Former Pres. Bush Celebrates 85th Birthday by Skydiving

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KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine -- Former President George H.W. Bushmarked his 85th birthday on Friday the same way he did his 75th and80th birthdays: He leaped from a plane and zoomed downward at morethan 100 mph in freefall before parachuting safely to a spot nearhis oceanfront home.

Bush made the tandem jump from 10,500 feet with Sgt. 1st ClassMike Elliott of the Army's Golden Knights, who guided them to agentle landing on the lawn of St. Ann's Church.

"It's a great, exhilarating feeling," he said after he wasremoved from his harness. "I don't feel a day over 84."

He said he enjoyed the jump so much that he planned to do itagain when he turns 90.

When he was president, Bush was an avid jogger, speed golfer,fisherman and tennis player. He said he has slowed down since then,but he doesn't intend to stop moving.

He told reporters that he jumped Friday for two reasons: toexperience the exhilaration of free-falling and to show thatseniors can remain active and do fun things.

"Just because you're an old guy, you don't have to sit arounddrooling in the corner," Bush said. "Get out and do something.Get out and enjoy life."

All five of Bush's children, including former President GeorgeW. Bush, were there, along with 14 grandchildren, two brothers anda sister.

Elliott said he was "definitely nervous" because of Bush's ageand the presence of his entire family.

"What we do is inherently dangerous, so there's always somerisk, but we pride ourselves on safety and make sure everythinggoes as planned. And today it went without a hitch," he said.

Bush's first parachute jump came when his plane was shot downover the Pacific in 1944 during World War II. He bailed out at1,500 feet after a bombing mission over ChiChi Jima. His twocrewmates didn't make it.

In 1997, Bush fulfilled a wartime promise he made to himselfthat someday he'd jump from a plane for fun by hopping out overYuma, Ariz., and he jumped again on his 75th birthday at hislibrary in Texas.

His days of solo parachuting ended at age 80 when bad weatherforced him to scrap his plan to go alone. He made not one but twotandem jumps in Texas.

The skydiving jump marked Bush's seventh parachute leap from anairplane. His last jump was in November 2007, also with Elliott, atthe reopening of his presidential library at Texas A&M University.He made that jump unannounced after hip replacement surgery.

Joining Bush on Friday was anchor Robin Meade from HLN, thecable network formerly known as Headline News. Meade also made atandem jump with the Golden Knights.

Nancy Brindle, who works at Patten's farm stand inKennebunkport, said she's surprised at the number of localresidents who are concerned about Bush's safety but she wasn'tworried.

"It's so much fun to live in Kennebunkport and be part of theexcitement," she said. "It's a pleasure to be part of it all. Itfar outweighs any inconveniences."

Former First Lady Barbara Bush doesn't object to heroctogenarian husband's fascination with skydiving.

"She is fine with it, particularly now that he does tandemjumps. She has so much trust and faith in the Golden Knights thatshe's fine with it," said Jean Becker, Bush's chief of staff.

Dr. Tom Perls, director of the New England Centenarian Study,applauded Bush for serving as an example to others - especiallyseniors - to stay active.

"For Mr. Bush to have this attitude of, you know, carpe diem,really is spot on. Clearly age is not stopping him from doingsomething that he thinks is really fun, and thrilling," saidPerls, a professor at Boston University. "Age, the number, shouldnever stop somebody."

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