MARLO THOMAS

Her Daughter's Skydiving Dream Took A Mother's Love To New Heights

11/09/2012 01:25 pm ET | Updated Nov 13, 2012

One of the reasons I started my website is that I wanted a place for women to come together and dream. We women need to know that we don't have to hang on to an old dream that has stopped nurturing us -- that there is always time to start a new dream. This week's story is about one woman who overcame her fear of flying by jumping out of a plane 13,000 feet above the earth -- all out of love for her daughter. -– Marlo, MarloThomas.com

By Lori Weiss

Every night, as Cathy Waggoner tucked her three children into bed, she’d give them a kiss and remind them that she “loved them much bigger than the sky." It became something the entire family would repeat each time they said good-night for the evening or good-bye for a long period of time. But Cathy never actually expected to say it in the sky -- until she did -- on her daughter Dawn Eden’s 40th birthday. That was the day that Cathy, at the age of 63 and despite her fear of flying, agreed to help her daughter check the first thing off her newly created bucket list -- skydiving.

“Now that’s unconditional love,” Dawn laughed.

“I don’t fly,” Cathy explained. “Dawn’s father had several planes while they were growing up. They’d fly to Chicago for lunch and I’d just sit at the airport and read. And I was just fine. I decided I didn’t like flying the first time I went up in a small plane. My father-in-law was flying and it was a four-seater. I looked around and noticed there were no parachutes. And he said ‘That’s because we don’t fly high enough for them to make a difference'. And that was enough for me!

“But I know Dawn. She would have done it alone and her anxiety level would have been a whole lot higher. So when your daughter asks, please mom, what do you do?”

So while many Moms, especially the ones who don’t even like the idea of getting on a commercial jet, might have tried to talk their daughters out of it or agreed to meet them when they were back on safe ground, Cathy signed on the dotted line and agreed to suit up.

“They take you through about a half an hour of training,” Dawn said. “Half an hour! But it was a tandem jump, where you’re attached to an instructor, and my guy told me his first jump was the year I was born, so we thought they must know what they’re doing.

“We had to sign a lot of paperwork and Mom was reading it out loud as she was signing. I was laughing so hard I don’t think I read a word. We got a picture as she said, ‘I can’t believe I agree there’s a chance of death’ and I reminded her that it’s just a chance, kind of like a chance of rain, it doesn’t always happen.”

So the brave mother-daughter team took to the sky, with notes from Cathy’s grandchildren tucked away in their pockets – most of them wishing the pair well, but one from 5-year-old Ily, that innocently said, “I’ll miss you”.

“I just kept looking at Dawn while the plane was taking off,” Cathy said and asking, “Why exactly are we doing this?”

They weren’t just doing it, they were doing it -- as Dawn said -- with the “big girl package." They could have gone up 10,000 feet, jumped out and immediately opened their parachutes -- which clearly, would have been enough for Cathy, who didn’t even like the idea of getting on the plane. But instead, they took their adventure to new heights. They paid extra for the plane to escalate to 13,000 feet, so they could spend the first minute free falling through the sky.

“As the plane went higher and higher,” Dawn recalled, “Mom just kept repeating the same bible verse over and over.”

Article continues below slideshow.

It Ain't Over: Cathy Waggoner And Dawn Edens

“I was more afraid of being on that plane than jumping out of it,” Cathy remembered.

“I have to admit, when they opened the door,” Dawn said, “my heart skipped a beat. The ground looked like a miniature play set. I thought at that moment, this is a little more intense than I thought it would be. That’s when I said a little prayer for Mom.”

“And she let me go first,” Cathy said with a smile. I didn’t want to steal Dawn’s thunder, but I really wanted to get out of that plane.”

So the two women crawled up to the door and Dawn watched, as the mother who clearly “loved her bigger than the sky” jumped right into it.

“I was trying to lean out of the plane,” Dawn said, “to make sure she was okay, without falling out myself. I was filled with so much joy for her. Tears came to my eyes. I knew her fear and I knew what she must have been feeling because even I was having a little bit of doubt. But I was so proud of her. And as she jumped, I thought I want to be that kind of mom -- the kind of mom who supports her kids, despite her own fears.”

And then, one minute later, Dawn was right behind her -- diving head first at 120 miles per hour.

“I felt like Superwoman,” Dawn laughed “without the perfectly styled hair. But for that first minute, I was just really trying to breathe. And I was thinking, 'It can’t be good that I’m not breathing'. And then I just wanted to hear Mom’s parachute open."

And that's exactly what happened -- at exactly the right time. But as Dawn looked down, Cathy was twirling.

“I kept thinking, Something is wrong," Dawn said. “Why is she twirling like that? But as it turned out, they were just having fun. The instructor was showing her different ways to move the ropes, so she could twirl through the sky.”

“It was kind of like being on a roller coaster,” Cathy explained, “only in the sky. And we were flying through clouds. How many people can say they’ve flown through a cloud?”

As the pair landed safely on the ground, Dawn had only one question for her mother: “She looked at me,” Cathy recalled with disbelief, “and asked if I wanted to go up again! I said, ‘No, I’m good. I love you, but really I’m good.’”

So, for now, Dawn will continue with the bucket list she began at 40, on her own. Her only regret is not having started the list earlier in her life.

“I want to set an example for my kids. I want them to enjoy life -- to know that they don’t have to wait until they’re 40. I want them to know they can start now.”

Next up, she’ll run the Goofy Challenge at Disney World in January -- a half marathon the first day and a full marathon on the second. As Dawn put it, “That’s why they call it goofy".

“I asked my mother to do it with me,” Dawn said with a grin, “but her knees won’t let her. And really, I don’t think I can ask anything else of her right now.

“But I love that she did this with me. I love her bigger than the sky -- the sky we flew in together.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated the altitude of the jump as 13,000 miles, rather than feet.

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