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Murphys Grandma Goes To New Heights

In memory of her husband, and to do something she had always wanted to do with him but never got the chance to do, an 86-year-old Murphys woman jumped out of an airplane.

And she said she'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Joan Thonack and her husband, Gene, were married for 50 years before he died in 1998. For a long time, Thonack said, the two would talk about wanting to skydive, but never got around to actually doing it.

“So all this time I've sort of thought about it off and on occasionally,” she said. “And finally I decided, I'm 86 years old, so if I'm going to do it, I'd better do it.”

With the help of her grandchildren, Thonack found Skydive Sacramento, a professional skydiving company based at the Lincoln Regional Airport. With three grandchildren in tow, Thonack arrived at the airport Oct. 13, which would have been her husband's birthday.

Skydive Sacramento is normally closed on Mondays, but the team made an exception and stayed open for Thonack. A granddaughter in Phoenix, Lisa Thonack, had called Fox40 News to tell them about her grandmother, and a camera crew showed up to watch the dive.
After signing a mountain of paperwork (she even had to have a permission slip from her doctor), Thonack suited up and was given a brief overview of what she was about to do. Once she was ready, Thonack, an instructor and a cameraman loaded into an airplane and ascended 12,000 feet, a height that Thonack said seemed to take ages to reach.

“I was never afraid, I was never anxious,” Thonack said. “I just wanted to do it.”

She was instructed to put one foot outside of the plane and brace herself on a step before jumping out of the plane for her tandem dive with Holt Durham. It was a very windy day, Thonack said, and she was unable to get her footing. When Durham saw what was happening, he took matters into his own hands.
“He just went,” Thonack said with a laugh. “And if he went, I had to go too, so off we went.”

As they were freefalling, Thonack said, she was unaware of how fast they were dropping. It wasn't until her altimeter read 5,000 feet that she pulled the ripcord to release the parachute.“

Then it was just quiet..., you just floated down,” she remembered.
The whole jump took about 20 minutes, she said, and her grandchildren-and Fox News-were waiting to greet her on the ground. It wasn't until Tuesday morning that Thoanck discovered her “five minutes of fame” weren't quite up, as Fox 40's national station had picked up the story and aired it on national TV.

Thonack took a snapshot of her husband with her on her jump, she said. Originally from Alameda County, he worked for the Sheriff's Department and she worked for a chemical engineer. When Gene became ill, the couple moved to Murphys, where Thonack lives in the Murphys Diggins. She exercises regularly and said she is grateful that she is in good health and was able to skydive.

“I thought it was great,” said Aimee Morse, Thonack's granddaughter. “I was very proud of her. She does not let age hold her back from anything.”
Just because people are getting older, Thonack said, they shouldn't feel that they can't do things they want to do-even if they may be a bit on the daredevil side.

“Do what you want to do,” she said. “Don't just sit.”

“It was just so exhilarating,” Thonack said of her jump. She plans on jumping again in March, this time in a group with some of her grandchildren.
“My grandkids said, 'Grandma, what are you going to do for an encore?' and I said, 'Oh, I'll think of something.”

“You only go around once.”

 


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