Gliding into 90: La Jolla senior takes flight for her birthday

Wanda Parrent, 90, paraglides over friends and family for her birthday.
(Courtesy Foster Lindsay)

La Jolla resident Wanda Parrent soared into her 90s high above the Pacific Ocean, celebrating her birthday with her first paraglide from the Torrey Pines Gliderport on May 22 as 30 family members and friends cheered her on.

“I always wanted to do it,Parrent said.

Born May 24, 1931 and raised in Ocean Beach before moving to Pacific Beach and then La Jolla in 1960, Parrent said she would often eat sandwiches at the gliderport and watch the paragliders float above the cliffs.

Parrent said she decided to take her first flight for her 90th birthday, encouraged by one of her daughters, Jackie Kottke.

“She said that she’d like to go,” Kottke said. “I said, ‘Well, I think you should.’”

Happy that she did, Parrent said her flight, done as a tandem with a gliding instructor, was “the most magnificent thing I’ve ever done. It was really, really marvelous.”

Having lived by the ocean her whole life, Parrent said, “to see it from that point of view was so different. … What a lovely perspective.”

But the flight was nearly grounded due to rain.

“I really thought we were going to have to cancel,” Parrent said. “And all of a sudden [the sky] opened up and it was just beautiful. I could fly.”

Parrent said her flight took her south, nearly to the Scripps Pier, and then north to the golf course. “It’s just so wonderful to be up in the air and to be over the ocean.”

In the middle of the flight, the instructor flew Parrent close to the gliderport and her partygoers.

“I could see all of them standing there and waving and taking pictures,” she said. “They had a big sign up for me that said, ‘Happy 90th birthday.’ I could read that sign really clear.”

The instructor also let Parrent fly the glider at one point. “He said, ‘Just put your arms up there and take hold now. Pull a little to the left,’” she said, at which point “I went into like a little semi-circle. ... It was real fun.”

Thirty friends and family members, along with about 100 others at the gliderport, cheered for Parrent as she landed.
(Laura Lindsay)

Kottke said over 100 people who were at the gliderport that day for various activities joined in the applause as Parrent landed. “They started chanting, ‘Wanda, Wanda,’” she said, and helped sing “Happy Birthday.”

“It was a wonderful, familial environment there,” Kottke said.

Parrent is no stranger to large, familial events: she has three daughters, 12 grandchildren, 26 great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren, many of whom live locally and attended her flight.

The celebration also included other family members, some who traveled from as far away as Minnesota for the occasion.

Kottke said Parrent is the “centerpiece of the family. She truly is the one who has taught them what unconditional love is and has told them when everything falls apart, family is what holds everything together.”

Parrent also imparted to her family her penchant for “exciting things,” Kottke said, which Parrent cultivated on roller skates as a child.

Parrent and her husband, Foster Parrent, whom she married in December 1949 after dating for six months (and who passed away in 2009), would roller skate often, performing tricks involving speed and spins. Parrent said she would clasp either her legs or her hands around Foster’s neck and be whirled around the roller rink, her other limbs extended.

Paragliding was “the same exhilarating experience,” she said.

Her first flight behind her, the nonagenarian has her sights on her next adventure: she hopes to river raft with her grandson in Utah this summer.

But more immediately, Parrent said she wants to fly again.

“If you just want to have a welcoming and exciting experience,” she said, “paragliding has to be one of the most wonderful experiences for anyone to do.” ◆