Just who made the suggestion while the friends were gathered in Seaside, Oregon about a year ago isn’t clear. But the idea itself had been kicked around by them for some time.

The women have been friends since attending Chippewa Falls Senior High School and were part of the Class of 1960. They have traveled together for years. They wanted a memorable way to mark their 75th birthdays this year.

So on Saturday morning, Arlene Wright of Chippewa Falls, Sandy Solberg of Billings, Montana, Marianne Shilha of Hot Springs Village, Arkansas and Carrie Roher of Wisconsin Dells will change their outfits, watch a couple of videos, and then go on an airplane where they will go up to 10,000 feet. Then the friends will jump from the plane in a tandem skydive, with each of the women hooked in a special harness and parachute system. Each will be teamed with an experienced instructor.

Also making the jump will be Betsy Sippel of Chippewa Falls. She is a sister of Shilha and a member of the Class of 1970 of Chippewa Falls Senior High School.

“There’s some fear involved in the anticipation,” Solberg admits about making the jump. That’s natural, but tandem skydiving is relatively safe.

The United States Parachuting Association said there’s been one student fatality in tandem skydiving per 500,000 jumps over the past decade. Put it another way, driving over to the Lake Wissota Airport in the town of Lafayette where the ladies will jump is more dangerous, considering the the average of 3,287 vehicle crash deaths a day.

Skydiving instructor Jordan Ermer of Plymouth, Minnesota said the women will each sign a release and watch a couple of videos dealing with safety and the equipment needed for the tandem jump. Instructors will then verbally walk the women through the process. Anyone can make the jump, provided they are 18 years or older, weigh 230 pounds or less and are in generally good physical health.

“Everyone seems to react very differently,” Ermer said of those going on tandem jumps. Some people scream all the way to the ground. Others seem to have their breath taken away. Others remain quiet and are very controlled in their reaction.

Of the four women jumping, Roher has experience skydiving, although her last jump was several years ago. “For the rest of us, this is our maiden voyage,” Wright said.

Shilha is also familiar with skydiving. Her brother, Bob Stumm, owns and operates the Wissota Airport.

Joining the women Saturday and offering moral support from the ground are Chi-Hi classmates Barbara Williams of Janesville and Judy Burns of Hudson.

Wright is looking forward to the experience of skydiving. “I’m really excited to see where we live and see the lake from a very nice perspective,” she said.

Solberg wants to soak in all of the things that go with a skydive. “I’m looking forward to the sensation of coming down free,” she said.

She wants to hear the sounds of the jump and the feeling of weightlessness.

Shilha said in a telephone interview on Friday she has a little trepidation about the jump, but she is looking forward to it. She said she wants to experience the feeling and freedom of lying.

Solberg said friendship is the base of the decision to do tandem skydiving.

“And to celebrate our 75th birthdays,” Wright added.


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