Ninety-year-old takes flying leap

Strapped together, Ruth Jamison and instructor Travis Blake begin their 12,500-foot descent.

Strapped together, Ruth Jamison and instructor Travis Blake begin their 12,500-foot descent. Courtesy photo by Phil Ashe

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WALLA WALLA — Ruth Jamison has experienced some true highs in her 90 years. She’s had a good life overall, but some moments were really special.

“One was seeing my mother’s home place in Norway. She told me so many stories about it, I felt like I’d already been there.”

Another high point was going skydiving last year.

“It was something I had always wanted to do,” she said.

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Ruth Jamison and instructor Travis Blake are all smiles after the jump.

When Jamison turned 90 last July, her family wanted her to have a nice birthday gift. The sequence of events that led to her jumping out of a “perfectly good airplane” started when her daughter-in-law called, wanting to know what she would like for her gift. She expected to hear “a trip” or something like that.

What about skydiving?

What?

Skydiving.

“I’ve just always wanted to do it,” she said. “Often at a certain age people just stop doing things” — but that’s not the way she’s lived her life.

Jamison’s family decided to support her in achieving her dream. Her jump date was dependent on family members being able to get together and the weather cooperating. After the storms of September blew through, the family selected Oct. 6 as the day she would make her flying leap.

After obtaining medical clearance from her doctor, she was good to go.

Jamison and her family drove to West Plains Skydiving, near Ritzville, Wash., so she could attend a class and do a tandem skydive with instructor Travis Blake.

“Ruth was an absolute blast to work with,” said Blake, who had not previously tandem-jumped with a 90-year-old. “The attitude she had made me curious as to who was the more excited, her or me. In the end, I think I may have been more excited to have the pleasure of being the instructor that got to jump with her.”

Blake was confident in Jamison’s health and ability to do the jump.

“During the instruction portion with any student, no matter age, I determine if there are or could be limitations of sort and adjust accordingly,” he said.

Quite a few elderly people skydive, said West Plains’ Tandem Scheduler Kara Kruse.

“I believe the oldest person we have taken was 92,” Kruse said.

As she and her fellow jumpers prepared to skydive, Jamison relished the experience. The plane was full of happy, enthusiastic people, she said.

“I was feeling so elated. The instructor I had was wonderful,” she said. “The whole group had the most joyous atmosphere that I experienced. It was just pure joy.”

Her emotions remained high the entire time.

“I was not scared. I wanted to do this for years. If you’re afraid, don’t do it,” she said.

Jamison was the last to get on the plane, which meant she was the first out. With instructor Blake behind her, Jamison leaned forward, then back, then rocked forward again — and out of the plane they went.

The jump started at 12,500 feet up. The 6,000-foot freefall lasted between 45 and 60 seconds. During freefall her speed was estimated at 125 mph.

“What I wasn’t expecting was the vibration in my face,” Jamison said.

After a jolt when the bright red parachute opened, Blake asked if she was game to try some maneuvers.

“Do you want to do a half turn,” Blake asked her. “Do you want to do a full turn?”

“Sure,” was her reply.

“I was having fun,” she said. “He pointed out Mount Rainier and other points of interest, but I don’t remember them.”

When they reached the ground they performed a slide landing, wherein she keep her feet up and the instructor slid his on the ground. Jamison is physically fit, enjoying exercise like walking and skiing, so she wasn’t bruised or banged up by the landing.

“I enjoyed the whole trip,” she said.

Although the experience took the curl out of her hair, flying towards the earth was thrilling, she said.

“It was like it was meant to be, everything was just fine. It was a perfect day, it was just gorgeous,” she said. “I was not really thinking about how I felt. The exhilaration was so high. It was the most freeing thing. When I went out of the plane, I left all of my life behind.”

It was the fulfillment of a dream.

“It was the first thing I did totally for myself. I was not worrying about the kids. It was the first thing in my life just for me” Jamison said.

Being active — doing things — keeps older people fit, emotionally as well as physically, she said.

“You just have to get off your duff and do it.”

Karlene Ponti is the U-B specialty publications writer. She can be reached at 509-526-8324 or karleneponti@wwub.com.

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