Late adventures: the devil makes me do it

Skydiving is the latest big adventure for 80-year-olds. Well, not for all of them, but I’ve heard more than a few rumbles about this wonderful growing insanity.

Yesterday, I received an email from Barbara, an old friend who is not letting the stacked-up years affect her days. A couple of years ago, she moved from this area to a lovely senior complex downstate. Her recent mission trip to Kenya made me realize she is not letting any grass grow under her feet. And now she has another life-affirming plan: “Weather permitting, I’m going to make my first attempt at skydiving in June. Will keep you posted.”

I was instantly jealous. I have wanted to skydive for years. And then I began to hear the little voices, the volume growing from the trio of orthopedic surgeons who sold me my knees: “No skydiving. NO Skydiving! NO SKYDIVING!!”

I had two knee replacements many years ago. I celebrated the 20th anniversary of my “new” left knee with a total joint revision. Number three. I said to the doctor, “I have already had two replacements, so I know what to expect from this new surgery plus the rehab. This should be a cakewalk, right?”

“Well,” he said, “walk, yes, but maybe without the cake. Remember that we are cutting through a lot of scar tissue, this is a bigger surgery, and by the way, you are 20 years older.” Oh.

“So, I suppose this means I won’t be skydiving this year? But maybe next?” He looked at me as though I had three heads.

“Skydiving? Seriously?” He sorta laughed in disbelief at what he was hearing from his white-haired patient. “No. Absolutely not. And I don’t care what promises or reassurances they give you about their expertise. NO.” OK, scratch that. Killjoy.

Bungee jumping is out for the same reason, although I’m not too upset about that being forbidden. My daughter and son-in-law bungeed in New Zealand. After watching the video of my girl, Alix, swan diving to begin her 440-foot plunge, I thought – hmmm, perhaps that’s not for me. Just lucky that I don’t have the knees for it.

This daughter of mine, who inherited a thrill-seeker’s spirit, married a quiet, reserved Brit. Ian turned out to be a perfect match – another crazed adventurer. I wasn’t too worried when they were first married and began searching for the wildest roller coaster rides. I was young once, so I understood.

Unfortunately, I never conquered the tummy turning that came with those speeding loopty-loops. Alix and Ian rode them repeatedly. After snacks.

But then these two trail blazers progressed to larger challenges: Rappelling into an inaccessibly deep cave put them in an underground river. A week later found them climbing to the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge! Have you seen a picture of the Sydney Harbor Bridge? OMG.

Ian started hiking and climbing with their children early. Last year, before my granddaughter graduated from high school, they finally climbed the last of “The New Hampshire 48,” the four

dozen mountains in the state that are over 4,000 feet high. The next generation of excitement has firmly taken hold.

Yes, although I inherited a bit of that daredevil gene, my daughter’s family has left me in their high-flying dust. And my son, Bart? The pilot? The combat air veteran? We have never wondered about his ventures.

But I still want a few more adrenaline rushes before I move on to my final adventure. Since time is no longer my friend, I’ve recently realized that Dear Richard and I better get going. I was afraid he might just go along for the ride. But no – he is equally as enthusiastic.

I very much want to fly in a hot air balloon ride. I’ve been in one that went up, briefly, and came right back down – the static line never left the ground. I want to soar, to glide across some flowered fields and burbling streams, and experience the tranquility of the beautiful silence.

And then there’s the zipline. Maybe this year there could be a zipline with our names on it. We are in the exploration stage of this adventure.

Although I think there are still a few escapades left for us, I guess I was born in the wrong era. Young people today are embracing all these death-defying wild shenanigans, and my adventurous spirit is now stuck in this unbending, breakable shell.

My friend Barbara’s shell is in better shape than mine. She has all her original working parts. She will turn 83 the day before she skydives. She and I chatted how impressed we are that President Bush, the elder, jumped to commemorate his birthday when he turned 75. And 80. And 85. And then, remarkably again at 90! I told Barb she is starting at a good time.

She commented, “You know what they say… ‘if at first you don’t succeed, maybe skydiving isn’t for you!'” Maybe my docs got it right after all.

Marcy O’Brien writes from Warren, Pa.


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