Jumping For Joy…And The Record Books

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The skydiving record book has been rewritten lately. Jumping in Motala, Sweden Rut Linnéa Ingegärd Larsson has become the oldest skydiver ever after taking a tandem jump at the age of 103 years and 259 days old. And don’t think it’s too late for you — she didn’t take her first jump until she was 102.

Closer to home, at Skydive Deland in Central Florida, 85-year-old Maria Yegella made a solo jump to become the world’s oldest active skydiver. “All I had to do was jump out by myself, pull my parachute and land by myself. There were no required movements.”

Maria didn’t have to do anything fancy, but she did — pirouetting, flipping, and spinning in one graceful, acrobatic move after another. It’s a feeling of creative freedom that she can’t get anywhere else. “The free fall, flying through the air and looking around, is a feeling you just cannot describe to anyone who doesn’t do it,” Maria says. “I just love to either run out of the airplane or dive out the airplane and make some turns and back loops.”

While Maria was setting an individual record, another group was gathering for a group formation record attempt in which all skydivers in the jump are over 80 years old. “The world record is six at this point and we’re going to try to do 10,” said Texan Cliff Davis. “We’ve got 10 jumpers over 80 from all over the U.S. converging here in Deland.”

They call themselves the JOES — Jumpers Over Eighty Society — and they’re all pioneers of the sport. Most began skydiving in the 1950s and 60s and never stopped. “Most people think that 80 year olds ought to be sitting in a chair watching TV all day,” said 81-year-old Scotty Gallan from Arizona, “and we are just not that way.” “We just really enjoy the freedom of falling out of the airplane and the camaraderie of making formations,” added 81-year-old Floridian Dick Williams. “And then of course all the socializing afterwards.”

To set the record, at least seven of the group have to come together in formation on a single jump. “We just don’t know how it’s going to work out,” Davis admits. “We don’t want to get overconfident,” says 84-year-old Bill Morrissey. “We are in our 80s, after all.”

Before they skydive, they dirt dive – practicing on the ground with United States Parachute President Chuck Akers, who has flown in from Houston to help engineer the record attempt. “I started jumping in 1985, and if you were over 40 years old at that time, you were a very rare breed. And now as you can see, we’ve got a bunch of guys that are over 80 years old, and they’re all still hopping and jumping and having fun. I’ve been doing it for 62 years,” said Morrissey. “It’s still as exciting as it was when I was 20 years old.”

Most of the JOES are here with their wives who not only support but encourage their passion for parachuting. “Well, I’m still jumping, too,” says Louise Gallan. “So, as long as he keeps jumping, he’s happy. If we go more than a few weeks, and we haven’t made a jump, I can see that he gets edgy.” “I think they all have a special something,” adds Judy Williams. “That is a need to push themselves to their limits, and to never feel that they’re finished. There’s always more to accomplish.”

Once suited up, they pose for a picture for the Skydiving Hall of Fame. And it’s go time. They board the plane and climb to 14,000 feet for attempt number one and let’s just say it didn’t go well. “It didn’t work out at all,” says Davis. “We’ve got to regroup. That sucked.”

Attempts number two and three sucked less. Attempt number four didn’t suck at all. Six jumpers came together in formation to tie the world record. Seconds later number seven and eight joined the formation and the record was theirs alone. Those now in the record book include Cliff Davis, Walt Green, Scotty Gallen, Woody McKay, Sky Humanski, Paul Hinen, Ted Williams, and Jim Culhane. “Many of us have made significant contributions to the modern sport of skydiving and we’re proud to demonstrate that the skills we’ve acquired are timeless and always evolving,” said Davis.

What’s the moral of the story? Louise Gallan, Scotty Gallan’s skydiving wife, summed it up best. “Do the things that are difficult for you. You have to keep on moving, keep on adventuring, in order to stay young. If you stop moving and stop adventuring, I think you get old.”

This article is featured in the December 2022 issue of The Growing Bolder Digital Digest.

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