Skydiving Sue: 80-year-old Alabama woman skydives to celebrate birthday

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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 feat so daring, it’s a bucket-list staple.

A photo captured right as Westerfield and her instructor were jumping
(Courtesy: Skydive Alabama)

One of her daughters, Debbie, bought her a ticket to hop onto a plane…and then hop out, thousands of feet above the ground. 

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

Folsom Field Airport, where Sue made her jump (CBS 42)

“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.’”

Then she had second thoughts.

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

But it was too late. Her daughter Debbie had already found the perfect gift for celebrating her mother’s eight decades on Earth.

Westerfield and her instructor freefalling
(Courtesy: Skydive Alabama)

“[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 have a worry in the world about going.

“I’m thinking I’m trusting my instructor and everything’s going to be okay,” Westerfield said, calm as can be. “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.

Back 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 think enough to feel nervous—or nauseated. Her first-ever tandem jump took place over Vinemont and Cullman.

“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.”

CBS 42’s Landon Wexler asked Skydive Alabama Tandem Instructor Michael Barnett about the safety procedures in place for the birthday gal’s glide of a lifetime.

Courtesy: Skydive Alabama

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

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

“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 up on her feet.

“Once you stood up…family was all around you. Did you stand up and give them a hug? All that good stuff?” Wexler asked Westerfield.

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

“No,” Westerfield said bluntly before bursting into laughter with her children, John, Patti, Debbie and Sherry.

Westerfield’s reunion with family on solid ground may not have been the storybook moment they’d anticipated, but it was one her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren will always remember her by.

“[My mom] told my husband, ‘I don’t deserve this,’” Sherry said. “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 all her friends.

Wexler asked Westerfield, “Did you ever think that [you’d be] so cool at 80?”

The great-grandma responded, “No! No, no. I’m thankful and blessed to be here at 80 [and] really be able to move and get around, have fun, and enjoy life. I’m very blessed.”

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

“Every year it gets more adventurous, doesn’t it?” daughters Sherry and Patti remarked, smiling.

The family has promised to keep CBS 42 in the loop on Grandma Sue’s birthday celebrations to come.

Westerfield laughing hysterically during her interview with CBS 42’s Landon Wexler (CBS 42)

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