by Belinda Sawyer
In 1944, a 20-year-old pilot stepped out on the wing of his burning plane, somewhere over the Pacific. As he jumped, he promised himself that someday he”d do it again just for fun.
The pilot was George H. W. Bush, and the former President kept his promise to himself, although it took more than 50 years. He made his next jump at age 72, then did it again for his 75th and 80th birthdays, finally earning his parachutist”s wings.
The media hailed each event as an incredible feat. But all you have to do is drive a few miles east of Atlanta on a sunny Saturday to see for yourself that adrenaline junkies have no age limit.
Into the Dropzone
"We have lots of older jumpers," said Lisa Barnaby, owner of Skydive Monroe. "Not in their 80s, maybe, but 5″s and 60s, sure. Several of our regulars are in that age bracket."
In 1970, there were 20 million people over 65 in the U.S. In 2003, there were 34 million senior Americans, a number that”s expected to double by 2030 to nearly 70 million, or 20 percent of the population. Overall, today”s seniors are healthier, longer-lived and better financially prepared than any previous generation. And they”re trying things their grandparents would never have dreamed of doing.
Since 1994, Skydive Monroe has operated in a premiere dropzone that attracts jumpers from surrounding states as well as the Atlanta area. "We can do up to 250 jumps a day, depending on the weather," Barnaby said. As the closest dropzone to Georgia Tech, UGA, Emory, Oglethorpe and other schools, Skydive Monroe draws a lot of young jumpers, but seniors are well-represented too. Some have been jumping for years, others are just starting. "We have a woman coming out this weekend for her first jump, her son set it up for her," Barnaby said.
Care to try it? Jumpers must be over 18, and women must weigh under 175 pounds. For men, the weight limit is 235. "You have to be in good physical shape," Barnaby said. "We couldn”t take an older person who has brittle bones, for example. But if you”re in good shape, you can jump."
Looking for Adventure
Bill Dunn looked forward to his 55th birthday the way a teenager might look forward to his 16th. But instead of dreaming over Car & Driver magazines, Dunn was browsing through Elderhostel catalogs and trying to decide which trip to choose from the 10,000 destinations offered in 90 countries around the world.
Elderhostel is one of a growing group of tour operators offering adventure travel to mature vacationers. Companies such as Elder Treks, 50plus Expeditions, Overseas Adventure Travel and others offer opportunities to go 4-wheeling in Ethiopia, hiking in Patagonia, camping in Zimbabwe and more. The catch? You have to be over 50, or in some cases, as with Elderhostel, 55.
Seniors make up an increasingly important market segment, par