92-year-old daredevil, great-grandmother goes skydiving
By JIMMY TOMLIN
Sep. 02, 2018
THOMASVILLE, N.C. (AP) — Here's a question for you: What does a 92-year-old woman yell when she jumps out of an airplane for the first time?
"Grrranny-mo!" ("Geronimo!" Get it?)
Here's a better question, though: Why is a 92-year-old woman jumping out of an airplane in the first place?
Because this particular 92-year-old woman, Millie Shelton of Thomasville — who is not only a granny but a great-granny, as well — is a self-proclaimed swashbuckler. She may have a little bit of arthritis in her joints, but she also has a little bit of Evel Knievel in her blood.
"Oh yeah, I'm a daredevil," Shelton says with a proud grin.
Indeed, she is. Considering she went zip-lining at Niagara Falls when she was 90 and now has her heart set on bungee-jumping — "if I can con someone into taking me," she says — skydiving doesn't seem at all out of character.
So one day earlier this month, Shelton — who has undergone a double knee replacement, back surgery and angioplasty, mind you — found herself at Piedmont Skydiving in Salisbury, being strapped into a harness for a high-flying adventure she'll never forget.
"I have this bucket list," Shelton explains. "I wanted to go up in a hot-air balloon, and my son-in-law took me up. I wanted to go to Ireland, and they took me there and I kissed the Blarney Stone. I went to Canada, and I zip-lined over Niagara Falls. Skydiving was on my bucket list, too."
Always has been, in fact, but Shelton couldn't find anyone to take her.
"Everybody laughed at me," she says. "Finally, my grandson said he would take me for my birthday."
That grandson would be Wade Sokol, of Wallburg. Because Sokol has previously competed in The X Games, an annual extreme sports competition — and because he's gone skydiving himself — that makes him and his grandmother kindred spirits.
Or, as Sokol's wife Melissa puts it, "He's a chip off the old block."
Unlike Sokol, however, who has dived solo, his grandmother was a tandem skydiver, meaning she was connected to a harness attached to a skydiving instructor, and he guided her through the entire process — the jump, the freefall, the parachute opening and the landing. Shelton mostly just had to get strapped in and go along for the ride.
And was she the least bit scared or even nervous?
"No, not at all," she says. "I was fine until we were up there in the plane" — at about 10,500 feet — "and the instructor said, 'I want you to sling your legs over the side.' I said, 'You're coming with me, right?' I looked down, and there's my legs hanging there. But he was right there with me, and it was wonderful. It was so much fun."
Shelton laughs about the first few seconds of her jump, when she and her instructor were free-falling.
"My hair was standing straight up on end," she says with a chuckle.
As they neared the ground, the instructor basically put Shelton in his lap and took the brunt of the landing himself. The landing was smooth, and Shelton experienced no pain as they hit the ground or afterwards, she says.
According to representatives of Piedmont Skydiving, Shelton isn't the oldest person the company has ever taken skydiving — a man who went last year was 93 — but she's the oldest woman they've ever taken up. And she definitely made an impression on the employees there.
"I was in the plane with her, and she was just super-excited about it," recalls Josh Koons, an instructor for the 8-year-old company. "She couldn't wait to get up there and do it. She was so full of life."
Shelton says it was one of the best experiences of her life.
"I'd do it again," she says, "if I could just con somebody into taking me."
Information from: High Point Enterprise, http://www.hpenews.com