By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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Sky's not the limit for 90-year-old

Jen Edney / Special to The Star: "I was floating around all over the trees ... swinging back and forth," Raye Gabriel said of her first jump from a plane.
June 23, 2008
Ventura County Star

Raye Gabriel wanted to do something extra special to celebrate her 90th birthday. So she jumped out of a plane with a parachute at 120 mph.

"I was surprised I did it," said the resident of Leisure Village in Camarillo. She performed the tandem jump through Sky Dive Santa Barbara at the Lompoc Airport.

"It was something I've never done, and I thought I would like to do it for my 90th," she said.

"I was 90 in November, but I didn't want to jump when it was so cold. That's why I chose it for June. It sounded exciting."

Of the 4,000 tandem jumps a year, Gabriel is likely the oldest person to ever parachute with Sky Dive Santa Barbara, said owner David Hughes.

"It's very unusual; she's probably the oldest," Hughes said.

"We've taken people in their 70s and 80s; we've taken people in wheelchairs, paraplegics, deaf and blind people, but she's the oldest person I've ever taken."

For Gabriel's jump, she was attached to a tandem parachutist with a secure harness.

"You sit in the airplane and you ride up right against him," she recalled.

"When they say it's time to go, you have to put your legs out of the plane ... then they push you through, and you just spread out your arms, and he's right with you."

When jumpers leaves the aircraft, they are flying from 70 to 80 mph through the air, then speed up gradually to 120 mph, Hughes explained.

"There's no sudden dropping sensation," he said. "They are falling 174 feet per second, but it feels like you're floating above the ground and the ground is so far away ... there's no sensational speed at all. It's not like a roller coaster ride where your stomach drops. It's more like a floating sensation."

Gabriel agreed. "It's a very, very nice experience and very secure. It's very peaceful. Just delightful," she said.

"I was floating around all over the trees ... swinging back and forth. I could see the whole area all the way down to Pismo Beach. I landed on my feet very easily. I had worn hiking shoes because I thought it would be a heavy drop, but it wasn't. It was very light."

The cost for the jump: $199. "I got a 20 percent discount for my age," said Gabriel, who also paid extra for a videotape of her jump as well as numerous photographs. "As you're coming down, the guy with the camera is coming down with you, separately. When you land, they show you what it looked like."

Hughes praised Gabriel's enthusiasm for what many may consider an extreme activity.

"I think it's so cool at her age to do this," Hughes said.

"A lot of people at that age tend to give up, but she hasn't given up at her age. It doesn't matter how old you are, if you have the desire, you can do anything."

Born in 1917 in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx, Gabriel has been married twice in her life — the first time for 20 years and the second for four years — and has outlived both her ex-husbands.

She moved to California in 1956 after her father retired in Santa Monica.

A resident at Leisure Village for almost a decade, she has two children, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Aside from sky diving, the only other sport she's tried is water skiing.

"I gave my kids water skiing lessons in Tahoe one year," she recalled.

Sky diving was so much fun, she plans to celebrate another birthday the same way.

"When I'm 95, I'll do it again."

Woman drops to Earth at 120 mph

Courtesy photo "You just spread out your arms," Raye Gabriel said.

To hear this story on Alicia's radio segment, click on the link below:

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