It’s not how old you get, it’s how you get old.
And Elmer Walker is aging adventurously. To celebrate his 70th birthday, the Richmond Hill grandfather of nine strapped on a parachute and jumped out of a perfectly good airplane Saturday.
“Skydiving is something I’ve wanted to do all my life,” said Walker, who turned 70 on Monday. “I went to Airborne school when I was in the military but never got to jump. But I always said that one day, I’d get to jump.”
And jump he did. With nearly 50 of his closest friends and family members watching, Walker, tethered to an experienced instructor, leapt out of a Cessna 182 over Statesboro and hurtled the 11,500 feet to the ground below.
“We jumped 5,500 feet before we opened the parachute, just falling” he said. “The meter showed we were doing 125 miles per hour. I’ve driven that fast in cars before, but I never imagined going that fast falling through the air.”
Walker’s son Jeff and oldest grandson, Matt, 16, joined him in the plane, though his grandson was told he was too young to jump.
“Three generations of Walker men up there. It was one of the most beautiful and exhilarating times of my life,” said Walker. “I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for it, and, added to it, there was cake waiting for me when I came down. Can you beat that?”
He said he’d started planning his adventure in the sky on his 60th birthday. At first, he said no one paid the idea much mind, assuming he’d forget about it before 2013 rolled around.
“When he first brought it up, it was a bit of a surprise,” said Jeff Walker. “I figured it was one of those things that would pass — I know my mom hoped it would be — but it wasn’t. It was for real, that’s for sure.”
Elmer Walker’s health was a definite concern for his family members. In the last several years, he has undergone no less than 10 surgeries on his neck and shoulder and has had some serious health scares.
“Honestly? I’m surprised to be living today,” said the septuagenarian. “It’s only by the grace of the good Lord that I’m still here. I probably shouldn’t be alive today, but whatever time I’ve got, whatever I’ve got left, I’m going to use. If I want to go skydiving, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m not going to let nothing stop me.”
Despite his family’s concerns, Walker said the jump went perfectly, and he experienced no discomfort. In fact, he said Jeff Walker, who’s much younger and suffers from fewer ailments, had a harder time of it.
“Well, I came down and landed perfect, But my son, he came down before I did, and he didn’t land so good,” he said, laughing. “He’s still walking funny.”
Marcus Finley works at The Jumping Place Skydiving Center in Statesboro, where the Walkers had their adventure.
“I think skydiving means the world to anybody at any age,” said Finley, whose mother has owned and operated the center since it opened in 2005. “Everybody should go at least once. There’s nothing like it in the world. I’m sure that at 70, it’s even more incredible, having so much more life experience to rely upon and feed off of.”
When he’s not jumping out of planes, Walker is a volunteer prison minister with Bethel Baptist Church in Richmond Hill. He’s spent the last 28 years traveling to various prisons in the state, preaching and holding Bible study for inmates.
“I’ve had about as good a life as anybody can have,” he said. “I’ve been through some hard times, but I don’t give up. I just do what I set my mind to, and I try to help others along the way. That’s what it’s all about in the end, isn’t it?”