My friend, Bob Watson, mentioned in passing that his 85-year-old mother made a tandem parachute jump for the first time in her life. I was fascinated and inspired by this brave act because, based on what I’ve observed, as people age they often become more cautious in their actions. Geraldine Watson is a great example of someone who can inspire us all to live our lives to the fullest every day.
Her tandem jump also made me wonder whether people are born daredevils, or do their life experiences lead them to a “devil-may-care” way of thinking. After reading my interview with Geraldine, what do you think — are daredevils born or made? Do you know seniors who’ve retained a fearless attitude as they’ve aged?
TLeC: When and where did you jump?
Geraldine: It was in San Diego from a company called Skydive San Diego, on May 16, 2011, on what would have been my 58th wedding anniversary. It was a Mother’s Day gift from my children. It was on my bucket list. When I saw Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman jump out of a plane in the movie, The Bucket List, I figured if they could do it, why couldn’t I?
So you started a bucket list after seeing the movie. Is it actually written down or just in your head?
In my head.
The jump was from 13,000 feet, is that correct?
Actually the jump was 10,500 feet. But then I found out you could go for 13,000 so I said I will go for the 13,000 feet. I think I paid $65 extra. If you’re going up, do it right.
Were you worried or nervous at all?
I wasn’t scared at all.
Absolutely not. I mean it didn’t even occur to me. I was enjoying the ride in the plane. I was enjoying it all. I don’t know if in the video you could see my lips. I was talking constantly.
How much instruction do they give you beforehand?
Oh, the instruction is for the birds. Here I am listening very intently, so I’m not going to miss anything. It was like sitting there for 12 minutes, something like that. I thought it was a waste of time. I felt like, “Let’s get on with the show.” And there was so much noise and people were yakking around and coming and going. They should have it in a quiet room and they didn’t have a person talking to you. You were watching . . . just the video. That’s all the instruction was, just the video.
What did you wear for the jump — a flight suit of some kind? A helmet?
If you don’t want to wear the suit, you don’t have to. You can go in your shorts if you wanted to. But I said, “No, no, no. I want to wear the suit.” And you wear a pair of goggles over your glasses.
They do not tell you to remove your jewelry. But Bob told me a week ahead of time, “Don’t wear your jewelry.” And I said I wouldn’t wear any.
I wore jeans as I recall and then I wore a hoodie, a sweatshirt. When you’re up 13,000 feet, it’s cold!
What did you think about when you were going up on the plane? When you landed? What thoughts went through your head? Or were you just taking it all in?
I wanted to go. I wanted to experience the thrill of a lifetime and I wanted to show my husband, Bob, I could do it. And I wanted to wish him a happy anniversary! When I landed I laughed and went, “Happy anniversary, Bob!”
I think he was there with you.
Yes. I know it.
Were you able to talk to JC, the instructor you jumped with? Were you able to talk? Was there a walkie-talkie or anything to help you hear him?
No. But I remember I said to him in the plane,”My brother told me to yell, ‘Geronimo!’ to shout, ‘Geronimo!’ when I step out. So don’t let me forget.”
And they did say, “Face the camera, face the videographer. So, hold your head up. And I’m going to push you out.” (laughs) I’m not going to fool around with turning my head and look at the videographer!
A split second or two passed and finally I said, “Geronimo!” and I wasn’t sure so I said, “Geronimo!” again and, of course, it was too late to get it on the video.
How fast were you going?
Up to 120 miles per hour. And when you’re going down – and I didn’t know that we were going to go around and around and around so that was really cool. I think we went clockwise. And all of a sudden, the parachute opens . . . And you zoom up! That was the best part! Yes, it’s like you could – you’re touching the hand of God. That’s exactly what it felt like to me.
From the video, it looked like a really clear sunny day. What did you see?
It was a beautiful, sunny day. It was the best day I could have chosen and it felt like I was just floating. Not going fast at all.
Wow! Is it like being on an airplane? You know you’re going really fast but it feels really slow when you’re on a plane and you’re on the inside looking out. You know in your mind though that the plane is going super fast.
Oh, yes, yes, yes. You’re out there in the air. You’re going like a bat out of out of hell. Your hair is blowing like crazy. I didn’t care.
What do you see? Do you see the coast? Do you see the ocean? The mountains?
I could hear JC saying to me, “Over there,” and he would point out the sites, like he said, “Tijuana.” Well, I didn’t care what’s over there . . . it was all beautiful! He’s shouting in my ear. We didn’t have earphones or anything. He’s shouting right here . . . His head is right here next to mine.
Was it a weird feeling to have somebody attached to you or you being attached to somebody? Did it feel strange?
No. I didn’t even notice it. Actually it was kind of nice because he’s protecting me.
Did they attach you to JC in the plane? When you first get on the plane? Is that where you get attached?
Let’s see. When do they do that? No, you’re walking to the plane and then you sit down and he attaches to you before you take off.
And you’re sitting in the seat like this. And he’s behind me. And then he just shoves the seat up and he says, “OK, we’re going to go.”
How long is the whole experience? How long were you in the air?
I think the jump was eight minutes. That’s what I’m told. I just enjoyed the whole ride.
Would you do it again?
I definitely would do it again, but I would rather use that money to go to Paris or make day trips with the Senior Travelers or go out to dinner a couple of times. There are other things that I haven’t done. Other places I haven’t been.
On to the next thing?
Yes, that’s the way I feel.
Below is a video taken by her son, Bob, of Gerri heading off to the plane.
If you have any trouble viewing it, please click here.
So were you always a daredevil, Geraldine? Were you a risk taker all through your life?
if there was a chance to do anything crazy, I would do it. But nothing like this, never had the opportunity . . . .
When I was a kid, I can remember . . . This is crazy. I can imagine I would kill somebody if they did it to me.
We lived on a street – it’s a little town, 4,000 population at that time. Cars used to go back and forth in front of our house all the time. We were right there, just a sidewalk between the street and our house and I would have to cross the street to go to school and go uptown.
And I can remember very, very clearly when there was a car coming and I deliberately would run across the street as close as possible in front of the car coming. I was eight or ten years old at the time.
I was a brat, I guess. I can imagine what that must have done to the driver, but I didn’t mean to be mean. I just wanted to see how close I could get.
If somebody did that to me when I was driving, I’d stop the car, pick up that kid, take him home and say to the parents, “Do something about your child.”
I think I’m very much like one of my older brothers. There’s a 13-month difference and Gene used to do crazy things.
Do you have any other stories about being a daredevil you’d like to share?
When I was about eight, we had a rope swing and I guess we had a plank of wood for the seat, the kids. We all made it. We hung it on a branch of the tree in the backyard and we used to swing on that thing and go as high as we could, or I could anyway. So that we were almost level. It was almost level.
If you went any higher, you would go completely overhead.
Did you ever do that — go all the way over?
No, but I went as high as I could possibly go though without flipping over or falling off.
In those days it was a large family and it was Depression time. And the world was at war. It was pre-war for us and things were tough. My father pinched pennies. And so we didn’t have toys.
We made our own fun. We were dirt-poor but we didn’t know it because we were happy.
Anything else you want to add, Geraldine?
I certainly suggest if you’re adventurous, to do it.
Thank you, Gerri. This was great fun hearing all about your adventure. You are definitely braver than I am! Thanks for inspiring all of us to get out there and embrace life to the fullest!