Clayton Strider wanted to reach new heights for his 100th birthday, so he figured 12,000 feet in the air, followed by a fall at the rate of 120 miles an hour was the perfect way to celebrate.
Every year since he turned 97, Strider has celebrated his birthday by going skydiving with the Start Skydiving company in Middletown. This year, to mark birthday 100, Striver went on a tandem jump with experienced skydiver Dan Aukstikalnis.
Strider was first inspired to try skydiving after seeing President George H.W. Bush take a jump a few years ago. The former president was “only” in his 80s at the time, but Strider didn’t think a few extra years should stop him.
“It’s quite an experience,” Strider said. “You’re falling at 120 miles an hour heading down and then the diver pulls the rip cord and its a violent stop. There’s nothing else quite like it.”
Strider said he was a little hesitant about the jump on his first trip but by his fourth trip this year, he was gung-ho about the adventure.
“You just sit there with your legs hanging out in the slip stream and suddenly your tandem jumper shoves you out,” Strider said. “It doesn’t take long for the speed to build up from there.”
Being an experienced skydiver by this point, Strider was able to take a few extra risks, including touching hands with photographer Melanie Johnson and even steering the parachute for a while.
“Because there’s two of you, you can’t land on your feet,” Strider said. “We sort of skidded into a landing.”
To celebrate his 100th birthday, Strider was joined by his grandson Dave and stepsons Jim and Rick.
Strider’s wife, Helen, went up in the plane with her family, but opted out of jumping.
“I’m fine with the thrill of just watching him jump,” Helen said.
Start Skydiving owner John Hart said Strider is not the only senior citizen to embark on a skydive at the facility, but he was the first centenarian to do so.
“We have a policy that if you’re over 80, you don’t have to pay,” Hart said. “If you want to go up there, we want to make that dream happen.”
Strider was “awesome” in his passion for skydiving, Hart said.
“He never thinks twice about it,” Hart said. “He’s just raring to go.”
Strider was born in Clinton County, Ohio. He served four years in the Navy, serving in the South Pacific during World War II as an Executive Officer. Following the war, Strider became a school teacher, teaching until 1951 when he became an instructor in organizational and manufacturing education for General Electric Co., in Evendale. He was married for 62 years to Rutheva Price and had two sons, Stephen and James. Following Rutheva’s death in 2001, he married Helen in 2006. The Strivers now live in the Otterbein Senior Living Center in Turtlecreek Twp.
Strider said he’s been asked numerous times what the secret to a long life is, but he doesn’t have an answer.
“I’ve always tried to stay active,” Strider said. “I used to jog every morning before work. I still get out and walk everyday.”
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