Web Site for
Stew Thornley

Family PhotoHello. This is the first web page I’ve done for myself. It’s all about me, which seems like a pretty egotistical thing to do; however, it looks like this is how everyone else does a personal web page, so, being such a conformist, I thought I’d follow a similar pattern. Actually, I’m not a conformist (just the opposite), but I am kind of egotistical.

Professional
I work for the Minnesota Department of Health. I’d put a link to a resume except that I’m not job hunting. I really like working where I do. I started there in January of 1993, so I’m now accruing eight hours of annual leave per pay period. One of these days, I’ll have enough vacation time that I’ll never have to show up. When I am there, I like it. The work is fun and interesting and the people are good to work with.

I’m a Health Educator for the drinking water program. I conduct training and do public affairs work, which includes writing brochures and newsletters and dealing with the media. One of my bosses calls me the “paid flak.“ He means it as a compliment and often reminds me that it’s better than being an unpaid flak.

Besides working a regular job, I write and do public speaking in my spare time. Click here for a list of my books and a partial list of publications.

My first book, published in 1988 by Nodin Press of Minneapolis, was On to Nicollet: The Glory and Fame of the Minneapolis Millers, about the minor-league baseball team that played in Minneapolis prior to the arrival of the Minnesota Twins. The Millers had a rich history, extending back to the 1880s. Many members of the Baseball Hall of Fame once played for the Millers. The list includes Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Carl Yastrzemski, and Rube Waddell. The Millers spent most of their seasons in cozy little Nicollet Park in south Minneapolis before moving to a new stadium in suburban Bloomington that later became the first home of the Twins. Click here for my web page on the Minneapolis Millers.

In 1989, Nodin Press published my book on the history of the Lakers basketball team. The book focuses mainly on the team’s years in Minneapolis, when they won six league titles (including five in the National Basketball Association and the Basketball Association of America, the predecessor to the NBA) in their first seven years. George Mikan was the leader of the team. Click here for my web page on the Minneapolis Lakers.

My third book was Holy Cow! The Life and Times of Halsey Hall, a biography of a Minnesota sportscasting legend and the first man to use the term “Holy Cow!” on a baseball broadcast.

In the mid-1990s, I was the collaborator on a pair of autobiographies of Minnesota sportscasters: Ray Christensen, the longtime voice of Minnesota Gophers football and basketball, and Herb Carneal, who has done the play-by-play announcing for the Minnesota Twins since 1962.

Land of the Giants: New York’s Polo Grounds came out in the fall of 2000. The Polo Grounds—which was used by several baseball teams, most notably the New York Giants—was torn down in 1964. I never saw a game there, but I’ve always been fascinated by the stadium, mainly because of its strange dimensions. It had incredibly short distances down the foul lines and incredibly long distances to the power alleys and to center field. I began researching the book in 1997. In 1999, Temple University Press agreed to publish it.

More recently, I’ve been working on some books for Minnesota Historical Society Press. Six Feet Under: A Graveyard Guide to Minnesota came out in October of 2004. Baseball in Minnesota: A Definitive History came out in the spring of 2006, and Minnesota Hoops: Basketball in the North Star State, which I co-authored with Marc Hugunin, came out in the fall of 2006.

I’ve won a few awards for my books and research. In 1988, I received a baseball research award jointly sponsored by Macmillan Publishing Company and the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) for the research that I did for On to Nicollet.

Holy Cow! The Life and Times of Halsey Hall was named the Best Regional Book of 1991 at the Midwest Book Achievement Awards. Both On to Nicollet and Holy Cow! were finalists in the Minnesota Book Awards in 1988 and 1991, respectively. A speech/slide presentation I made on the Polo Grounds at the 1998 SABR convention was voted as the convention’s best research presentation.

