By David Krueger Herald Writer
I’m not what you’d call “brave.”
My great aunt, on the other hand, doesn’t have any worries.
Virginia Whiteley — which feels weird to type because we all just call her “Aunt Sag” — is the mother of seven children and a grandmother to basically my mom’s entire side of the family. She is 74 years old and enjoys gardening and bingo.
She also, it turns out, has a newfound passion for jumping out of airplanes.
It’s something my great aunt has wanted to do since childhood, and her first jump last Saturday only fueled her desire.
“Everyone should do that,” she said with a huge smile immediately after popping up from her landing at Snohomish Skydive, “at least a dozen times.”
Skydiving wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision for Aunt Sag.
“The first time I ever thought about it was when I was 5 years old and watched the paratroopers practicing during World War II,” she said.
My great aunt has a friend named Shirley who made her first jump at age 80. Another one of her good friends, her pastor’s wife, also skydives.
They convinced Aunt Sag to give it a try. She had to get a doctor’s note because she was over 65, but had no problem with that. Aunt Sag was scheduled to jump in May, but inclement weather postponed the flight.
She had all of her worries then, freeing her up to do nothing but enjoy the experience this past weekend at Skydive Snohomish.
“I wasn’t nervous this time,” Aunt Sag said. “I had all of my anxieties and fear and everything (the first time).”
I’ve always thought people had to be a little off to go skydiving. The airplane is there for your safety. Why would you want to leave?
As it turns out, all it takes is a (metaphorical) push from your 74-year-old great aunt.
Determined not to let her have all the fun, I took Aunt Sag’s advice, and went for a skydive about an hour after she got back on land. She was still greeting everyone — we had a significant number of family members in attendance for the big event — when I headed into the Skydive Snohomish office for my information session.
My mother was less than pleased with everybody jumping out of airplanes. She doesn’t like planes, heights, falling, parachutes or really me leaving her sight for more than 20 seconds at a time, so there was very little she found appealing about the whole process.
I, on the other hand, had wanted to do this for a while — albeit, not as long as Aunt Sag — and signed up a couple weeks in advance, figuring I could bail if I chickened out. But when I saw the smile on Aunt Sag’s face as she ran toward us in her jump suit, I knew pulling out was no longer an option.
So I went through my instruction, which I promptly forgot as soon as I exited the plane. I signed my life away in a fairly thick waiver — which was a bit unnerving — and prepared to follow in Aunt Sag’s footsteps.
I learned for an additional $25 you can almost double your free fall time with another 4,000 feet of altitude. Economically, it made sense and everybody said going higher up was the thing to do.
Anybody who knows me will tell you I am not great at resisting peer pressure.
Kelly Craig, who does about a dozen jumps on a clear, summer day was my tandem instructor. It was his job to make sure I didn’t die.
I’m happy to report he succeeded.
While it was my first jump, it was jump No. 6,918 for Craig, who has been skydiving for 13 years. Craig has done as many as 22 jumps in a single day but still remembers his first skydiving adventure.
“It was almost exactly 13 years ago, right here at this drop zone,” Craig said. “I just remember it was like jumping into the biggest, cleanest pool of water I’ve ever seen. It was just refreshing. My dad did it for his 50th birthday (on) July 9, 2000. He had such a good time he told me I should go try it and I just never quit.”
Craig helped put my mind at ease as our plane slowly approached jumping altitude. He was a great tour guide, pointing out sights such as the Everett Naval Base and Mount Rainier.
Then, after about a 20-minute plane ride, it was time.
I don’t remember my last thought before we deplaned because it all happened so fast, but I’m fairly certain it was full of words that can’t be printed in a family newspaper.
We scooted to the open door, I crossed my arms over my chest and before I knew it I was hurtling toward the ground at 120 mph.
Which is more fun than you can possibly imagine.
The ride down was unreal. The rush of leaving the plane, and looking over Puget Sound on a beautiful Saturday morning was incredible. It’s something I’ll never forget. I have a $90 video — which sounds really expensive for a movie but it’s an absolute must buy — that I purchased to ensure I never forget the experience.
The video consists of me looking dazed and confused, and saying “Oh, my God” about 1,000 times. Also, Craig and I yell at my mom that I’m OK as we hover about a thousand feet above her.
When I jump out of the plane I look confused. I think I was excited/terrified/exhilarated/trying not to cry or wet my pants. That all combined to form a unique facial expression.
Then the parachute opens. That was uncomfortable in places for a few seconds. But the glide down, with breathtaking views of Puget Sound, more than made up for the few seconds of discomfort.
Aunt Sag said her favorite part was seeing Mount Rainier. With an altitude of 14,411 feet, the two of us departed the plane at about the same height as the mountain’s peak.
However, I think her favorite part had more to do with Luke, her young instructor who “kept pulling her closer” during her skydive.
“The instructors are so darn wonderful,” Aunt Sag said. “Luke is a doll. He was a sweetheart. He kept me so calm through the whole thing.
“If I was 50 years younger.”
Aunt Sag is a trendsetter, because now everybody wants to go.
Well, almost everybody.
“It’s pretty unlikely,” my mother, Bonnie, said of the possibility of her going skydiving. “I’m living my life vicariously through my aunt and my son. And whoever else wants to go.”
Maybe the skydiving gene skips a generation.
David Krueger covers prep sports for The Herald, where he is currently the office’s newest skydiving enthusiast. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.