Diving into 80

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One thing most people agree on is that for your birthday, you should have a little fun.

And for 80-year-old Rudi Krenz, that idea of fun is making eight solo “hop and pop” skydiving jumps from 5,000 feet — one jump for each decade of his life.

Ungelbah Daniel-Davila-News-Bulletin photo: Rudi Krenz made his first skydive in 1964 and plans on celebrating his 80th birthday Saturday by skydiving eight times at Sky Dive New Mexico in Belen.

Krenz, an Albuquerque resident, plans to celebrate his 80th birthday, which was Dec. 20, by spending Saturday at Sky Dive New Mexico in Belen with friends, family and a crew of about 10 people who will all be working to make this birthday wish come true.

But Krenz is no greenhorn when it comes to diving out of air crafts. He has sky dived in Germany, France, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Austria, Australia and in the United States.

The octogenarian and new member of the United States Parachute Association’s Jumpers Over 80 made his first jump in 1964 and has logged more than 3,500 jumps and 24 hours of free-fall time since then.

Krenz, who is now a skydiving instructor, will tell you that “gravity is totally unforgiving,” and that it’s “the law.”

Gravity doesn’t care about age, gender or good intentions. It just cares about doing it’s job — pulling things to Earth — and under its power, a jump usually consists of only 10-15 seconds of free fall and a three minute parachute ride.

In that brief moment of time, everything learned in training is of immense importance, says Krenz, whose wife, Ingrid, and daughter, Rita, are both skydiving aficionados.

“It’s air cooled and gravity powered,” Krenz says. “And it’s totally unforgiving, but it’s unbelievably rewarding.”

Rita says she has watched how her father’s skydiving training influenced his life and career in manufacturing engineering with General Electric in that it taught him to make quick, decisive decisions.

Rita, who made her first jump at age 12, says she sees that same training play into her own life as a paramedic, where decisiveness is the difference between life and death, just as it is during skydiving.

Submitted photo: In this photo, published on the cover of Science News in 1987, Rudi Krenz, left, skydives with friends. Today, Krenz has logged more than 3,500 jumps and is an instructor at Sky Dive New Mexico in Belen.

Like father like daughter, Rita says she loves skydiving and lights up when talking about it or looking through an old family album, full of old snapshots of a family whose life has been partially spent suspended in air.

In the album are a few faded photos of a younger Krenz, leaping off a diving board into a pale blue pool. That might be where he got the flying bug, he muses, and wanting to take the sensation of flying even further by jumping off an air craft rather than a diving board.

That sensation, he says, of soaring through the sky, is indescribable.

“What is it like? You get scared, you get scared, you get more scared, and then you climb up in the air craft,” he said. “The experience of free fall, of flight, the first time is just all fear. The real, indescribable fun you get on your first few jumps is just to be back on the ground and make a good landing, and you’ve done it — against all your fears.

“You get a smile that’s totally different from your smile right now, and we say, well it’ll take you two weeks to wipe off that smile,” he said. “But then you can hardly wait to do it again.”

But, Krenz says, for someone such as himself, who has spent a lifetime skydiving, the fear eventually goes way and the skydiver is able to open up to an even richer and more rewarding experience.

Rather than the landing being the entire reward, making the short time in the sky count becomes important.

“Normally, what I do nowadays, I think about the flight itself — where am I at, ‘oh I wish I would have been there for opening,’ so I fly myself to that opening point,” he said. “And then, depending on the time and altitude you’ve got, what can I do with this time.

“Make a belly roll, make a back loop, make a front loop, or fly with another person and you fly together, you touch and then you let go and you do a different maneuver, touch again. And that’s what we call making points.”

Finding new challenges also becomes of interest, and Krenz said one of his favorite jumps was a midnight jump into Elephant Butte on a pitch black night with nothing to guide him in but a blinking light on his boat.

You learn to skydive for the experience, he tells, but you become an instructor to share that experience.

“Instructing is a huge responsibility. But it’s also an unbelievable satisfaction, too,” he said. “You kind of see your own jump, your own fears and your own accomplishments one more time in some people that come along.”

Krenz approached Sky Dive New Mexico, a not-for-profit club that provides and teaches skydiving out of Belen Municipal Alexander Airport, to ask if they’d support him in celebrating his birthday, said Emily Cano, a member of the Sky Dive New Mexico’s board of directors.

“Of course (we agreed),” said Cano. “Rudi is such a huge, important person. He is one of our key instructors, and he is there every weekend first thing in the morning and he’ll stay there all day. He’s been one of my mentors for sure.”

The only variable that might see this landmark birthday event postponed is the weather, and Krenz said if conditions aren’t favorable Saturday, he’s willing to wait.

“Rudi likes a particular amount of wind to jump in, so we’re really hoping the weather plays with us,” said Cano, who will be part of the crew on Saturday to make sure everything runs safe and smoothly.


-- Email the author at udavila@news-bulletin.com.