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Larry Thomas’ entire world revolves around sports and staying active. At 78 years old he is an avid snow and water skier, is in a bicycle club, plays golf once a week, and is in a pickleball tournament. But his most extreme pastime may very well be skydiving, a sport he didn’t begin until he was in his 50s.
Thomas first skydived thanks to a friend who constantly asked him to join on a jump.
“I kept saying, ‘No, I’m not gonna go skydiving. I don’t want to jump out of a plane. What, are you crazy?’ So just to shut him up I said, ‘All right. I'll do one skydive,’” he said.
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Thomas was 53 years old when, joined by his son and his son’s friend, he agreed to go on his first jump in New Jersey. Since he had never done it before, he was required to jump tandem, meaning he was physically attached to a more experienced jumper.
“It scared me to death. But after I was out in the sky, I went, ‘This is pretty cool.’ So I landed, and I didn’t think anything more of it because I was only going to do one skydive,” he said.
Little did he know that, because of his friend’s persistence, he would continue to skydive into his late 70s. Thomas eventually took a course that allowed him to jump on his own and has accumulated approximately 4,090 total jumps.
It’s never as exciting as that first time there. When that door opens up, you can’t describe it to somebody. You look at the door and you see that the clouds are way below you. It is so exciting. You’ll never get that crazy adrenaline rush you get on those first couple jumps."
Skydivers over 60
In early April, Thomas joined 105 other skydivers in their 60s and 70s in Perris, California, to jump out of five planes to attempt to form a giant snowflake figure in the sky. The effort was intended to break their previous over-60 world record for the largest free-fall formation, which was made up of 75 older jumpers.
The group is part of the Skydivers Over Sixty Society, formed in 1992 by Pat Moorehead, who, after he turned 60, urged his friends to invite other older jumpers to join his new group. Their intent has remained the same: recognizing skydivers who continue jumping or join the sport in their grownup years. The organization has expanded to over 1,000 members from all around the globe.
The jumpers, mostly retirees, come from all walks of life: physician, nurse, venture capitalist, accountant, mailman, roofer and even rocket scientist.