Hands up to block the sun, around 20 people gathered in a field in Whitefish, staring upward as 80-year-old Dr. Robert “Bob” and Deanna Freiberg floated toward the earth suspended by bright pink and purple parachutes.
“We did it!” Deanna said, clapping her hands after a smooth landing. “Our 50th anniversary!”
Known in their family as the wild ones, the Freibergs have taken on adventure after adventure since they married 50 years ago in Kalispell.
From camel riding and pyramid exploration in Egypt to swimming with dolphins and giant stingrays in the Bahamas, the couple said they’d take just about anything on that looks fun and adventurous.
According to Deanna, skydiving has been on their bucket list for years, and the perfect opportunity came with a discount on tickets through a radio raffle just in time for their big anniversary.
Their sons, grandchildren, nieces and nephews all turned out for the jump, which Bob said he and his wife had scheduled for the day after their official anniversary, just in case.
Though a few members of their family expressed concern over the endeavor, none of them were surprised.
“Our family is very adventurous, and we don’t have a lot of fear in us,” said the Freibergs’ granddaughter, Nikki Freiberg. “I think they would do something like this, and they’re going to continue to do crazy things until the day they go.”
Nikki, a captain in the Marine Corps currently stationed in Okinawa, Japan, flew home for the first time in over a year just for the occasion.
She said she too adopted her family’s fearless spirit and, at 29 years old, is now a military police officer responsible for the security of her entire base.
According to Bob and Deanna, it was Nikki who inspired them to make the leap in the first place, drawing from her own skydiving experience to encourage them to go for it.
The couple’s two younger sons, Sean and Jameson, decided to join them, though Jameson expressed much more anxiety than either of his parents over the endeavor.
“They’re gung-ho. They’re die-hards,” Jameson said. “They’ve always wanted to do this. They talked me into doing this.”
After viewing a safety video at the Skydive Whitefish headquarters and suiting up in harnesses, Bob and Deanna locked hands as they crossed the field to board the plane that would take them 10,000 feet up.
They smiled and waved, shooting the family a thumbs-up before take-off.
Half an hour passed as they climbed higher and higher until finally, Deanna’s bright purple parachute unfurled high above, followed seconds later by the bright pink parachute carrying Bob.
The watching family members burst into cheers as Deanna slid in for a smooth landing. Bob followed soon after for another graceful landing and a fresh round of applause.
The winded couple got to their feet, regained their balance and shot each other a thumbs-up from across the field, their parachutes settling behind them. Both were beaming.
“It was fantastic!” Bob shouted. “I wasn’t scared at all, it was just so relaxing. The exhilaration of just freefalling, man, that was unreal!”
“It’s awesome! Totally awesome!” Deanna echoed, walking up to meet her husband and family.
Moments after landing, Bob clasped Jameson on the shoulder and told him, “You’re going to love it.”
“Their enthusiasm makes me more confident,” Jameson said, smiling at his parents.
“Grandma, you inspire me! You motivate me,” Nikki said, embracing Deanna.
Bob said he initially agreed to skydive with his wife thinking of it as a way to overcome his fear of heights. He never expected to enjoy the experience so much, he said.
“It’s like leaving your security blanket when you go out of the plane,” he said. “It takes a little bit of a leap of faith to leave the plane behind and roll out.”
Deanna, who had no reservations about the jump, said that was her favorite part.
“I told him when I’m ready,” she said, showing her thumbs-up “ready” signal, “and he just shoves you out!”
“I would jump on right now and do it again,” she added.
Since their wedding 50 years ago, Bob and Deanna have made the trip back to the Flathead every summer.
A renowned physicist across the globe, Bob’s work with lasers earned him 36 patents in fields from surgery to high-powered lasers capable of shooting satellites out of space.
The two met at age 29 when Bob took a job at the Hughes Research Lab in Malibu, California, where Deanna worked as an administrative assistant in the personnel department, responsible for checking in new employees.
“He said while I was checking him in, he was checking me out,” Deanna said with a wink.
Not long after, the couple went horseback riding on their first date and have been adventuring together ever since.
“Normally, engineers and scientists, they’re kind of conservative and don’t really take risks,” Bob said as his wife drew a square in the air with her finger behind him. “I guess I kind of broke the mold.”
Three sons, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren later, and the couple is still at it, taking on each new experience they come across with no plans to stop anytime soon.
As Deanna put it, they plan to go “sliding into heaven.”
Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.