Galen Maus had to buckle his knees and lean backward so he and the guy who was tethered to his back could shuffle to the door. • Just a few more baby steps to go ... • And then they were there. At the open door of the airplane. • But Galen just kept walking, as if the door wasn't there at all. • He walked right into cold, crazy-loud 150 mph, hurricane-force winds with the 6-inch-shorter tandem rider on his back. • 13,700 feet above the earth.
As soon as they were clear of the plane, Maus (pronounced "mouse") arched his back as instructed by the man behind him and the two of them made a graceful backward flip.
Once they were both facing the ground again, the instructor pulled the cord on a preliminary parachute called a drogue, which is much smaller than the main chute. It slows and stabilizes jumpers in their minute-long free fall.
A cameraman — who had jumped right before them — was nearby to record the feat.
An act of courage by a 90-year-old man.
Yes, it's true. Galen Maus, a retired civil engineer from Pinellas Park (by way of Indiana), had just made his first jump from a plane at age 90.
And, it was his idea.
• • •
It all started last Christmas.
Family members had all chipped in to buy Maus' 59-year-old son, John, a gift certificate for a sky dive.
He was thrilled with the unusual present.
"I always wanted to do extreme sports. It's hard to do when you have a young family," John said.
(It's not too easy with an old family, either, but we'll get to that later.)
In the midst of all the celebrating, Maus pulled his son aside and said quietly, "John, I have to talk to you.
"What would you think of a three-generation sky dive?"
And so John began making plans: His father at 90, he at (almost) 60, and his son, Scott, 30, would jump out of an airplane together.
Well, not quite together, more like in succession. It's too dangerous (chance of getting tangled up and all) to jump at the same time.
Regardless. It was going to be a momentous occasion.
Scott had jumped before, for fun; John had been a paratrooper with the Army's XVIII Airborne Corps; Galen, ringleader of the three-generation jump and a World War II Navy veteran, was new to it.
He wasn't afraid. In fact, he was so excited, he wanted to tell all his friends and neighbors about it. But Galen forced himself to hold his enthusiasm in check. Even though he doesn't look or act his age, he knew there was a chance he wouldn't be allowed to jump because of it.
"I didn't dare tell anybody because we didn't know if I'd be freed to go. There was only a 50 percent chance," he said.
• • •
TK Hayes, general manager of Skydive City in Zephyrhills, carefully interviewed him. Then he gave Galen the go-ahead.
"We discuss many aspects of the sky dive with anyone over 70 (generally)," Hayes said.
"Mostly it is about metal in the body from surgeries, artificial joints, height and weight and ability to participate in the sky dive.
"We cannot do CPR during the jump so anyone that has a condition that might kill them in a 10-minute window is not a good candidate," he said.
Hayes said it takes only about 10 minutes to figure out if an older person can jump.
"Sure we take lots of them, but we also refuse lots of them due to risk issues," he said.
Galen isn't the oldest person to have jumped at Skydive City, Hayes said. A 94-year-old jumped twice in one day, but that was so long ago, Hayes said, he has forgotten the man's name.
What kind of people do most of the jumping at Skydive City?
"There's no real demographics. It's all over the spectrum. Most are men, most are under 40.
"If I knew the demographic and could sell that, I would be a billionaire," he said.
• • •
As Galen was falling from the sky (it doesn't feel like you are falling, by the way, more like you are being held up by a huge fan, I'm told), he said he thought about only one thing: where they were going to land.
He said he wasn't scared; he just wanted to know where he would end up.
They had showed him how to land, pulling his feet up so he wouldn't trip.
He obviously listened. His landing was as matter-of-fact as his takeoff. Dave Strobel, his tandem-riding instructor, uncoupled them.
By the time Galen gathered himself, John and Scott were on the ground, too.
They met up and strode off the field together, three abreast, looking in their jumpsuits like three astronauts returning from space.
So, will Galen go again?
"I would," he said, "but my wife doesn't want me to."
Patti Ewald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8746.
See them jump
Watch the video of Galen (and John and Scott) Maus skydiving at links.tampabay.com.