83-year-old pursues daredevil wish list

Published 5:44 pm Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tryon Estates resident Bonnie Zelinski takes flight in a wind tunnel in Maggie Valley.

Bonnie Zelinski, 83, ensures each day is lively around Tryon Estates in Columbus.

“I’ve been a troublemaker all my life – I teaase everybody,” Zelinski said.

The 14-year-resident of the ACTS facility even pushed administrators for more after they brought a hot air balloon out to give rides to residents. Zelinski wasn’t impressed, because she wanted to fly.

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“I said that was too dull for me,” Zelinski said with a chuckle. “If it had floated away then I would have done it.”

When administrators asked what she’d rather do, she said, “I want to go skydiving.”

“I just think it would feel like flying,” Zelinski said. “And it’s not like they let you go by yourself – it’s safe.”

With her sights set on leaping out of a plane, Zelinski frequently pestered Tryon’s Residents Services Director Sara Staton to find her a company that would take her up.

Zelinski eventually settled for a wind tunnel experience in Maggie Valley.

Flanked by two tethers and girded in a wind suit and helmet, a force of air lifted the 83-year-old 40 feet, where she floated in the center of the chamber.

“It was just fabulous – you feel like you are in outerspace, you just float around,” Zelinski said.

She said next time she wants to try acrobatic flips like the guides typically do to show off. She’s also not giving up on her desire to go skydiving.

Zelinski believes she garnered her adventurous side from her father. While she said her mother was incredibly refined, her father drove racecars. She later discovered her own penchant for speed skiing in the Poconos while living in Pennsylvania.

“I was a daredevil. I would get in the slalom races and I loved mobiles,” she said. “I was the speed demon that would race ahead of everyone.”

There was no settling down for Zelinski, not even after marriage.

She met her late husband, Henry, in her 30s and for 40 years he humored her zest for an adventurous lifestyle.

“He would just let me alone to do whatever I wanted to do,” she said. “Nobody else could have put up with me but him.”

Zelinski said she now pals around with six other widows. None of them, she said, are quite as daring as her, though.

“They just laugh at me – I don’t think there is anyone as crazy as I am here,” Zelinski said.

The women take regular trips together. Different combinations of them have visited Europe, Hawaii, Bermuda, the Colorado River and Alaska.

“I think the people here are entirely different than from anywhere else – the people here are from all over the United States and they’ve done so many things. It makes it interesting,” Zelinksi said. “So many people get the wrong impression of life in a retirement facility. I think they just figure they are done for, but there is so much more life to live.”

Zelinski spends her non-airborne days volunteering at Steps to Hope or driving friends to doctor’s appointments. She regularly line dances and beats her fellow residents at Wii bowling. Be careful – this daredevil is also incredibly competitive.