Standing at the edge of an open plane door at 10,000 feet, ready to jump, Jeremy Bloom (A&S ex’06) could see everything clearly.
The Flatirons. Boulder, the town where he became a national sports figure. And the wide-open eyes of 72-year-old Lucy Gallegos, who hovered a few feet away, a parachute strapped to her back.
It’s one thing for a marquee athlete to fling himself out of a plane — it’s quite another to do it with a grandmother of six. Yet there was Bloom, the former CU football star, NFL player and Olympic freestyle skier, caught up in a typically electric moment.
“Any fear I might have had faded when I saw her,’’ Bloom says. “She said, ‘I’m ready, I’m ready.’ I mean, this was her dream.’’
For years Bloom has been turning his own dreams into reality, juggling football games with World Cup races and business interests. Today he’s doing the same for low-income seniors through his Wish of a Lifetime Foundation, which he started in 2008 to honor his 84-year-old grandmother, Donna Wheeler, who still works and volunteers 20 hours a week.
Bloom put up $25,000 of his own money and initiated the paperwork during his final season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but his passion for the project had been years in the making.
“I started thinking about it when I was 15,” says Bloom who works as a broadcaster for ESPN covering college football and skiing/winter sports events. “We spent a lot of time in Asia for the World Cup, and I was impressed by the way they treated seniors in that culture — the respect, the sense of honor for them.”
“I knew one day if I was ever privileged enough to be able to start my own foundation, I’d want to do something for seniors,” he says. “My grandmother has been a huge inspiration all my life. I mean, she took me to and picked me up from karate for 12 years. She lived with us. My grandfather lived in the mountains and would drive down and pick us up to take us skiing every weekend. My grandparents were always in my life.’’
As soon as Bloom unveiled his unusual organization, requests started coming in, ranging from the prosaic to the extreme.
“We’ve had a lot of requests from out of state that we had to turn down,” says Char Bloom, Jeremy’s mother and the foundation’s coordinator. “The goal is to go national eventually.’’
A cancer patient requested a reclining chair to help her sleep, which the foundation purchased and delivered to her. Two Russian immigrants who’d lost everything during the collapse of the Soviet Union dreamed of going on a fishing trip. Wish of a Lifetime arranged for them to spend a day on a private lake in the Rockies.
Driving a souped-up car at Bandimere Speedway was the lifetime wish of a Denver-area resident, which he did last August.
But Gallegos’ request to sky dive upped the ante a bit.
“We almost fell out of our chairs,’’ Bloom says.
Gallegos has spent her life imagining jumping from a plane.
“I’ve wanted to sky dive since I was 8 after I saw it in a movie,” Gallegos says. “I want to inspire other seniors to get off the couch and do something. We’re still alive.’’
Bloom understood Gallegos’ drive.
As a world-class freestyle skier, he won 11 World Cup events, two overall World Cup titles, finished ninth in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and sixth in the 2006 Turin Olympics. As a punt returner and wide receiver at CU, Bloom scored five touchdowns of at least 75 yards, including two the first two times he touched the ball.
In one remarkable three-week stretch Bloom scored against Oklahoma on an 80-yard punt return in the Big 12 championship game, took final exams, traveled to Finland for a World Cup event, then played for the Buffaloes in the Alamo Bowl.
Bloom also generated headlines for an unsuccessful court battle with the NCAA to allow him to play college football and ski on the World Cup circuit.
Abandoning his comeback attempt for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics in November, he immersed himself in the dreams of seniors such as Gallegos, who endured cancer, hip-replacement surgery and a gallbladder operation in 2009 — yet still insisted on jumping out of a plane on a breezy August afternoon.
Gallegos was hardly alone on her big day. Gathered at the Boulder Reservoir were her children, grandchildren and other family members, some of whom appeared markedly scared. But it was a smooth ride. At first Gallegos was little more than a speck in the bright blue sky, but as the plane grew smaller above her and the ground stretched out below her, the chute deployed and she drifted in for a soft landing.
“It was so beautiful up there,’’ she says, brushing away a tear.
As they boarded a bus to return to the reservoir, Bloom and Gallegos were like a pair of veteran teammates, reliving the big game.
“How come your landing was so much better?’’ Bloom asks.
Without a pause, Gallegos responded, “I got my dream.’’
Photo courtesy Wish of a Life Foundation