Skydiving seniors enjoy freefalling fun

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Jumping out of airplanes is a thrill at any age

By Lindsay Reed

Several seniors celebrated life with a tandem skydive jump at Freefall Express Skydiving in Mt. Vernon on June 17.

"At my age, I still want to have thrills in life, and as long as I can do this, I'm still going to have those thrills," said Skippy Fine, of Monett. "You're never to old to have fun."

Fine, who is now 81, took her first skydive jump when she was 75 years old. Since then she has jumped four times.

"I always loved flying in airplanes," said Fine. "I would have liked to have been a pilot, but I was a young mother who had to work."

Fine spent a large part of her life as a single mother raising three children in Chicago. She supported her family by working in some of the finest restaurants in the Illinois area.

"When I was supporting my children, I put everything else on hold," said Fine. "I always wanted to try skydiving. The adventure always appealed to me."

Fine took her first jump at 11,000 feet in Arizona four years ago. On June 16, she took her third jump at 14,000 feet in Mt. Vernon. This is the highest jump she has made so far.

"I came up to Mt. Vernon to see about the weather, and when I got up here, my buddy said, 'you want to take a test run jump?'" said Fine.

Although she was scheduled to make her third jump on Saturday, Fine could not pass up an opportunity to feel the sky passing through her fingertips and the air whipping through her hair.

"It's different," said Fine. "When you skydive, you don't see the ground and the sites. It's just beautiful sky and clouds. You are floating like a bird, and you don't comprehend your speed."

The biggest thrill of the activity is when the chute is opened, said Fine.

"When you open the chute and it pulls you back up, it's like a roller coaster rush," said Fine.

Saturday afternoon Fine took her fourth jump with three other seniors, Elmer Lewis, of Springfield, and Helene "Grandma" Kopp and Lynn Goss, both of Illinois.

Lewis, who was a member of the United States Air Force in the 1940s, never made a jump during his military career.

"I was in the Air Force in the war and flew a lot," said Lewis. "When I got on a bomber, I would look at the parachute and say, 'I hope I don't have to use you.' Well, I guess I got over that."

Lewis took his first jump four years ago.

"My son always knew I wanted to jump and so he jumped with me for Father's Day," said Lewis. "My wife made me promise that I wouldn't jump again while she was alive. She died three years ago, and I've been jumping every year since."

Although Lewis, who will be 90 in November, was nervous the first time he jumped, he said he rarely feels anxious about the activity now.

"It's a lot of fun," said Lewis. "It just grabs you. You get addicted to it real easily. I would like to take lessons and make a hobby of it, but it is expensive and dangerous."

To celebrate his fourth skydive, Lewis jumped with over 30 other skydivers in September of 2005.

"There were four women on that jump," said Lewis. "When they got ready to jump, they each came by and gave me a kiss. That's an extra bonus you get out of this thing."

Jumping from at least 14,000 feet each time, Lewis has now completed five skydives.

"You freefall for around 9,000 feet and open the chute at 5,000 feet," said Lewis. "When you are falling you are moving around 120 miles an hour, but you just feel like your suspended in air.

"You never feel like you are going down," said Lewis. "The earth doesn't come rushing up at you. It just gets bigger. You have no feeling of moving."

Kopp, who will be 90 in August, and Goss, who will be 73 next month, traveled to Mt. Vernon to watch a family member jump last June. Since that event, both women have longed for a chance to touch the sky.

"It looked like such fun, and we had to try it," said Kopp.

The Illinois women completed their first jump with Fine and Lewis on Saturday.

"This is my first time jumping with others," said Fine. "I'm really happy about jumping with people that I have so much in common with. It is nice sharing it with someone else, like a team effort."

Fine enjoys the energetic atmosphere surrounding mass skydiving events like Saturday's Hillbilly Boogie Skydive. Around 100 individuals enjoyed the freefalling sport in Mt. Vernon this weekend.

"The people who skydive are some of the greatest people in the world," said Fine. "They are kind, gentle, great people to be with. It's like a brotherhood.

"You get to share your experience with everyone," said Fine. "The response after you jump is fun. People recognize me as the lady that jumps."

All four senior skydivers use the tandem jump skydiving style. Skydivers must be trained and certified to make solo jumps.

Fine, who is currently employed full-time at the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Monett, also enjoys white water rafting and other sports. She plans to make an annual jump until she is unable to be cleared to skydive.

"Anyone can enjoy it if they think about the good and not the scary parts of it," said Fine. "It's the best experience. Good, clean free falling fun."

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