I’ve done a number of books for young readers. One is a science book which I co-authored with my now-wife, Brenda Himrich (that’s her, along with me and our cat, in the photo above—in case you hadn’t yet figured that out). Brenda and I thought if our relationship could survive writing a book together, it could handle marriage (and we were right). The book we wrote is Electrifying Medicine: How Electricity Sparked a Medical Revolution. It’s about uses of electricity in medicine, such as pacemakers, defibrillators, and devices for things like enhancing sight and hearing and relieving pain. The human body is essentially an electrical appliance and, like a frying pan, sometimes needs electrical remedies. Anyway, that’s what’s the book’s about. I was glad to have Brenda as a co-author since she has a pretty extensive background in science and actually understood all this stuff, something that I didn’t. The book, which was published by Lerner Publications in Minneapolis, was also a finalist in the Minnesota Book Awards, in 1996.

I’ve done several other books, all sports biographies, for Lerner as well as for Enslow Publishers, a children’s book publisher in New Jersey. One of the books I did for Enslow was on Dennis Rodman. It’s been a pretty good seller. I guess the more bizarre or controversial the subject of the book, the better it sells. A few years ago, Rodman was thinking about changing his name—to Orgasm. I suppose we would have had to change the name of the book had he done that. I asked Brenda what she would think if I had a book on the market named Orgasm. She thought it would open up a whole new career path for my writing.

In case you’re interested, the books are available through bookstores as well as from places like Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com. You can also contact the publishers. A couple of them are out of print and a little hard to find. Holy Cow! turns up in used bookstores in Minnesota, and you can also find it at bookstores around the country through Bookfinder.com. On to Nicollet was really hard to find, but now it’s back in print. It had been selling for as much as $125 in some of the used book stores listed in Bookfinder, but now you should be able to order it from a bookstore or from one of the on-line vendors for under $15.

Besides writing books, I do “datacasting” of baseball games for the Major League Baseball (MLB) web site. They have a network of stringers throughout the country who transmit pitch-by-pitch data, which then goes out to the mlb.com web site, where you or anyone else can follow the game live. I do it for the Minnesota Twins games. I’ve also been an official scorer for MLB since 2007.

I’ve traveled quite a bit to cover baseball. I’ve been to a home game at each of the major league baseball teams (as well as the Mets-Cubs two-game series that opened the 2000 major league season at Tokyo Dome and a May 2007 series between the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Devil Rays that was played at a ballpark in Disney World outside Orlando). I’ve been to Yankee Stadium many times, but my best experience there was covering the third, fourth, and fifth games of the 2001 World Series between the Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks. I filed reports on the game for Southside Journal. You can also view the World Series reports by clicking here.

In addition to major league games, I’ve attended games at around 25 minor league ballparks. I also saw four games in the Puerto Rican Winter League in December of 1996.

In February 2001, Brenda and I went to Cuba on a baseball tour with a 20-member contingent from the United States and Canada. We attended five games in Cuba’s National Series, visited an elite sports school, met with current and former Cuban players, and visited the grave of Martín Dihigo, at the time the only member of the Baseball Hall of Fame who is buried in Cuba, as well the graves as José Méndez and Cristóbal Torriente, who have since been inducted into the Hall of Fame.

I did public-address announcing for high school and college basketball for more than 30 years. From 1995 to 2012 I did the announcing for St. Louis Park High School. I’ve also done p. a. announcing for baseball, football, soccer, hockey, and volleyball.

Official Scoring
Along with Gregg Wong, I am one of the official scorers for Major League Baseball assigned to Minnesota Twins games. Gregg and I split the games, so I do half the games as official scoring and half the games as the datacaster for the mlb.com web site. In 2013 I was named to the MLB Official Scoring Advisory Committee. We have annual meetings at the league headquarters in New York.

Official scoring can be a lot more stressful because players, coaches, and team officials sometimes get upset over a hit/error decision. However, I love doing it.

I am also a backup official scorer for Minnesota Timberwolves games. It’s a less controversial activity, since you don’t have to make judgment calls that can bring you a lot of grief. It’s up to the statistics crew to track things such as rebounds, assists, steals, etc.; the official scorer just has to record points, fouls, and timeouts. However, if you make a mistake and don’t get something recorded correctly, it can affect the outcome of the game. I’ve seen it happen before and hope it never happens to me.

