June 24, 2013

Blind woman celebrates 50th birthday with sky dive

Leona McKenna of Augusta made her first jump Saturday and she says the experience was life-affirming.

By Betty Adams badams@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Leona McKenna chose to go sky diving Saturday to mark her 50th birthday, which is Monday, and bubbled over with enthusiasm about it.

click image to enlarge

Augusta resident Leona McKenna, who is blind, went skydiving on Saturday in Lebanon to celebrate her 50th birthday. McKenna made the tandem jump with instructor Tony Hays of Skydive New England.

Photo by Jeff Pouland

"It just makes you feel so alive," she said on Sunday. "I didn't know if I would reach 50, and I think I want to celebrate every year with a jump."

McKenna listened as a video replayed the experience she had Saturday at SkyDive New England in Lebanon.

Blind for more than 20 years as a result of the diabetes she's suffered from since age 8, McKenna always has been adventurous.

"If you have a fear, face it and go for it. Life is way too short. Live it," McKenna said, sitting at her kitchen table, her pet dog Patches clinging to her shoulder.

McKenna got her sky diving idea from friends Debbie and Bo Davis of Buxton, who are recreational jumpers. They went along with her Saturday as McKenna did a tandem jump with instructor Tony Hays.

"It was awesome," McKenna said. "I can't explain it except to say you don't even know you're falling out of a plane. It just feels like you're in space with a lot of wind rushing by until the canopy opens, and then there's silence."

McKenna got to free-fall twice because the main chute got tangled and wouldn't fully open, so the instructor had to use a reserve chute.

Tony Hays didn't tell her that until afterward. "The instructor tells you what he's going to do," she said, adding that he reinforces it by tapping her arm or her leg. "When we landed, he said, 'Put your legs up,' and 10 or 15 seconds later we hit the surface and slid a short distance, and then we stopped."

But she already had resolved to go despite her fear of heights and the unknown. "I'm going to face my fears and not let anything stand in my way," she said. After surviving two heart attacks and bypass surgery in 2009, she said, "I feel great."

Her husband, Russell Shea, however, was nervous about her feat. "He didn't want me to do it," she said. "He was so afraid I was going to get hurt."

Now on disability retirement after working for the state as a rehabilitation counselor, McKenna said she's building a business as an inspirational and motivational speaker and was looking for something exciting she could talk about.

McKenna has addressed a regional convention in Massachusetts and has done some motivational speaking at the University of Maine at Augusta's University College in Rockland. Her business card lists "Inspirations Thru My Eyes" and her email as Inspirations1000@gmail.com. Her future dives will have to be tandem as well, McKenna said. "Not only will I do it again, if I could see, I'd probably be a fun jumper." 

Betty Adams can be contacted at 621-5631 or at badams@centralmaine.com

 

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