Sky-diving granny ready for her eighth plunge

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WAPWALLOPEN, Pa. -- While some people would be afraid to jump out of a plane once, Clara White is about to bring her total to eight -- once for each decade she's lived.

Does it ever make her nervous?

"Not a bit," the octogenarian adventuress said, flipping through photos showing Ms. White with a huge grin on her face during and after her first jump. "It's such a thrill, I'm telling you, my gosh. I can't believe it. I wanted to do it for so long."

Ms. White has celebrated each year since her 80th birthday by sky diving at the Skyhaven Airport in Tunkhannock in northeastern Pennsylvania. She planned to repeat the feat this weekend to mark her 88th year -- if the weather cooperates, that is. Her birthday is March 9, but each year she waits for warmer weather and smooth conditions to make the jump from more than 6,000 feet in the air.

"Going out of the plane, that first tumble, it's just awesome," she said. "That's all I can say."

The resident of Wapwallopen in northeastern Pennsylvania has always been a bit of a daredevil. Roller coasters are her absolute favorite, and she's gone hot air ballooning, white water rafting and parasailing. The shirt she wears each time she jumps sums up her attitude -- "Old enough to know better. Young enough to do it anyway."

"I've been around," she said, laughing.

Ms. White always wanted to try sky diving, but never really had the chance while raising eight children and working. Even at 80, she wasn't one to sit around the house -- She worked at the LeRaysville Cheese Factory in Bradford County until she was 86 years old.

"I've been busy all my life," she said.

When her 80th birthday rolled around, her daughter, Norma Paisley, decided it was time to grant Ms. White's wish.

"She said, 'Mom, guess what? You're going sky diving next week.' And I said, 'Great!' " Ms. White recalled when her daughter first called and told her of the upcoming adventure. "I was so excited. I did it and I loved it."

Ms. White loved it so much, she's repeated the feat many times as a birthday tradition, missing only last year when health issues kept her grounded.

But she'll be back in the harness this year, eager for her eighth chance to drift down to earth while witnessing some beautiful scenery.

Each time she goes, it's a tandem jump. Ms. White is attached to an instructor who does all the work, giving her the joy of sky diving without going through a lot of training. In fact, the only complaint she voiced about sky diving is that the experience goes by too quickly.

Ms. White has 12 grandchildren and an equal number of great-grandchildren.

At her home she keeps a photo frame, engraved with her birth date, to commemorate her first jump in 2004. The gift from a friend holds the pictures Ms. White's daughter snapped during her mother's first journey from the sky.

"In some places, you can hardly see me," she said, tapping a shot of her 'miniscule' parachute against an expansive blue sky. "You get up there, and see all this beautiful scenery all over the place. It's just awesome, that's all."

How many more times will Ms. White jump? Hopefully a couple more.

"Until I'm 90," she said.


First Published August 19, 2012 4:00 AM


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