I Went To Florida For A Free Trip And Ended Up Being Inspired By Daredevil Senior Citizens

Life & Culture Editor
12.04.15

It’s 5 p.m. on a sweltering November evening and I’m standing inside an airplane hangar, taking pictures of a fighter jet. It’s about to take off for a half hour of loops, barrel rolls, and high-speed banks that I wouldn’t participate in if someone paid me a million bucks. The man climbing into the plane has no such compunctions. He smiles broadly as he’s buckled in and gives the crowd around him a thumbs-up. It’s his first time in a fighter plane. He’s 89 years old.

Channing—or Chan, as he likes to be called by his friends—has dreamed of flying a fighter plane since he was a kid. It’s why he enlisted in the military, though his dreams of taking to the skies never materialized. At nearly 90, he thought he was too old to climb into the cockpit, but now he’s about to do exactly that. And, Chan tells me, shortly before take-off, he’s going upside down “no matter what anyone says.”

Because Chan is a rebel.

So is Kathryn, an 84-year-old who’s about to realize her dream of riding the speedway in Daytona Beach.

These rebels were brought here by two other rebels: Nik Wallenda, the famed daredevil who crossed the Grand Canyon on a tightrope without a net, and is here to inspire the octogenarians in fulfilling dreams they never thought possible; and Canon’s  EOS Rebel SLR, a camera that you might have heard of.

The Rebel is celebrating its 25th anniversary by rolling out the “Rebels With a Cause” initiative — connecting well-known artists, performers, and public figures with everyday people looking for the daredevils and creative geniuses inside themselves. And the experience (including the video above) is all caught on the Rebel SLR, which has more features than there are items on my bucket list.

That’s not just product placement hyperbole, by the way. When I was first handed one of the cameras to document Chan and Kathryn’s escapades, I didn’t think I could handle it. I’m very much an amateur…also, I’m legally blind. Fortunately, the entire thing is so easy to use that even I somehow managed to take some excellent photos. The only “trick” seems to be remembering to take the lens cap off (which I failed to do about 50 percent of the time).

If you’ve never been to Sarasota, Fla., you may have never experienced the intense star power that Nik Wallenda exudes over its citizens. One of the famous Flying Wallendas, Nik holds eight Guinness World Records and is the first and only person to walk across Niagara Falls on a tightrope (because this is a thing he wanted to do and not a punishment inflicted at gunpoint). His name is recognizable by anyone who follows the antics of daredevils, but in Sarasota he’s royalty. And when he walked into the Sarasota Friendship Center to meet one-on-one with the seniors he’d be helping, his appearance was met with gasps and whispers.

“Is that the Nik Wallenda?” a woman asked me. “What’s he doing here?”

What Nik was doing there was meeting with Chan and Kathryn as he prepared to be their guide on a journey of a lifetime. Chan was slated to go up the fighter plane that same day. Kathryn would suit up and get into a racecar the next morning — fulfilling a dream for both herself and her late husband, with whom she’d shared years of racing fandom.

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