We’re partnering with iFly, indoor skydiving, so our residents can learn to fly.
Of all the people who include “skydiving” on their bucket list, how many actually do it? Not many. Well, today that changes. Spectrum Retirement’s Senior Living residents soar with iFly!
Nearly a dozen bold residents at Lake Travis Independent Living, The Enclave at Cedar Park Senior Living, and the Enclave at Round Rock Senior Living experienced what it feels like to fly through the sky, leaving inhibitions and doubts behind. They signed up, suited up, and took the plunge at iFly, an indoor skydiving experience in nearby Austin, Texas.
“This program with iFly and Spectrum Retirement Communities is a direct embodiment of our leisure lifestyle belief to ‘age fearlessly, live colorfully,’” says The Enclave at Round Rock Senior Living’s sales director Molly Davis Nedley. “Our residents encountered an adventurous yet somatic experience, free from inhibitions, and made for all ages and physical abilities.”
Forging a Partnership
iFly has locations worldwide, and Spectrum Retirement has partnerships with the company in three states: Colorado, Arizona, and Texas. Residents from 16 communities in those states have gone flying! When the home office presented the idea to Davis Nedley and The Enclave at Round Rock Senior Living executive director Shawn McNulty, they leapt at the chance to have their Senior Living residents soar with iFly.
“At The Enclave at Round Rock Senior Living, we have several veterans who have jumped out of airplanes,” says Davis Nedley. “We knew they’d be inspired and would want to re-experience the ‘freefall’ — those 60 adrenaline-packed seconds between the time you jump out of the plane and pull the parachute. That’s what iFly simulates, but with a highly trained instructor as your wingman.”
What is iFly?
iFly explains its flights as capturing the feeling of skydiving without actually falling several thousand feet. Instead of jumping out of an airplane, you enter a large wind column. Once you lean into the wind tunnel through an open doorway, an instructor guides you into proper position. Next thing you know, you’re floating on air.
“The sensation inside the tunnel is amazing and incredibly freeing for the whole body,” says Davis Nedley. That feeling is especially pronounced for mobility-impaired residents. People who use a walker or a wheelchair can leave it completely behind: they are free, weightless, and unencumbered. “It is important not to impose lifestyle boundaries, as age and care needs should not define leisure lifestyle,” says Davis Nedley.
Flying around an iFly wind tunnel is safe for virtually all ages and physical abilities. The company’s website says it welcomes flyers from ages three to 103. The only exceptions include:
- People over 300 pounds.
- Pregnant women.
- People with recent back, neck and heart problems should check with their doctor.
- People with prior shoulder dislocations. Flyers have to be able to hold their shoulders in a football goal-like pose.
Prepping for Flight
Before Spectrum’s visit, representatives from iFly visited each community to explain the experience and answer questions. They presented a slide show and played a video clip of a senior flyer. They also brought a flight suit so residents could see what they would wear.
The info session got residents curious and excited. “It was so much fun to watch residents talk themselves into it,” says McNulty. “We heard them ask, ‘Am I the oldest person to fly?’ Another resident said, ‘My husband was in the war. I always wanted to experience what he described.’”
Left to right: Excited residents wait to gear up for their flights; resident Barbaa Rader’s grandson who joined her on this adventure; Molly Davis Nedley accompanies an excited flyer. Bottom: Barbara Rader, an 85-year-old resident at The Enclave at Round Rock Senior Living, put aside her walker and enjoyed flying.
On flight morning, residents and community managers piled into a shuttle for the drive to iFly’s Austin location. Once they arrived, iFly’s vice president of distribution and partnerships, Brendan Nugent, met the group with snacks and water. After checking in, a trained instructor gave the group an in-depth orientation. Staff also helped flyers get suited up.
All flyers are required to get fitted for and wear a special flight suit, helmet, and goggles. Hearing aids come out; earplugs go in.
Next, they moved to a waiting area near the tunnel. They watched in awe as an instructor spiraled through the air, doing flips, and other tricks. (iFly has inspired an entirely new sport.)
And They’re in the Air!
After the demonstration, it was time for Spectrum Senior Living residents soar with iFly. Barbara Rader, an 85-year-old resident at The Enclave at Round Rock Senior Living, approached the entrance with her walker. For the first time in years, she let go of the device and leaned (as instructed) into the entryway. She didn’t fall; she soared.
“Oh my goodness, that was an experience,” she said afterward, triumphant. “Thank the Lord my grandson helped me get in that jumpsuit — that was amazing!
“It was both thrilling and breathtaking,” she continued. “I really enjoyed it. My grandson Matthew and I wanted to do this together. That was special because he’s a huge part of my life. He was so sweet and wanted me to be careful. He was surprised when I told him I was going to do it. When I could prove to him I could be adventurous, that was a special moment. My husband never let me do things like that. I’m sure he was rolling in his grave!”
During the sessions, residents cheered each other on. When they stepped out of the wind tunnel, residents cheered again. When they all returned to their communities — heads held high, a swagger in their step —, McNulty said it was like watching Tom Cruise in “Top Gun.”
“Everyone was waiting for us when we got back,” she says. “They were so excited to hear about it. People who were scared before are ready to sign up now.”
McNulty says The Enclave at Round Rock Senior Living definitely plans to host another iFly excursion soon. Not only do residents get to “age fearlessly” in a big way, they accomplish something unique and push through preconceived boundaries, which builds confidence. After indoor skydiving, what next?
“We’re a relatively new community, and this was such a profound bonding experience for everyone,” says McNulty. “The experience solidified relationships and motivated residents to encourage each other in anything they’re doing, in-flight or on foot.”