Brainiac On Banjo: Flying High!

Might as well jump. Jump! Go ahead and jump! Get it and jump. Jump! Get ahead and jump! “Jump!,” written by David Lee Roth, Alex Van Halen, and Eddie Van Halen.

© Daniel Wilsey High Flight LLC

I have a new hero. It’s a person I’ve never met, I didn’t know was alive a month ago and who no longer is alive now. But in those brief nine days, she certainly made her mark.

A couple decades ago, my chiropractor told me I can no longer jump out of airplanes. I have never incurred an injury during my eight jumps, so I’ve been pretty annoyed about that. Yeah, I know: parachute jumping is kind of off-model for me. I couldn’t even do the rope climbing bit in high school gym class for fear of falling.

I loved the fact that, having taken the right precautions and working with experienced professionals, it was unlikely I could screw up parachute jumping unless some asshole weisenheimer got the law of gravity repealed right after I left the airplane. And, yes, I was quite aware that “gravity” was and remains just a theory but, trust me, you don’t need to jump out of a Cessna to prove it.

© Charles Lane BDM LLC

Then again, that’s just me. Evidently Dorothy Hoffner felt she needed to appreciate that experience first-hand. Reality works best when you experience it yourself.

You may have heard of Ms. Hoffner by deed if not by name. She is the Chicagoan who, sixteen days ago, set the world record as the oldest person to parachute from an airplane. She took her first jump when after she turned 100. That was four years ago. On October 1, she took her second and final jump.

No, she did not crash. She made it through her second jump just fine, landing exactly the way she should: laughing. However, the following week Ms. Hoffner died from natural causes. I firmly believe “proudly finishing your bucket list” is a natural cause.

She took her jumps tethered to a professional from Skydive Chicago, which is common for new jumpers. Yup, at 104 years old Ms. Hoffner was a new jumper. Hey, I was tethered for my jumps and I was about half her age at the time. Skydive Chicago and the U.S. Parachute Association said they were honored to, ahhhh, give her the air as the skydiving experience was “as an incredible cap to her exciting, well-lived life.”

© Daniel Wilsey High Flight LLC

Damn straight she had a well-lived life. And, not to be weird about it, her death was incredibly well-timed. When it’s time for me to shuffle off stage, I hope I get to show one-tenth as much class and temerity.

You might ask how her family felt about her new hobby. Well, as it turns out Ms. Hoffner had never been married and had no children. “I’m an unclaimed treasure,” she told NBC News. “I don’t know how life would have been (with a husband) and I don’t think I even contemplated it. … Everyone is different. You don’t know how it turns out and you have to decide for yourself what to like.”

Jeez, the more I read up on Dorothy Hoffner, the more deeply I respect her. My wife and my child were both quite relieved when Dr. Barnett told me to stop giving gravity the finger.

There’s a lot of lessons to take from her saga. Important lessons that we should well heed. The first is to go for it. Be smart, be reasonable, and be certain to enlist the help of those who know more about what you want to do than you do. Next, as the expensive shoe people say “just do it.” Don’t wait for Geraldo Rivera to book a teevee special, just prepare and do it. Really, it’s just one short step for mankind.

A third thing to remember: once you’ve left the plane, do not look down. That never helped Wile E. Coyote, who saw the “go for it” message as an excuse for the worst case of OCD the world has ever known.

Dorothy, thank you for your courage, your dedication, and your inspiration.