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Personal
PonceI live in Roseville, Minnesota, with my wife, Brenda Himrich, and, until 2005, our cat, Ponce (named after Ponce de Leon, the brave explorer). We pronounced his name “Poncey,” but he also answered to, “Hey, you stupid cat, quit crapping on the floor.” Brenda had the cat longer than she had me, so I was always really nice to him. Ponce came from a dysfunctional kitty family. His mom’s owner was in jail when he was born. The birth took place in the jailbird’s backyard. Neighbors gathered up Ponce and his brothers and sisters and found homes for them. One of the neighbors was a friend of Brenda’s roommate at the time (this was in the summer of 1987). Her roommate took the cat, and Brenda later inherited him when her roommate moved to Whidbey Island in Washington. Ponce died on December 15, 2005 at the age of 18. Click here for more on Ponce.

Jeter and A-RodOn St. Patrick’s Day in 2006, we adopted a pair of three-month-old kittens, Jeter and A-Rod, from the Animal Humane Society of Hennepin County. (Jeter is the one with the white paws.) We got there right when the place opened, so we were able to get two cats out of a five-kitty set of littermates that had just been put out for adoption. Jeter and A-Rod’s three sisters also went quickly, and the entire litter was adopted by the time we left. Although the Humane Society didn’t know the exact date of birth for the litter, they listed it as December 15, 2005, which is interesting since that is the date that Ponce died. All the cats in the litter had had their sterilization surgery the day before, so the folks at the society told us to take it easy with them. They should have told Jeter and A-Rod, as well, because they were very rambunctious. Fortunately, they didn’t pop their stitches as they romped around and had a great time checking out their new house. An added bonus is that they match our woodwork.

We had a great time with both of them for more than five years. Jeter is still with us, but A-Rod died unexpectedly on Saturday, August 27, 2011. We found out he had a heart condition and died of acute heart failure.

 

Jeter and A-Rod Jeter and A-Rod
March 17, 2006: One of the first things Jeter and A-Rod did was attack the stuffed Garfield and topple him from his perch (sort of like what the Romanians did with Ceausescu). After exploring the various dining options, they eventually settled down.
Jeter and A-Rod Jeter and A-Rod

 

Jeter the cat meets Jeter the ballplayer A-Rod the cat meets A-Rod the ballplayer, who is hitting a home run against the Mariners
In August of 2006, the cats got to meet their namesakes, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees.

On October 19, 2011 we got a new cat, Mickey (below). He was born August 15.

Mickey October 19, 2011 Mickey October 20, 2011

I met Brenda through Toastmasters in December 1988. We got married on Saturday, May 11, 1996, on the Stone Arch Bridge across the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. We had purchased a brand-new townhouse in Roseville—a suburb of St. Paul, which is a suburb of Minneapolis—a few months before, and that’s where we still live. Brenda is the Safety Manager of Bus and Light Rail for Metro Transit in the Twin Cities. She has a chemistry background and is a certified industrial hygienist.

I grew up in southeast Minneapolis, by the University of Minnesota, although we lived in St. Louis Park, a suburb of Minneapolis, until I was 10. When we moved to Minneapolis, my mom was teaching at the U of M, so we were able to get a pair of faculty season tickets that covered all the Minnesota Gophers sports events. From 1965 to 1969, my dad and I were always going to see the Gophers—in football, basketball, hockey, baseball, and track. The 1968 football opener for the Gophers was against the University of Southern California. The Gophers played a great game, but O. J. Simpson was too much for them. He scored four touchdowns and rushed for more than 230 yards in leading the Trojans to a 29-20 win. After the game I waited by the runway to the USC locker room (normally I’d hang out with the other teenagers by the runway to the Gophers locker room and try to get chin straps from the players as they left the field). I was the only one waiting for the USC players, and I got to shake O. J.’s hand (the same one that later ended up in the bloody glove?).

