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My Turn: Long Islander leaps into his seventh decade

Dan Martinsen, left, celebrates with his son Danny

Dan Martinsen, left, celebrates with his son Danny in September 2019 after his jump at Skydive Long Island in Shirley.  Credit: Kathleen Martinsen DeTurris

I have great, vivid memories of being 10 in 1969, when the New York Mets won the World Series, Woodstock happened, and we landed on the moon. But those recollections recently reinforced something very disturbing. I was turning 60!

I never had a problem with age “milestones,” probably because I was fully engaged in a demanding career and helping raise our family. But approaching 60 was different. For example:

  • I’m now at 1.75 on my “readers” and cannot even see my food without them.
  • My neck doesn’t turn anymore! Backing out a car is a painful adventure.
  • My first career, wonderful though it was, is over, and I cannot count the times I’ve been told by a recruiter that a role I’ve applied for is “too junior for someone with my experience.”
  • And let’s not even discuss the hair situation.

But after bemoaning these issues I decided to literally leap into this new life phase by jumping out of a perfectly good airplane from 13,000 feet! Trying skydiving is something I flirted with previously. The first time was in my mid-20s when I was an unmarried, part-time editorial assistant at Newsday. I approached an editor with the idea of writing a first-person account of the experience, to which he replied: “I’ve been waiting a long time for someone stupid enough to try that.” But for reasons that escape memory (another 60th birthday gift!) I never followed through.

My 28-year-old son, Danny, had surprised me with this adventure for my pending birthday. On the morning of our jump in September we drove in silence to Skydive Long Island in Shirley. We were ushered into a room full of IPads to sign the extensive legal waivers that acknowledged we were about to participate in an extremely dangerous activity. And that’s when my worry wheels started turning. What if we went splat? Would my wife even be able to collect my life insurance? My son is only 28 and has an amazing life ahead of him! Yes, people do this safely every day, but is it worth the risk?

In that moment the nitpick issues of growing older fell into an entirely new context and I thought to myself:

“Yes, your body is older, but you are lucky enough to be alive and healthy.”

“Yes, the first career has ended, but it was awesome. Be thankful for it and move forward to your next path.”

“You have an amazing wife and life partner. Together you have built a great life over 33 years and still have many adventures ahead.”

“You accomplished your mission of supporting and educating your kids, and they are doing great!”

In other words, appreciate your life, stop sweating the small stuff, leap forward.

Minutes later my son and I were shoehorned into a tiny red-and-white airplane with our jump instructors, and we were airborne. The sky was a mix of cobalt blue and scattered white clouds as Long Island quickly fell below. My instructor, Raj, told me to turn around and back into his lap to connect our harnesses for our tandem jump and joked, “Don’t worry I’ll remember to hook you in.” Funny guy.

The next minutes were an adrenalin-fueled blur. We reached our jump altitude, and I suddenly heard the rushing air as Danny’s instructor opened the hatch. Seconds later they were gone. Raj instructed me to slide toward the door and swing my legs outside, reminding me to bend my body like a banana when we jump. A push from Raj, and we were out and flying!

Raj flipped us twice and then tapped my shoulder; a signal to stretch my arms out wide. We free-fell for 20 seconds. It was exhilarating, fun – and I never doubted our chute would open. When it did, I happily saw Danny’s chute below us. We made some turns, then softly came to a safe landing.

On the ground there were high-fives and hugs. Skydiving was an amazing, life-affirming experience and an incredible way to start my seventh decade. Here’s to always leaping forward!

Dan Martinsen,

Westhampton Beach

YOUR STORY Letters and essays for My Turn are original works by readers that have never appeared in print or online. Share special memories, traditions, friendships, life-changing decisions, observations of life or unforgettable moments for possible publication. Email act2@newsday.com, or write to Act 2 Editor, Newsday, 6 Corporate Center Dr., Melville, NY 11747. Include name, address, phone numbers and photos if available. Edited stories may be republished in any format.

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