Every time former President George H.W. Bush jumps out of a plane, it makes news. Which means he has made news for tandem skydiving, anyway three times: on his 75th, 80th and 85th birthdays.
The elder Bush has said he also plans to take the leap as a 90-year-old, which is still a couple of years off, although lately Parkinson’s disease has been bothering his legs.
Well, Mr. Ex-President, you may get the headlines, but you’re certainly not the only nonagenarian thrill seeker out there. Just look around.
Rosebud Gard, for instance, has beaten Bush to the skydiving-at-90 trophy.
George Roe, 92, just reached one of the highest points in the nation. He isn’t even that impressed with Bush. “You know, anybody can sit in a paratrooper’s lap and make a jump," he said.
Meanwhile, Frances Keating recently returned from whitewater rafting in the Smoky Mountains. She is 90, and while she doesn’t have any desire to skydive, she could see herself on a zipline.
What’s going on here? Aren’t folks in their 90s supposed to be feeble?
Actually, what’s going on is that people are living longer. Heck, 90 may be the new 80. Or 70.
In 1980, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 2.8 percent of the older-than-65 set were in their 90s. In 2010, that figure was 4.7 percent (an estimated 1.9 million Americans). Over the next four decades, the number of people in their 90s will quadruple, the Census Bureau estimates.
Which means that before long, hearing about a 90-year-old skydiver won’t elicit much interest. Even if he used to be the leader of the free world.
Jumping from Cloud 9
Rosebud Gard, 90, has two sons and has been widowed 11 years. She and her husband, Earl, who were married 59 years, used to drive out to the Independence, Mo., airport to watch skydivers there.
Her big adventure: “I didn’t want to say anything to him," Rosebud said, but the truth was, she wanted to try it. Earl wouldn’t have liked the idea.
She had already crossed one item off her bucket list: a hot-air balloon ride. That was for her 70th birthday. On a cruise with family in 2010, she parasailed with a great-granddaughter. She ziplined on the cruise ship, too.
The plan was that she’d jump out of a plane for her big 9-0, but it didn’t end up happening until June 23 in Lexington, Mo. An entourage of about 30 — family, friends and church family — turned out to cheer her on. Rosebud wore a pink floral top, pink shorts and her walking shoes.
The plane, piloted by a young woman, went two miles up. Once Rosebud jumped, she would free fall at 110 mph, at least until the parachute popped open. But she wasn’t in charge of that.
“Oh, he was the sweetest kid," Rosebud said of Steve Osner, the Missouri River Valley Skydivers tandem master she was attached to.
She was never frightened, she said. “I was really on cloud nine from the time we set it until I got to do it."
She can’t wait to do it again.
Age-defying secrets: “I can’t say I don’t worry, because I do." But genetics seem to be on her side. Her maternal grandmother lived to be 97; her paternal grandmother, 94. She has a big sister who’s 94 and a little sister who’s 84.
Philosophy of life: “You have to have Christ in your life, that’s for sure."
Best advice she ever got: “’Always remember where you came from.’ I think my dad said that."
‘You’re not leaving me behind!’
Frances Keating, who turned 90 in July, is a native Texan who has lived all over the country as well as in Taiwan, Italy and Germany. After her husband, J. Patrick Keating, died in 1990, she moved to Kansas City, Mo. These days, three of her nine children also live here. Frances worked for H&R Block for 28 years, eventually becoming a district manager overseeing 20 offices. She retired from there in her late 70s.
Her big adventure: At a big family reunion this summer in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, “everyone was going to go water rafting and I said, ‘Well, you’re not leaving me behind!’" It was a two-hour trip on rubber rafts down the Pigeon River. Everyone had to paddle.
But “it wasn’t as wild as I thought it would be," Frances admitted. “Next time I’ll go on one that’s rougher. Maybe down the Snake or the Colorado."
Frances loves to travel — sometimes solo, sometimes with her oldest daughter, Deborah Keating — especially on Amtrak. She has seen the Northern Lights before, but she’d like to get to Fairbanks, Alaska, in March to get an even better view.
A big glass jug in her Plaza high-rise apartment contains matchbooks from some of her many trips. Not that she smokes: “Just liquor and sex. Those are my only vices."
Age-defying secrets: For one thing, attitude. “I just get up and do it," Frances said. “Don’t tell me I can’t." She climbed a mountain in Glacier National Park in Montana when she was 70-something. She has never ziplined, but she saw one in a Vegas hotel she wanted to try.
She’s optimistic, “and I think that makes a lot of difference in a person." She has been sad but rarely depressed: “I may have been depressed 10 to 15 minutes once."
Philosophy of life: “You should be very thankful to God for everything that he does for you." And don’t hold a grudge, “because (the other person) doesn’t even care. It’s harder on you than it is on them."