I was the bat boy for the Gophers baseball team in 1968 and 1969 (as well as for their summer league team in 1967). It was a great time, and the Gophers, under coach Dick Siebert, won the Big Ten title both years I was with them. The finish of the 1968 Big Ten season was the most memorable day I’ve ever spent with baseball. The Gophers were in second place, 1/2 game behind the Michigan State Spartans, on the final day of the season. The Spartans and Gophers met for a doubleheader at Bierman Field. To win the Big Ten title (and to have a chance in the NCAA tournament—none of this wild-card crap back then), the Gophers had to sweep the doubleheader. That’s what they did. I wrote an article on the day. Click here to see the article.

After I got out of Marshall-University High School, I went into broadcasting and worked as a sportscaster/disk jockey/staff announcer at radio stations in DeSoto, Missouri, and Sauk Centre, Minnesota. I then came back to the Twin Cities and enrolled at Minnesota (and was a member of Delta Upsilon Fraternity), graduating with a degree in business in 1981.

While I was in college, I joined two organizations that have had a big impact on my life. One was the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). The other was Toastmasters International. I’ve received many benefits from Toastmasters, including one I mentioned earlier (meeting Brenda).

SABR helped transform me from being just a consumer of other baseball research to being a producer of it. Instead of just reading what others had written about baseball, I started writing about the game myself. In 1980, I had my first article published. It was on Minnesota’s first major league team, a St. Paul team that played briefly in the Union Association in 1884, and it appeared in SABR’s Baseball Research Journal. In 1985, I helped to form the Halsey Hall Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research.

A few notes about my dad, Howard Thornley: He was quite a character who had a lot of interesting experiences in his life, including being a prisoner of the Germans for more than 14 months during World War II. He spent most of his captivity in Stalag 17 in Krems-on-the Donau in Austria, the prison camp that became the basis for the movie Stalag 17. In 1983, he wrote up his experiences for a book on 8th Air Force prisoners, escapees, etc. that was being written by Larry Scholl. I don't think the book ever was published, but at least it got my dad to put down his memories on paper. Click here to read about his P. O. W. experiences.

One of my favorite stories concerns the bible he had with him when his B-17 was shot down. It was a small bible with a metal insert inside the front cover. It was designed to be carried in the breast pocket to provide protection from a bullet wound to the heart. A lot of people were selling them in the U. S. to families of servicemen overseas. My dad’s younger sister bought one and sent it to him. My dad carried the bible with him while on a bombing mission [he was a waist gunner]. During this mission, on December 22, 1943, to bomb targets in around Osnabruck, Germany, my dad shot down a German fighter, a Focke-Wulf 190, when he got a round into its propeller hub. Later, though, his plane was shot down. He bailed out, into German-occupied Holland near the coastal city of IJmuiden, without the bible. In 1950, however, he received the bible in the mail along with a note from a Dutch man. After the plane came down, the man found a first-aid kit that contained my dad’s bible. My dad’s name and serial number were in it, and after the war the man was able to track down my dad’s address in the United States from it, although it took him several years to do so. In the 1980s, when Larry Scholl went to Europe for more research on his book, he went to visit the man who had salvaged the bible. The man was dead, although his widow remembered the bible and invited Larry in. They talked for a while, and the man’s widow gave Larry some souvenirs—including a tile that had drawings depicting various scenes from IJmuiden and an article from a magazine about the day an American plane came down outside their town—to bring back to the family. Click here to read the letter from the Dutch man that accompanied the return of the bible as well as the magazine article on the plane.

After the war, my dad worked for the Minneapolis post office for 32 years. He was the foreman for the box section for many years before retiring in 1979. He died on March 30, 1987 of a heart attack in Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia, while on vacation with my mom. (My mom, Phyllis Thornley, died October 20, 2012.)

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A Plug for Libraries
Libraries are terrific places. I’ve often said that without books, there would be no libraries; however, without libraries, there would be no books. At least that’s the case with me, because I never would have been able to write any of my books without all the informational resources available in libraries. In February 2000, the downtown Minneapolis library asked me to speak on their behalf at the Minnesota Legislature as part of their effort to get funding for a new library. They reprinted my testimony in their Friends of the Library newsletter. It pretty well sums up my feelings toward libraries. I hope it might cause others to look at libraries in a new, and good, way. Like I say, libraries are terrific places. If you haven’t been in one in a while, check it out.

