Why on earth do old people jump out of airplanes anyway?

Have you noticed all the stories lately about old people undergoing some trial, a sort of self-imposed hazing to show that they’re Not Over the Hill or that they’ve Still Got What It Takes.

The trial needs to be something which

*** seems active and

*** is dangerous but is not extremely likely to kill a person and which

*** most other old people are afraid to do OR feel no need to do to prove anything to anybody OR have way too much sense to do because it may end badly.

What to choose

These days the test many old people select for this purpose is jumping out of an airplane. A well-known example is former U.S. President George H. W. Bush, who celebrated turning 75 and then 80 with a jump. His most recent at 85 was a tandem jump with Sgt. 1st Class Mike Elliot of the U.S. Army’s Golden Knights.

Upon landing safely, he uttered these inspiring words,

Just because you’re an old guy, you don’t have to sit around drooling in the corner.

The problem with jumping

***  It’s not active, except in the sense that getting out of the house is active. Gravity does all the work.

*** If you jump in tandem with another person, it doesn’t prove much of anything.

*** It’s dangerous. Equipment may fail, and—since the impact on landing is comparable to that of jumping from the second-story of a building—a skydiver risks breaking an ankle. Or two.

Why not fly the airplane instead of jumping out of it?

I’m all for staying active—physically, mentally, and socially, as I written about again and again. However, I think there are a multitude of options between sitting around drooling in the corner and jumping out of an airplane or engaging in other extreme sports.

One is learning to fly an airplane as I’m doing now.  (Yeah, I’m the one with a big grin shown above.) My instructor is my BF who got his pilot’s license as a teen-ager before he got his license to drive a car.

He wants to teach me to fly, in part, so that I could land his airplane if he were to became suddenly incapacitated. And I want to learn because I love the challenge, and I love seeing mountains and forests and water-bodies from the air. I’d rather fly an airplane any day than jump out of one.

What about you? Do you think that you need to prove anything as you grow older? Do you need to try some extreme sport to show that you’re not over the hill? What does that even mean? I welcome your comments, questions, stories, and courteous rebuttal.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Joared 08/09/2012, 11:26 pm

    Expect you have your pilot’s license now. Maybe even your instrument rating. Good for you! Think that’s wise and would have done the same when husband flying, but we got sidetracked. I’m not interested in sky diving, but think a glider and hot air balloon would be fun.
    Joared recently posted..CAREGIVING – MAGNIFIQUE!My Profile

    • Madeleine Kolb 08/10/2012, 10:40 am

      Actually, we did relatively little flying in Maryland due to a combination of my BF’s work-related travel, intermittent bad weather, and the length of time for the airport’s part-time mechanic to finish needed maintenance.

      Before we returned to Seattle, my BF sold his airplane. Now it’s back to glider flying.

  • Madeleine Kolb 12/22/2010, 9:30 am

    Doug, That’s great. I’ve been so fortunate to have the opportunity to learn to fly with my BF. On July 4th this year, we flew from Southern Maryland down to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina to the First Flight Museum. What a thrill that was.

    Acting old is definitely optional. The key is staying active physically, mentally, and socially. But I don’t think I need to prove that I’ve Still Got What it Takes by risking life and limb.

  • Doug Armey 12/21/2010, 8:34 pm


    Great post. I am renewing my license to start flying again. Never too old.

    Read a great bumper sticker the other day. “Growing old is mandatory. Acting old is optional.” Love that.

  • Madeleine Kolb 12/18/2010, 6:25 pm

    Thank you for your comment, Jeannette. There is no question that with age comes change–but not necessarily steep and rapid decline. And having reasonably good health has a lot to do with being active and vital at any age.

    I feel fortunate that I’m able to take up and enjoy new challenges as I grow older, although I agree with my BF Dick that the only reason to jump out of an airplane is if the only other option is dying in an airplane crash.

  • Jeanette Lewis 12/18/2010, 5:13 pm

    Hi Madeline,
    All I can say is ‘you go girl’.
    Age is only a number and you are as young as your heart (and body) allow.
    I hope your spirit soars as high as that plane!
    Cheers, Jeanette
    Jeanette Lewis recently posted..What Everyone Ought to Know About GenerosityMy Profile

  • Madeleine Kolb 12/16/2010, 2:15 pm

    “Some of that must come from whether you have a sense of hope and adventure, and I’ve seen people younger than myself give up on both. Don’t you think that’s sad?”

    It’s definitely sad, Dennis, and I think it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy. If you think you can’t do something, you don’t try very hard. So you don’t do so well which reinforces the idea that you can’t do it. And so on.

    Your book sounds great–the title alone makes it a must-read. I think my BF would be interested too. Years ago he had to ditch an airplane in Chesapeake Bay, but that’s another story. In terms of flying with my BF Dick, sometimes I sit in the left seat, sometimes in the right–whatever he wants to do that day.

    I appreciate your stopping by.

  • Dennis Bauer 12/16/2010, 11:56 am

    I’m 62 and read your post with interest. Seems to me that there is an obvious, unrelenting physical side to aging in that we do continue to travel around the sun, and those trips take their toll on our joints, our middles and our hair color. There is also a mental, or attitudinal, side …the saying that we’re only as old as we feel. Like emotional IQ, there is an emotional age. Some of that must come from whether you have a sense of hope and adventure, and I’ve seen people younger than myself give up on both. Don’t you think that’s sad?

    I hope you’ll check out my book, “Fumes and a Prayer: How to Live on the Edge and Still Be Home for Dinner,” to be published in the next few weeks. The backbone is an incident where my engine conked out while flying a Cessna 206 over northern Colorado, and the three words you’ll learn in your flight training for handling emergencies. The book centers around the three keys for success and survival, especially when you’re hit hard by the unexpected.

    In the photo you’re sitting in the right seat which is the instructor’s seat. Better lighting that day? :^)

    Again, I like the thoughtful style in your article. I’m now going to click the links for more of your stuff!

  • Madeleine Kolb 12/15/2010, 8:03 pm

    I think there’s a lot to the idea that jumping out of airplanes and similar risky activities “help us pretend we’re never going to get old, which is the euphemism for “die”. My BF says that he’d never jump out of an airplane, unless the alternative were dying in a crash. I’ve been sceptical about doing crossword puzzles and such as a way to keep mentally sharp, but learning to fly is mentally challenging and probably far less risky than driving in southern Maryland.

    Lynne, Thank you for mentioning the book Face It. I need to check it out on Amazon right away.

  • Lynne Spreen 12/15/2010, 6:33 pm

    I have a theory, and so does Dr. Vivian Diller in her book Face It, that such activities are masks. They help us pretend that we’re not aging. I would put it more bluntly: it helps us pretend we’re never going to get old, which is the euphemism for “die”. Now if a person wants to jump out of a plane at 85 because he craves the roar of the wind in his ears and the adrenaline rush, great. But I have friends who are acting like teenagers because they’re scared spitless over the fact of their own mortality. I just hate the obtuseness, the lack of self-awareness. Anyway, in the picture, you look like you’re having fun, which is all that matters!