80-year-old Alabama woman skydives to celebrate birthday

Alabama News

CULLMAN, Ala. (WIAT) – She’s a woman who claims to live without a bucket list. But to celebrate her 80th birthday, Sue Westerfield accomplished a bucket-list staple.

One of her daughters, Debbie, bought her a ticket to jump out of a plane thousands of feet above the ground. 

The idea sparked from Sundays her family spent at the Cullman Regional Airport, where her pilot son, John, would fly.

“We’d eat on a Sunday afternoon and sit around watching them jump,” Westerfield said. “I said, ‘That looks like fun. Maybe sometime I’ll do it.’”

Westerfield and her instructor prepare to jump.
(Courtesy: Skydive Alabama)

Then she had second thoughts.

“I said, ‘Ahh, I’m not going to do anything like that,'” Westerfield recalled.

But it was too late. Daughter Debbie had already purchased the gift.

“[St. Paul’s Lutheran Church] had an auction, and one of the items was a package from Skydive,” Westerfield said. “My daughter was sitting behind me, and I didn’t know it and she bought the package.”

Though the gift may have caught her off guard, when the time came, she didn’t hesitate.

“I’m thinking I’m trusting my instructor and everything’s going to be okay,” Westerfield said. “People do it all the time.”

Last Saturday, Westerfield pulled into the airport, signed her waivers for Skydive Alabama, put her jumpsuit and parachute on, and prepared for takeoff.

Westerfield and her instructor free-falling.
(Courtesy: Skydive Alabama)

On the ground, one of her daughters, Patti Strickland, was more nervous than Westerfield was.

“I knew she would do it,” Strickland said. “I knew she wanted to do it. And honestly, on the way up here Saturday, I thought I was going to throw up.”

But unlike Strickland, Westerfield said she didn’t have time to feel nervous — or nauseated. 

“I was still trying to get into position and I’m out,” Westerfield said. “And it happened so quick, which I am so thankful for.”

Skydive Alabama tandem instructor Michael Barnett said safety procedures were firmly in place for Westerfield’s birthday jump.

Courtesy: Skydive Alabama

“We work closely with the FAA to make sure we’re following all regulations,” Barnett said. “Lots of times, we’re doing above and beyond to make sure we’re doing everything as safely as possible and to make sure that we’re giving our customers the best experience possible.”

A resident of Cullman, Alabama, since 1976, Westerfield said she saw and recognized most of the town where she raised her family.

“I saw the streets of Cullman, the water tower, just different places,” she said. “[The instructor] says, ‘We’re over the airport.’ And then I look down because I had been looking out. And I said, ‘Oh yeah, we’re at the south end of the airport.’ “[The instructor] said, ‘Most people don’t know where they’re at when they’re at the airport.’ But I did.”

After safely floating back down to her family, who had gathered to watch her adventure, it took her a few seconds to get back on her feet. Then she said, “Oh, it’s great! It’s great!”

Westerfield makes a safe landing with her instructor at Cullman Regional Airport.
(Courtesy: Skydive Alabama)

It was a day Westerfield’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will always remember as well.

“[My mom] told my husband, ‘I don’t deserve this,’” said her daughter Sherry. “If anyone deserves this, it’s her, because she’s always doing for everybody.”

The family spent the rest of the weekend celebrating Grandma Sue, concluding her birthday weekend festivities with a tea party for her and her friends.

“I’m thankful and blessed to be here at 80 [and] really be able to move and get around, have fun, and enjoy life,” said the great-grandmother. “I’m very blessed.”

Now, her children are trying to decide how to top this year’s celebration.

“It gets more fun and adventurous every year,” daughters Sherry and Patti said. “It really does.”

Westerfield laughing during an interview. (CBS 42)


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