Please also consider supporting your libraries. The Library Foundation of Hennepin County, which is now united with the Friends of the Minneapolis Public Library has some good ways to get involved.

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Hobbies
Graveyard Hunting
In 1967, we were on a family vacation through the Upper Peninsula in Michigan when we saw a sign directing us to the grave of George Gipp (“Win One for the Gipper”) in nearby Calumet. My mom and brother didn’t see any reason to go out of our way just to see the grave of a Notre Dame football player who was portrayed by some strange actor in the movie Knute Rockne: All American, but my dad and I were pretty fired up about seeing it. Since he was driving, we made that detour.

Cartwright GraveThis side trip to see Gipp’s was probably the first time I ever went out of my way to see the grave of some celebrity. Some cemeteries, like Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, D.C., and the Granary Burying Ground on the Freedom Trail in Boston, are part of a normal traveler’s itinerary. And the graves of many presidents are part of a regular tourist attraction, like an estate or presidential library. However, you usually have to get off the regular path to visit a grave while on vacation. Besides George Gipp, I had done this on a few other occasions. When Brenda and I were in Honolulu in 1995, we drove to Oahu Cemetery to see the grave of Alexander Cartwright (shown in photo), one of the true fathers of baseball. Later that year, I made a point of visiting Babe Ruth’s grave in Hawthorne, New York, about 20 miles north of New York City. (An interesting note on that: I was struck by all the offerings left at Babe Ruth’s grave, so I left one of my own: a note that said, “Babe, you’re the best.” I added an NY monogram and signed and dated the note. Apparently, officials from the Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum in Baltimore came by soon after and picked up some of the items, because my note ended up in a display in the museum.)

It wasn’t until 1997, though, that I started doing this on a regular basis. In March of that year, my friend Paul Rittenhouse and I were going to Indianapolis to see the Minnesota Gophers basketball team in the Final Four. Paul and I had compared notes in the past on which president’s graves we had seen and both had an interest in that. We were going to have some time to kill in Indianapolis, and I thought we ought to find the grave of Benjamin Harrison. The night before we left, I went to the Find-a-Grave web site to find the name of the cemetery that contained Harrison. I learned that, in addition to Harrison, Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis also had John Dillinger. Paul and I went to Crown Hill Cemetery and visited the graves of those two as well as a few others. That got us started on graveyard hunting. I take pictures of the graves and send them to Find-a-Grave, where many of them are posted on a Contributors’ Page.

Stew and Brenda’s graveAs of 2013, I’ve been to the graves of 40 U. S. Presidents (all the dead ones, including David Rice Atchison, who was president for a day when Zachary Taylor wouldn’t take office on a Sunday), as well as one Confederate States of America President (Jefferson Davis, the only CSA president).

As of the the fall of 2010, I had visited all of the known graves of members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. I had first completed the list by getting to the grave of Eddie Mathews in Santa Barbara, California, on Saturday, January 19, 2002. At that time, there were 184 Hall of Fame graves. Since then, as new Hall of Fame graves are added (through Hall of Famers dying or those already dead being elected to the Hall of Fame), I’ve been able to keep up with them. The list of Hall of Fame graves now numbers more than 200. Here’s a complete list of Baseball Hall of Fame graves.

In 2003, I began working on a book for Minnesota Historical Society Press. During that time, Brenda and I decided to buy our own cemetery plot at Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis. It’s by the lake inside the cemetery at Section 34, Row 3B, Grave 3 (or 44 degrees, 55’, 55.2” North latitude; 93 degrees, 18’, 16.3” West longitude). Come by and say hi sometime. (Both Brenda and I posed by our grave for the picture we used for our holiday card in 2003. To see it, along with the holiday newsletter from 2003 and other years, click here.)

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Travel
Brenda and I enjoy traveling and have covered the United States and Canada pretty well. Brenda has been to Mexico eight times (I’ve made it there six times but only to border cities) and has been all the way down to Guatemala. She also went on a trip to Costa Rica with her sister in 2009.

