Free falling

Willmar woman takes first plane ride at 86, then jumps out!

“They opened the doors on the airplane and it was just like a tornado hitting you in the face, awwwww…. the wind, it just took your breath away. And of course he pushed me out and we went down, down, down and all the time that wind was just horrible. Finally he pulled the ripcord and that parachute opened and oh, it was just wonderful, beautiful, the clouds and the blue sky and so quiet up there. We just floated down.” Can you imagine an 86-year-old woman parachuting out of a plane? And to boot, a woman who is afraid of heights and never would fly in an airplane because she was afraid to do so? Betty Jane Peterson of Willmar certainly overcame those obstacles and got what she described as “the thrill of a lifetime,” when she took the plunge out the doors of that plane. It was a tandem jump since Peterson had never jumped before. She was strapped to a guy who handled the ripcord and videotaped the event from the minute they jumped out of the plane to when they got to the ground. It definitely was the thrill of a lifetime, she said, as she talked about the event and how it came to be. “My daughter and I were sitting out in my backyard and she said ‘what do you want for your birthday ma?’ and kiddingly I said ‘how about I go skydiving’ and she said ‘okay, I’ll look into it.’ The next day she called me and said ‘well, I’ve got a place for you to go but you have to let me know a couple days ahead of time if you back out.’” Peterson didn’t back out even though she admitted she was just kidding when she said that’s what she wanted to do. “We went on my birthday, August 21. My sky diving was supposed to take place at 2 p.m. but they had bad weather that morning so it was jumped to about three or a little later, so I had to wait until then.” Just before she was ready to go they loaded her down with a few pounds of stuff. “They put on 30 pounds of something over me like belts and stuff and I walked out to the airplane. There were quite a few steps up to the airplane and I made it almost to the top, but the last two I couldn’t make it, I crawled into the airplane.” Peterson recalls at one point asking the guy strapped to her back if he thought she would lose her shoes during the jump. “He said ‘you might,’ and I said, ‘well, would you buy me another pair?’ and he said ‘no.’” She didn’t lose her shoes and they landed just fine. “When I came down, I started walking to the building and there were people standing all around clapping for me, clapping, clapping, clapping, and they’d come up and talk to me and it was just, oh.” She said one of her daughters had brought a great big lunch for all her kids and grandkids that came to watch. “But I couldn’t eat, I guess I was too excited.” She said it was like she was in a dream. “Up there it was so peaceful. I want to say it was like heaven but I’ve not been there yet. They asked me if I’d go up again and I said ‘well, maybe.’” There wasn’t one moment when she was scared. “I was kind of excited but I wasn’t scared and I’ve never ever done anything like this before. I always say to people ‘well, why don’t you try it’ and they say ‘I’d never go up there’ and I’d say ‘try it you might like it.’ I sure did.” Even though she’s afraid of heights, not once did she think about backing out. She said she’s also afraid of water. “I would never do anything on water.” Peterson said she has no idea how long it took to get to the ground once they’d jumped out of the plane. “My daughter said when she looked up and saw me up that high, I looked like a little pin in the air.” Peterson’s daughter, Dixie Sondrol, said she had always wanted her mom to go on trips with her but she wouldn’t get on an airplane, so when she asked her mom what they should do for her birthday and her answer was to go skydiving she was a little surprised. “I said ‘are you kidding me’ and she said ‘no, I think I’d like to do that.’ Well, I had to get on that right away so I left and called my brother who’s a helicopter pilot.” He recommended a skydiving club near Hutchinson, she called and asked them if they could do this for an 86 year old woman and they said no problem, they’d be glad to. She then called her mom and told her she had made an appointment for her to go skydiving. “I think she was a little taken back.” She told her mom she had two weeks to opt out of skydiving and she called her every day to ask if she was still going to do it and the answer was always ‘yep, yep, yep’ she was going to do it. They made the day into a family affair. “We had my brothers and sisters and grandkids and a picnic and we went to this skydiving place. Mom I think was a little nervous, she was pretty quiet during the day, didn’t eat much at the picnic.” And surprisingly, she said, her mom was like a celebrity there, everybody wanted their picture taken with her, and they were cheering her on. “Then it came time for her to go and she was strapped onto this guy and he had a video camera on his wrist and he videotaped it.” They let the family know what color her chute was so they could all know it was her coming down. “She said as soon as the parachute went up it was like floating in heaven, it was just fantastic. When she landed, she landed really well, but she was a little nervous yet, her legs were like rubber so me and my brother ran out to the field and helped her up.” Peterson lives in Willmar and at age 86 its evident she doesn’t just sit around. She likes to get out and do things, like ride on the Harley Davidson with her sons. “I love riding on their motorcycles, I like that.” As to the skydiving adventure, it’s something she’ll never forget. “I wanted something new and fun in my life and it was.”

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