Photos by Ann Marshall and Nathan Shannon, courtesy of Skydive Spaceland
On July 2, Al Blaschke reached a four-year goal, and personal dream, to skydive with his amazing grandsons to celebrate their college graduation.
Incidentally, at 103 years, 174 days, he also officially broke the Guinness record as the world’s oldest tandem skydiver. At press time, he had not received his official notification, but it is just a matter of time—it takes Guinness about five weeks to certify witness accounts and details for each new record. (Check out more interesting −and quirky−Guinness records)
At Skydive Spaceland near San Marcos, about 75 friends and family from Sun City and beyond, and “official witness” Sheriff Robert Chody, watched Al, his grandsons, future daughter-in-law Kylee Stewart, and friends Betty Schleder and Don Field, climb to 14,500 feet before taking the plunge. Everyone landed safely and congratulated Al, who frequently tells inquisitive reporters, “I will not jump to jump; I want to jump to celebrate something!”
This wasn’t the first time Al had wings, although he is likely one of the few people to decide to make their first jump after reaching a triple-digit birthday. On January 4, 2017, for his 100th birthday, he did a tandem jump from 10,000 feet to tie the record.
It all started when a friend asked him, on his 97th birthday, if he would like to jump out of a plane; he said it was a good idea but decided, “No thank you, I’ll wait until I’m 100.” Prompting one guest to comment, “While most people blessed enough to make it to 97 might reflect on accomplishments, Al was still making long range plans.”
Al’s story has been told and seen many times over, but the coverage of inspiring good-news story has become part of the story itself. In his lifetime, Al survived the Spanish flu, the Great Depression, was an essential engineer building airplane parts for Pratt & Whitney during World War II and, as a resident of The Estrella, he has been careful to avoid COVID as well. In fact, he was still playing golf every Friday until the pandemic put everyone on hiatus.
When asked about his hopes for the event, he said, “I’m excited to see my grandsons up there. That’s my dream. I never thought I’d be around this long.” Despite the gaggle of press and media, his primary plan for the day was to spend time with his grandsons and stay six feet away from everyone else.
Jason Blaschke is graduating from A&M and will be commissioned in the U.S. Air Force after completing Officer Training School. He was more confident about the jump thanks to a great deal of aviation training. Kevin is graduating from UT and will be developing software for General Motors in Pflugerville. Both say grandpa is “literally unstoppable” and has always been supportive of their activities and dreams. Having taught them how to bowl, shoot, fish, and throw a boomerang, Al also stayed pretty busy as a spectator for marching band, competitive black belt karate, Eagle Scouts, and innumerable sports events. Most recently, during a storm in 2018, they enlisted his help to build a snowman they named Dave.
It was an honor to be invited and be an official witness to this historic event. To see a man, at 103, do something that gives me great fear is admirable. I am very impressed with his ability—and desire—to do it. most people aren’t able to face a fear or a task like that, especially at 103, and I was glad to be a part of it. ~Sheriff Robert Chody
Prior to the jump, Al said this may be his last parachute jump, but he is not done having new goals. “I am liable to do anything at any time. I just look forward to having the opportunity to do something great, and I go!”
True to form, when he landed July 2, his first comment was, “I’m ready to go again this afternoon!”
Al attributes his longevity to his wonderful wife of 49 years, who always helped him see the joy in everything (and also kept him hydrated)