Great Grandmother Celebrates 80 Years by Skydiving!
by By Joseph Sepia
(Reprinted with permission)
Gail Buchbinder threw a small novelty toy --- a bikini clad monkey attached to a parachute --- into the air and watched it land hard.
“I hope my mother does better than this monkey “, said Buchbinder, 56.
Buchbinder’s mother, Arlene Beckman, 80, was celebrating her birthday on June 6 by parachuting from an airplane for the first time. Born June 6, 1929, in New York City, Beckman has been thinking about parachuting since she was about 20.
“I’ve always loved the thought of flying like the eagles, just floating,” Beckman said, “And I thought, ‘Someday, I’m going to do it.’
Other things got in the way ---she and her husband, Albert, who died 12 years ago at age 69, raised four children.
Beckman also had other things going on: visiting Antarctica twice, going on African safari four times, swimming among sharks in Florida, frolicking with seals at the Galapagos Islands, helicoptering to the top of the Canadian Rockies and then hiking the ridges, and swimming with porpoises in the Florida Keys.
“This was the last thing I had on the list I hadn’t done.” She said.
In 2003, granddaughter Sarah Buchbinder, now 26, parachuted, harnessed to a skydive instructor, in Australia. Back Home, Sarah --- Gail’s daughter --- mentioned it to her grandmother.
“Why didn’t you wait for me?” grandmother asked.
“When do you want to go?” granddaughter replied.
“On my 80th birthday, we’ll go.”
“I said, ‘Yeah, right,’ “ Sarah Buchbinder said. “(But) she was true to her word.”
So, Sarah, an event planner who lives in New York City, organized the event at Skydive Jersey Shore at Monmouth Executive Airport, here.
Five family members from three generations would be diving ---Beckman; Larry Bilsky, 63, of South Amboy, who is Gail’s companion; Sarah and her two cousins, brothers Aaron and Michael Beckman, 27 and 25, respectively, of Newton, Mass.
Three more were part of the group --- honorary grandchildren, Jessica Smerling, 26, of New York City, and sisters Alison Bray, 25, of Summit and Amy Bray, 23, of Fair Lawn, all friends of Sarah Buchbinder.
The eight wore T-shirts Sarah passed out. The front said, “Arlene’s Aerial Acrobats” with the numerals 8 and 0 attached to a parachute. On the back, there were personal identifications --- “Captain Splat” for Aaron, “Princess” for Sarah and “Geronimomma” for Arlene.
All would jump in tandem with an instructor. All but Sarah were first time parachutists.
On the ground ready for the event were about 30 Beckman relatives and friends, including Gail and her three siblings: David, 54, of Newton, Mass; and twins Diane Beckman of New York City and Ruth Beckman of Woodcliff Lake. The siblings all had reasons --- excuses? --- for not parachuting.
Also on the ground was the only member so far of a fourth generation, great-granddaughter Sophie Buchbinder, 6 months old, of Old Bridge, daughter of Gail’s son, Seth, 29.
The group prepared an open tent, hanging about 20 of the parachuting monkey from the roof and setting up tables covered with food.
“I’ve never seen a spread like this,” said skydive instructor Matt Dowling, who has been parachuting here for eight years. “These people are doing it up nice. They went crazy with the decorations. You could tell they are really celebrating the day.
Alas, the 11 am-ish jump had to be postponed because of low clouds, creating unsafe parachuting conditions. The Beckman group has to leave two hours or so later to be at Gail Buchbinder’s South Amboy house for a 2 p.m. birthday party.
“There is an old saying; it’s, ‘man plans, God laughs,’ “ Beckman said.
But, hold on.
The skies cleared. By about 5 [p.m., Beckman was back at the airport. A ;iyt5tle after 6 p.m., Beckman , in a burgundy jump suit, walked to a single engine airplane. She and her grand-daughter would be the first two parachuting from the group.
Around 6:30 p.m., Beckman harnessed to instructor Joe d’Afflisio, who has done around 10,700 jumps --- tumbled out of the plane from 10,000 feet. After about 40 seconds of free-falling to 5,000 feet, then seven or so minutes of floating with the parachute open, they softly landed.
“Fantastic,” Beckman said. “Once free of the plane, it was so exhilarating.”
“The scariest part? Watching my grand-mother falling from a plane,” said Sarah Buchbinder, who landed just after Beckman.
“We should all have parents we can look up to,” Gail Buchbinder. “We are always proud of our parents --- she surpasses that.”
“I’ve always wondered where I got my wild streak from,” Sarah Buchbinder said. “It skipped a generation.”
In the next plane, Bilsky and Smerling parachuted safely, followed by the Beckman brothers and Bray sisters. By 8 p.m., the day was complete.
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