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One For The Bucket List: Tandem Parachuting
Montana Senior News, February/March 2015
When asked by her family how she would like to celebrate her 80th birthday, Barbee Dick offered an answer that caught them all by surprise.

“I told them I wanted to go parachuting. They thought I was crazy and wondered why I’d want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane,” recalls Barbee. “All I could say is that it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I saw George H. Bush jump in Yuma and knew I could do it, too. You just hang there and someone takes care of you. All you have to do is keep your feet up and you’re ready to go.”

While that is true as far as it goes, other factors do need to be considered no matter how many years a potential parachutist has trod the planet. According to Gary Sanders, the owner of Skydive Montana who tandem jumped with Barbee last summer, clients must be in good physical shape—no heart conditions—and weigh under 220 pounds to fit into the parachute harness. Additionally, they have to be able to remain on bent knees for five minutes in the plane before crawling out onto the step and getting up from that position.

Barbee chose wisely when she selected Gary as her jump partner. With over 10,000 jumps to his credit, Gary is not only one of the most accomplished skydivers in the West but in the world. He has participated on national and world championship teams as well as in the opening skydiving ceremony for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.

“Korea was the best jump I ever made. It was the most watched jump ever,” states Gary, whose wife Tina handles Skydive Montana’s bookings along with the video portion of each flight. “About two billion people saw us form the color-coded Olympic rings mid-air. We drifted separately by color down to the ground and as we got closer, we could feel the heat of the Olympic torch.” (You can view the jump at:

Gary and Tina launched Skydive Montana in 1992 with a focus on tandem parachuting soon after new harness equipment made paired jumps possible. They immediately saw the appeal and potential of this reliable buddy system for a local as well as seasonal clientele.

“I thought it would be fun to take people on a first jump that included a 30-to-50 second free fall. We would descend at about 125 to 150 miles per hour but it would feel more like a 200-mph motorcycle ride. That would be followed by a canopy ride of 5 or 10 minutes,” says Gary, who accurately forecasted the popularity of the new sport. “Many of our clients want to do this as something on their bucket list.”

Skydive Montana takes up about 400 first-timers each year. So far, a 93-year-old man has been their oldest client. Of the two sexes, Gary and Tina have found more women than men will exit an airborne plane.

“Girls are more gutsy than guys. They’re more trusting and not afraid to say, ‘I’m scared to death.’ They won’t back out,” observes Gary. “Overcoming the fear of the unknown and making the jump is a big accomplishment for many people.”

Aside from sizing up whether someone is physically fit to make a jump, Gary also assesses weather and wind conditions for safety and rechecks the gear before boarding the plane. While some may worry that a parachute won’t deploy, Gary lacks no confidence in that department. The tandem parachute system he uses has both a main and a reserve parachute with a backup automatic opener that deploys the reserve shoot at a specified altitude if that should become necessary.

“You may have a hard landing but you’ll survive,” comments Gary, who was impressed by Barbee’s spunk and fearlessness about taking her jump after her daughters reluctantly agreed to grant her wish.
Fifteen members of Barbee’s family joined her that August morning at the Ronan airport. Despite being a tad anxious, they came to cheer her on and watch as she boarded the six-passenger yellow Cessna, which would soar 12,000 feet over the Mission Mountain’s peaks, lakes, and elk herds.

“I will never forget the feeling I had when Gary slid the door open and we had to step out on the wing strut. I was very excited but never felt afraid. He grabbed my hands, crossed my arms in front of me, and we fell backwards off the wing,” says Barbee, who describes the descent as a dreamlike float through space.

“We were so high up the people on the ground were no longer visible. My hearing aide was screaming as we fell, but once we popped the canopy, I could hear again. I liked it under canopy. You’re going slower so you can see all the farm fields below you,” remembers Barbee. “It was just gorgeous.”

Upon landing, Barbee was surrounded by her proud family who greeted her with a mixture of joy and relief. Her great-grandsons aged 2, 3, and 7 ran out to give her high-5’s. Then her teenaged granddaughter announced she wanted to jump, too. Right away.

“I loved it and couldn’t have planned it better, though I should have done it a lot sooner to make sure I was strong enough. It was a great adventure. And at 80 you don’t have many adventures,” remarks Barbee. When asked if she would do a repeat performance, Barbee answers with an unequivocal, “definitely!”

As Gary notes, “Most people will tell you the airplane ride alone was worth the money. The jump was the bonus.”
For more information, contact Skydive Montana at 406-251-4338 or Or, visit their web site at