Heather Leslie was never a selfish person, but last fall the 80 year old finally did something for herself.
The Oliver woman jumped out of a plane at 10,000 feet.
Regardless of what her neighbours thought, Leslie wasn’t crazy. She just wanted to do something different in life before it was all over.
In fact, she beat cancer three times and proved that it’s never too late to be daring.
The spry woman, well known for establishing Heather’s Kitchen in Rock Creek and later in Oliver, lived an unadventurous life. But you could argue that raising six children was adventurous enough.
“My life has not been exciting,” she stated, relaxing in her home in Deer Park Estates.
Born and raised in Vancouver, Leslie was your typical “tomboy.” But in her teen years she had a desire to be a concert pianist, and played in the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra at the age of 17. However, a year later she contracted polio, which ended her musical aspirations.
(For her, playing in the symphony at that age was “absolutely terrifying” compared to jumping out of a plane from nearly two miles above ground.)
Leslie’s first job in Vancouver was at the Royal Bank in 1954, when tellers were not allowed to use adding machines; everything was printed out by hand.
“If you were short one dollar, it came off your paycheque,” she recalled.
In those days, families could easily survive on one salary. Leslie had her first child in 1957 and her last one in 1966.
While pregnant with her sixth, her doctor said either the child would die because of her cancer (uterine and lymphoma), or she would not survive to bring the baby to term.
“I said I’m not leaving five kids behind.” And she didn’t, proving her doctor wrong on both counts.
Four years later she began working at Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver as an usher and payroll clerk five nights a week. She did that for 12 years.
During one point in her life, Leslie worked in Hawaiimaking costumes for a modeling agency. She had plans to take hang-gliding lessons, but never got around to it. Leslie moved to Rock Creek in 1983, and a year later established Heather’s Kitchen, which was renowned for its jams and jellies. She worked 16 hours a day, with those lovely jams and jellies paying the mortgage.
Leslie admitted she’s a terrible sales person, but luckily her jams sold themselves.
Now retired with lots of grandchildren, Leslie is frank by saying she could die tomorrow and be happy because she finally, and literally, took the plunge.
She had mentioned skydiving one day, but the response was less than supportive.
“I talked to my girlfriends and their husbands said I was a blithering idiot and should be committed.”
Little did she know that her hubby Norm was secretly coordinating the whole event through Okanagan Skydive out of Vernon. And he didn’t tell her until 10 days before the big jump.
“All the neighbours thought I was absolutely nuts,”
The big day came on November 18, which boasted beautiful blue skies and scattered clouds.
After a 30-minute tutorial, she was all set to tandem jump with dropzone owner Bret Chalmers. A total of six people participated in getting Leslie ready for the jump. “I was like a little kid being dressed for school,” she laughed.
It took only 10 minutes to climb to 10,000 feet. She felt no fear, and bravery had nothing to do with it.
“I was finally doing something for me.”
They left the plane and entered a different world, proceeding to free-fall for 5,000 feet before activating the guide chute that slowed their descent.
For Leslie, Kalamalka Lake was a sight to behold, a colossal emerald that beckoned with its beauty. Being above the clouds in total control gave Leslie such an ecstatic feeling.
“I’ve never been so close to clouds (before). They were like wisps of an angel’s wings.”
There was so much euphoria that if something bad happened, she wouldn’t have cared. Meanwhile, Norm was pacing the fence line anxious to see his wife.
Leslie said the landing was so subtle that she could not have sat down any softer in a chair.
“I would do it again in a minute, but I don’t know if Norm could take it,” she joked.
When she got home that night, a bubble bath was the perfect end to all of that excitement. By then Norm had called 14 family members to deliver the news (no one knew about the jump until that evening).
Now her oldest daughter is planning to dive out of a plane.
Only the sky is the limit.
By Lyonel Doherty