tired from the Air Force and worked as a cor­po­rate nurse for In­tel Corp.

In the 1990s, fam­ily ties brought her back east to Chal­font, Penn­syl­va­nia, be­fore she moved into the re­tire­ment com­mu­nity.

At a picnic ta­ble be­fore their jump, Lock lis­tened to her friend in quiet amaze­ment. “I just had chil­dren!” she said, laugh­ing.

Born in Ol­ney, Lock mar­ried in 1950 and worked for the Cen­tral Bucks School Dis­trict, near where she and her hus­band raised their fam­ily.

On the grass post-sky­dive, the women sat pant­ing. Would Lock sky­dive again? She’s not sure.

“I had a bit of an up­set stom­ach, and I thought my shoes were falling off,” she said, safely back on the ground with the crew and sip­ping from a water bot­tle.

Diem said she can’t wait to sky­dive again. “At that al­ti­tude, I couldn’t catch my breath. But I had a blast of wind in my hair, and then ... it was won­der­ful.” — The Philadel­phia Inquirer/Tri­bune News Ser­vice

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