Gerry Austin is a spry woman.
And, she’s a busy one, too.
She is a regular church-goer. She volunteers at Pregnancy Care Center in Zephyrhills. She belongs to a group that sews items for the homeless. And, she crochets hats for village children in Papua, New Guinea.
But, all that seems rather low-key compared to what she did recently.
The 86-year-old just skydived for the first time.
It was a feat that fulfilled a promise she’d made to herself decades ago.
The Wesley Chapel woman got the idea during the 1990s, while working for the Pasco News. She’d heard some ladies from Zephyrhills say they would be jumping for their 80th birthday.
It sounded fun, she thought, and promised herself that she’d skydive at 80, too.
But, one thing led to another, and time slipped away — and the opportunity never arose.
Until earlier this month, that is.
While she had never jumped out of an airplane before, Gerry said her fascination with flying is nothing new.
Her husband, Richard, was completing his courses to become a pilot, before he passed away 25 years ago. She, too, had taken lessons — completing 40 minutes in the air.
She had no desire to become a pilot. She just wanted to be able to land the plane, in case of an emergency.
Gerry’s confident that if Richard could see her now, he’d applaud her decision to skydive. And, if he were still here, he’d probably go along for the jump, she said.
When Gerry made up her mind to skydive, she heard a mixture of reactions.
She shared the news with members at Charity Baptist Church, in Wesley Chapel, where she attends.
One response: “You’re crazy.”
Another: “Why do you want to do that?”
Her answer: “You know everyone has a bucket list. Well, this was on my bucket list, and I decided because I’m getting older, I need to start completing my bucket list.”
Others in her circle thought it was a fabulous idea.
In fact, Betsy Strickland, of Zephyrhills, and Alvin Davis, of Wesley Chapel, had their own skydiving ambitions.
Betsy always wanted to try it and figured now was as good a time as any.
Alvin, a former pilot and cancer survivor, wanted to cross off skydiving on his own list.
They asked Gerry if they could join her, and she was delighted.
Their original jump date was set for Aug. 11, but a thunderstorm thwarted that plan.
They jumped, instead, on Oct. 5.
The trio of friends and dozens of supporters, were at Skydive City, 4241 Sky Dive Lane in Zephyrhills, for the big day.
Cam King, Skydive City’s operations manager, explained that the group would do a tandem jump out of the plane at 13,500 feet.
He told them they would complete a 60-second free-fall, reaching speeds ranging from 110 mph to 120 mph. The parachute would be deployed at 8,000 feet, giving them a 5- to 7-minute ride back to the ground.
Gerry was visibly excited, as she waited for her group to be called.
She was surrounded by dozens who had come to witness her big moment.
Her tandem instructor, Paul Wolfe, came over to give her some pointers on what to expect, and as he headed off to another group, he told her: “It’s going to be exciting, it’s going to be a good day.”
Minutes ticked away in what seemed like an eternity.
Finally, it was time for Gerry and her group to get strapped into their gear.
Their church pastor, A. C. Bryant, led the group in a prayer, before the trio of jumpers headed to a small plane that would lift them up beyond the clouds.
Gerry’s friends looked up, shielding their eyes from the sun, to watch Gerry sail in the sky. She moved gracefully, in her bright pink and purple parachute.
From the ground, Gerry appeared to have a nice, long ride down to earth.
Once she landed, she was quick to tell others, it was more than just a jump and descent.
Her instructor turned them around several times, she said, pointing out places of interest — including a view of Tampa, from thousands of feet above the ground.
As she and the others made their way back to the staging area, they held hands, savoring their shared experience.
When Gerry reached the staging area, she was swarmed by her supporters, wanting her to share her take on skydiving.
As adrenalin coursed through her body, she told them: “It was breathtaking. I’m speechless. You just got to do it. No words.”
Published October 16, 2019