Spartanburg man goes skydiving at 84

Joe Gault has had his share of ups and downs.

But nothing could match the high and low the 84-year-old experienced when he went skydiving for the first time.

“I was talking to myself as I edged toward the door, asking myself what the heck I was doing this for,” Gault said. “It's not for the faint of heart.”

Gault's daughter, Susan Gault, jumped with him. It was her first time as well.

“He went out first, so I had the pleasure of seeing my dad jump out of the airplane,” Susan Gault said. “It was really cool.”

Joe Gault, who served as president of Spartanburg Technical College – now Spartanburg Community College – from 1970 to 1985, wanted to do his first jump on his 80th birthday, following the lead of former President George H.W. Bush. But life got in the way.

The maximum weight for making a jump is 225 pounds, and Joe tipped the scales at 254. Susan, meanwhile, faced some “medical issues.”

The two adventurers were grounded.

Susan recovered. Joe slimmed down. And when the movie “The Bucket List” – about two guys doing things they always wanted to do before “kicking the bucket” – came out, father and daughter got serious about their quest.

“I just turned 35 and I told him it was now or never,” said Susan, a teacher at the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind.

On a recent Sunday morning, they were out of the plane and soaring 14,000 feet above the ground.

“I think it was a little overwhelming for both of us,” Susan said. “When you're on a plane looking 2 1/2 miles down, it would be overwhelming for anyone.”

They were in a freefall for about 10,000 feet. Then the parachutes were opened and they sailed to the ground.

“For the first five seconds I was thinking my stomach was in my throat,” Susan said. “But then it levels off and you don't notice anything but the wind and the freedom – the total and complete freedom.”

Joe, a former pilot who has owned a couple of airplanes, said it was a “different kind of experience.”

“I wouldn't recommend it for older folks; it's a young fellow's hobby,” he said. “I wish I had taken it up 35 or 40 years ago.”

Now that they've crossed skydiving off their lists, Susan is already focusing on the next item.

“I'm preparing for a bodybuilding competition next year,” she said. “I'm trying to get him to do it with me.”