Leah Street has a slight daredevil streak. She says she got it from her grandmother. On Sunday, the two celebrated their birthdays together. They didn’t have cake, didn’t have a party, didn’t open presents.
They jumped out of a plane. On purpose.
Street took her first jump at Skydive Happy Valley in 2013, when she turned 29. The State College woman came back to the Mifflin County Airport this year for the big three-oh, for what her mom, Michelene Springer, of West Decatur, called “the first anniversary of her 29th birthday.”
It’s not surprising. A lot of people do it. Skydive Happy Valley says a lot of people mark special occasions that way, whether it is graduating from college, a milestone birthday or anniversary, or even one couple who recited their wedding vows in the plane moments before taking a very different kind of plunge.
But Mary Ann “Tootsie” Beres was something special.
Beres is Springer’s mother, Street’s grandmother, and she might be the oldest person to ever skydive at the Mifflin County business. That was a matter of some debate. Beres will be 80 in December, but because skydiving is hard to do in winter, she decided to take the plunge with her granddaughter in July. There was one other 79-year-old who took a jump, according to Brent “Hutch” Hutchings, but Beres had him beat. She didn’t pass out.
Street and Beres showed up around 1 p.m., excited and eager to take off. They watched the videos and filled out the forms. They went out on the tarmac to learn how to do the tandem jump, where they would be hooked and belted to one of the professional instructors, who would control the descent.
Then they sat back and waited for the weather to cooperate. It was a beautiful day, temperature above 70 degrees, and no rain, but three layers of clouds in the sky. Hutchings described it as waiting for pieces of Swiss cheese to line up with their holes just right for a jump. Then all at once, it was time.
Street wanted to jump at the same time as her grandmother, but that would have meant there wasn’t enough room in the Cessna 182 wide body for the extra professional jumper who would record the dive on video, and Beres wanted proof.
“There’s no movie in the common room tonight except for this video,” she said. Beres lives at the Westminster apartments at Windy Hill Village in Philipsburg. She said that about half of her friends there think she’s crazy for taking the jump.
“I think the other half think I’m brave,” she said. “I have to do something exciting at my age. If I don’t do it, I’ll wonder about it. Now I’ll know. What the heck. You only live once. Might as well make it count.”
Beres went first. The plane went up 2 miles before she and Hutchings left it behind. When they jumped, it was going 70 mph.
As they went into a 1-mile free-fall, they were going about 120 mph. Then Hutchings pulled the parachute, slowing them into a comparatively slow float of about 15 mph.
She never balked. She asked a few questions, like “Has anyone ever backed out?” but she said that wasn’t because she wanted to walk away herself. She just wondered what happened for other people.
“Oh my god, she did it,” said Springer.
As the bright blue and white parachute headed perfectly for the patch of grass where they were due to land, Hutchings called out “Lift your feet!” and Beres did, hoisting her legs just like he had taught her. They glided down, picture perfect, sliding onto the grass effortlessly.
And Street was waiting right there, the first family member to reach Beres for a big hug.
Her daughters, who both said they are not planning to join this particular family tradition any time soon, asked her to describe the jump in just one word.
“Wow!” she said with an amazed look. “I did it. I’m so glad I did it.”
It might not be the last time, either. She has another granddaughter. Maya Elliot is just 14. Jumpers have to be at least 18.
“I’m so jealous I didn’t get to do it with you,” said Maya, hugging her grandma, who was still wearing her harness and helmet.
“In four years,” Beres said.