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Monday, November 30, 2009

The Stringers Celebrate 30 Years

Couple jump to celebrate 30 years

By Jessica Goodman
Times-News Staff Writer

Published: Monday, November 30, 2009 at 4:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, November 29, 2009 at 9:04 p.m.

MILLS RIVER -- On July 22, 1979, Kathy Stringer's future husband, Larry, gave her a first date to remember. He took her skydiving, and her first jump was a static line jump.

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Larry and Kathy Stringer jump from a hot air balloon for their 30th wedding anniversary on Nov. 9 at Skydive Carolina! in Chester, S.C.
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"We had been good friends for about three and a half years," Kathy said. "But that took our relationship to the next level."

They married three months later on Oct. 21.

This year, to celebrate 30 years, the Mills River couple took to the air again on Saturday, Nov. 9, this time jumping together from a hot air balloon over Chester, S.C.

"You climb up on the edge of the balloon, holding onto the frame,"explained Kathy, 52. "We held hands and said, 'Ready, set' and then went together."

"My wife and I are crazy about each other still, after 30 years," said Larry, 54.

Their first jump was from a small jump spot out of Liberty. Larry continued to jump until seven months after the couple wed. He started jumping with his identical twin brother in Oct. 1978. The first skydiver he met was the man who trained him.

"It's just something I always wanted to do," Larry explained.

He was severely injured in a plane crash that killed the pilot and another skydiver. Larry tore his thoracic aorta, had a compound tibia/fibula fracture and a torn coeliac artery.

"I really came about as close to death as you can come," Larry said. "I guess I would say it kept me away from skydiving for 25 years."

The couple also had three children, Mischa, now 25, Ashley Willingham, 22, and Tyler, 20.

"We took a break to raise our children," Kathy said.

"It appeared it wasn't in the cards for me to continue," Larry added.

It wasn't until Ashley turned 18 that the Stringers attempted skydiving again. In 2005, Ashley, then a senior at West Henderson High, decided to try extreme sports as part of her senior project. She made a presentation to her teacher on how extreme sports were beneficial. She tried mountain boarding, skydiving and snowboarding in her adventures.

In April 2005, for the skydiving trip, she went tandem skydiving and her older sister and her parents joined in.

"We all got in the same plane together and did it as a family jump," explained Larry.

"Larry said, 'Well, I think I want to try it again.' Our other daughter said she wanted to go, too," Kathy said.

Their son was too young at the time, but when he turned 16, he decided to join the family. Since then, Larry has become recertified and has made more than 700 jumps. Kathy took accelerated free fall training to become certified, and she's completed more than 400 jumps. She joined a four-way competition team and Larry takes video.

"It's no different than getting in a car going 70 mph and then putting on your brakes," Larry said of jumping.

They jump out of Skydive Carolina! in Chester.

Kathy's favorite part is the free fall. When jumping from an airplane at just under 14,000 feet, free fall is about one minute. When jumping from a hot air balloon at around 5,600 feet, free fall is about 20 seconds. When jumping from the balloon, the couple did a front flip by accident, explained Kathy.

The couple had pictures and video taken of the jump by Eric Bobenhausen. Kathy explained he held on to the edge of the basket and actually let go while on his back to capture the picture.

"I love the airplane. The balloon was awesome to do, but with the plane, you can do so much," Kathy said.

"That's what I love is the free fall," she added.

"We just have a lot of fun with it," Larry added.

The couple own their own business, Cornerstone Financial Strategies.

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