Free falling at 91
Carol Denke of Alexandria has dreamed of skydiving for more than 60 years. Finally, at age 91, she can cross it off her to-do list.
The mother of three, grandmother of 10 and great-grandmother of 16 accomplished her goal on September 14, just 11 days before her 91st birthday.
Denke said it was listening to her husband talk about his parachuting experience that started her dreaming about it.
He served in the special services during World War II. On one occasion, the plane he was in shut down and the crew had to bail out.
“He always talked about how beautiful it was when the parachute opened and they floated down,” Denke explained. “I just thought that sounded like something I’d really like to do.”
But life got in the way. There was work to be done and family to tend to and frequent travels to enjoy.
“I just kept putting it off, but I always had it in the back of my mind,” she said. “I had plenty of fun. We were hikers and golfers and fishers and travelers.”
Denke’s husband died four years ago, reminding her that life is short.
“He was the greatest,” she said of her husband of 66 years. “I will miss him until the day I join him.”
In the meantime, she decided to get busy doing the things she still wanted to do.
She rode in a hot air balloon.
“They had to lift me in, but other than that, it was fantastic, just floating above the world,” she said.
She also sat atop a rodeo bull in Cody, Wyoming.
“He was tied down,” she explained. “People could sit on him and have their pictures taken. They had to lift me off. I could barely move my legs!” she added, chuckling at the memory.
And then of course, there was skydiving.
With the help of her family, she arranged to go tandem skydiving for her 90th birthday while in Washington visiting her son.
Unfortunately, a raging forest fire created too much smoke, and the adventure had to be canceled.
Another year passed, and Denke decided to give it another try. With the blessing of her family and her doctor, who said she was healthy enough to do the jump, she headed to the municipal airport in Waseca. This time, she wasn’t going alone. Her granddaughter, Laura Diedrich of Alexandria, was jumping with her.
Denke, who had recently given up driving, was asked by a friend why she would do something as risky as skydiving when she wouldn’t even drive a car anymore.
“I said with skydiving I could maybe hurt myself, but by driving I could hurt others,” Denke explained.
Even with the knowledge that something could go wrong, she had no hesitations about jumping out of a plane.
“I wasn’t afraid, ever,” she said. “I wanted to do it. My only thought was about how it would feel when we were free falling, but I figured, what do I have to lose?”
The free falling and everything else about the experience was all that Denke had dreamed it would be.
“When they opened the door to the plane and we jumped out, I just loved it!” she said, her eyes dancing at the memory.
“It’s so hard to describe. There wasn’t one part of it I didn’t like. Floating over the world everything was so peaceful. It was a very rewarding experience. I’m so proud I did it!”
“I wouldn’t be afraid to do it again. If I was 50 I’d do it again, but I won’t do it again at 91.”
Instead, Denke is busy making other plans.
In December she will fly to Texas to spend Christmas with her 93-year-old sister, and in April she’ll go back to Washington for a month-long stay with her son to take in the tulip festival.
And she already has an adventure planned for her 100th birthday.
“I told my kids when I am 100 I will climb the fire tower at Itasca, so I guess I have that to look forward to!” she said with a grin.