Turns out skydiving on your 100th birthday isn’t that big a deal. All you have to do is live to 100, sign a waiver and climb into an airplane — a little, single-engine one in this case — and have Al Blaschke’s contagiously sunny attitude about life.
Gravity, and a parachute to counteract it, do the rest of the work. You can enjoy the ride.
Blaschke, a resident of Sun City in Georgetown, did that to the fullest Wednesday as about 20 of his relatives — some made the trip from as far away as Wisconsin, Illinois and Oregon — spent part of the morning looking up waiting for him to come down.
I told you last week about how Blaschke initially planned to skydive with a friend three years ago but decided to wait until his 100th birthday. Wednesday’s jump, tethered to instructor Aaron Burwell, put Blaschke in a tie for oldest American ever to skydive.
He loved every minute of it, with his only regret being there weren’t more minutes of it.
It was a day of superlatives as Blaschke savored every minute from prep to landing.
“It’s going to feel like something I’ve never felt before,” Blaschke said pre-jump. “I’m sure it’s going to be a brand-new experience. That’s what I’m looking for, something brand-new. I don’t know why some people think it’s such a big deal just jumping out of airplanes.”
Blaschke’s friend and partner in adventure Betty Schleder joined him on board for her first tandem jump. She’s a kid of 72.
At Skydive Temple, among those on the ground looking up on the chilly morning was David Blaschke of Austin, Al’s son. “My camera is shaking,” he said as he watched the plane take off. “I can’t tell if it’s because it’s cold or because I’m nervous. I’ll go with nervous.”
An on-board camera captured Blaschke’s eagerness for the jump. Words don’t do this justice. Please watch my video posted with this story at mystatesman.com, which includes great footage shot by Burwell during the jump.
At 5,000 feet, halfway to jump altitude, Blaschke, seated on the little plane’s floor, said, “I’m just ready for a fantastic experience.”
At 9,000 feet, he said, “Wonderful. I’m ready to go. I’m ready to jump.”
At 10,000 feet, Schleder and her instructor were first to head out the open door.
“Go, Betty, go. Go, Betty, go,” an excited Blaschke said.
And go she did, making it his turn. The video shows him tumbling in the air as he yelled, “woooo,” which to me sounds like he was getting the brand-new experience he wanted.
A bit later, when the parachute opened and ended the free fall, Burwell asked Blaschke how he liked it.
“Fantastic,” he said. “Wow, that was great.”
Burwell executed a few turns and brought the chute in for a landing.
“Yay. Happy landing,” Blaschke said as he gave a thumbs-up to the cheering crowd.
“It was just too short,” he said later as he took off his jump gear.
A man who has seen a lot in his years saw a lot in his five minutes or so in the air between aircraft and Earth. “I saw the lakes, and I don’t know if I saw Sun City or not,” Blaschke said. “You’re looking, but you’re not thinking. You’re just floating and taking in everything you can.”
Blaschke’s bucket list now includes a trip to see the Northern Lights and attending his twin grandsons’ college graduations — one Aggie, one Longhorn — in four years.
Blaschke said his wife, Eleanor, who died in 2010 on their 49th anniversary, would have been thrilled to join him on the jump. “I tell you that without hesitation. She would have,” he said. “Yeah, that’s the way we operated. When one wanted to do something, we both did it.”
Robert Salzwedel and his wife, Nancy, long had planned to make the three-day drive from Lake Forest, Ill., to be with Blaschke, Robert’s uncle, on his 100th birthday. The skydive wasn’t what they had been expecting when they first made the plans.
“We were going to be here no matter what,” Robert Salzwedel said. “But I don’t want to jump. I’m 81, and I’m not going to jump out of an airplane.”
For some folks, it’s something that’s not right until you’re 100.