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Woman marks 89th birthday with skydive

By Liz Braun, Toronto Sun

Fearless: That’s the word everyone uses to describe Maire Hollo.

Hollo went skydiving Thursday, an adventure that was a birthday gift. Not so unusual, you might think, except that the birthday in question is Hollo’s 89th.

Hollo was given a choice by her adult daughter, Susan Hollo, of what she might like for her birthday: a day at the spa or the chance to don a parachute and jump out of a plane. Her choice was immediate.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long, long time,” said Hollo, a diminutive senior whose energy belies her age. “I used to drive past this place on my way to the cottage, every summer for 50 years.”

(‘This place’ is the Parachute School of Toronto, an hour’s drive north of the city at 5714 Smith Blvd. in the town of Baldwin.)

Jumping out of a plane is just one more item to cross off her bucket list, said Hollo, who worked up to Thursday’s thrill by first doing the EdgeWalk at the CN Tower and then experiencing indoor skydiving in Oakville.

“I don’t take stupid risks.”

Hollo’s skydiving was witnessed by her daughter Susan, two of her grandchildren and four of her six great-grandchildren.

“I have no fear of heights, no fear of anything, really,” said Hollo.

“If you fear, you have only half a life.”

Hollo lives by that credo. Born in Finland and eighth in a family of 10 kids, she has clear memories of the Russian invasion of her country in 1939, not long after the Second World War began. Three of her older brothers fought later on the Russian front, but all came home safely.

Hollo says she was a tomboy as a child.

“I was always very strong and stubborn. I used to climb trees and I didn’t like to help my mother in the house — I preferred to help my father in his workshop. That was more fun.

“I never liked people telling me what to do.”

Hollo came to Canada in 1953 with her husband, who had work here. His construction company kept him on the move, so Hollo stayed home to raise their three children and run the household in their North Toronto neighbourhood.

“I had a sports car, a convertible,” said Hollo, “I drove my kids and some of the neighbourhood kids to school in it every day. Some days I had seven kids in there.”

On Thursday afternoon, when it was time for her plane to go up, Hollo said, laughing, “everything has to be my way,” but conceded that she would listen to Kyle Wilkes-Anvelt, her skydiving guide.

“The instructor is the only one who can tell me what to do.”

Hollo completed a perfect jump.

“I did it! I’m so happy,” she said, upon landing back on solid ground.

“It was so quiet up there you wouldn’t believe it. You wouldn’t believe how beautiful! It was wonderful.”

She added, “maybe I’ll do it again.”

According to her daughter Susan, Hollow has always been stubborn and fearless, but never reckless. Although she lives in a senior residence now, “she surrounds herself with young people,” said Susan.

“She’s a real role model, very liberal-minded.”

Champagne was on the menu Thursday night to help celebrate Hollo’s successful adventure.

The geriatric jumper will be 90 next year — how will she top this year’s birthday?

That brings us to the next thing on her bucket list. According to Hollo, her wishes for her 90th birthday are fairly simple.

“I’d like a happy year with my family,” said the feisty senior.

“And I’d like Pitbull to sing me Happy Birthday.”