Barrow, AlaskaAs far as the United States goes, I’ve been to all 50 states as well as to Puerto Rico. I got to my 50th state in 1995 when Brenda and I went to Hawaii to see the Pro Bowl (the NFL All-Star Game). A year-and-a-half before that, we got to Alaska and made it up to Point Barrow, the northernmost point in the United States. The photo at the left is us in Barrow, posing under the jawbones of a bowhead whale. (An interesting thing happened on our trip to Barrow. We took a city tour, along with four other tourists. Two of the tourists were young men from Germany. We asked what part of Germany. When one of them replied, “Osnabruck,” I said something that indicated I was familiar with their city. I started to elaborate but then thought better of it. Osnabruck was the city that was the bombing target on the mission when my dad was shot down [mentioned above]. These guys were too young to have been alive when this happened, but I still thought it was better to not mention that my dad had once bombed their city.)

I’ve been to all 50 state capitals, finally getting to the last one (Juneau, Alaska) in February of 2002. It was our second time in Alaska but the first time in the southeast part of the state, along the Inside Passage. We also made it to Sitka—once the capital of Russian America and a very interesting city—on that trip. Brenda and I have also been to all of the provincial capitals in Canada.

I also enjoy visiting Civil War battle sites. For the most part, they are easy to get to and just the right size for exploring. The first major battlefield I got to was Shiloh (Pittsburg Landing) in southern Tennessee in 1985. It’s still my favorite.

I mentioned above the traveling I’ve done to cover baseball with trips that have taken me to Tokyo, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. Brenda and I have also been to a few places overseas. In 1990, we spent a week in London and also crossed the English Channel to have lunch in Calais, France. In the spring of 1999, we went to Reykjavík, Iceland. In the spring of 2000, I went to Tokyo, Japan, to see the opening of the major league baseball season. Since we have the United States pretty well covered, we’ve started to plan more international trips and went to Holland, Scotland, and France in November of 2000.

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Hitchcock Movies
I’m a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock movies and have seen all of them back to 1935 and almost all of them back to 1925. My favorite Hitchcock movie is Rear Window. I saw it for the first time in a theater in January 1984 when it was being re-released after many years of being unavailable. I really liked it, and when I got a VCR a couple years later, Rear Window was the first movie I rented. I have my own copy of it now and still watch it frequently. In December of 1999, it turned up in a Minneapolis theater, so Brenda and I went to see it there. It’s amazing how much better it is on the big screen, especially a movie like this where a lot of the action is seen through windows across a courtyard in Greenwich Village.

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Skydiving
SkydivingI started skydiving in the 1970s and made four static-line jumps (three in Stanton, Minnesota, and one in Baldwin, Wisconsin). In 2009 I took it up again with the Skydive Twin Cities group in Baldwin. I made eight jumps in their Accelerated Freefall program. I was a little unstable in free fall, especially when I tried to do the forward-motion maneuver. I came back in the spring of 2011 and made a couple more jumps. On Saturday, June 4 I did the forward motion again and was better (meaning I didn’t start spinning out of control as I had before). I pulled my ripcord at 5,500 feet and floated to the ground. Overall, the descent was 13,000 feet, including the freefall portion, and the first 12,885 feet went great. Then I flared the canopy for the landing too early. My second mistake, upon realizing me first mistake, was to release the flare. This made for a fast descent to the ground for the final 10 to 15 feet. My feet went out from me when I hit the ground, I crashed on my butt, toppled over, and didn’t feel like getting up. A couple of emergency medical technicians from Skydive Twin Cities rushed out in a cart (I landed a little off target, in an alfafa field next to the drop zone) and called an ambulance. They took me to the hospital in Baldwin, took x-rays, and told me I had broken a vertebra. At least all my body parts were still moving; it could have been a lot worse. They then took me to Regions Hospital in St. Paul, and I was there for three days. After more x-rays and an MRI, they decided I wouldn’t need surgery and would just have to wear a brace. The hospital staff was great; they asked a lot of interesting questions, such as frequent ones on whether I was passing gas (no one has shown that much interest in that subject since I was in the fraternity); once, a nurse asked if I used street drugs such as marijuana or meth. I thought she was giving me options for painkillers. They did give me some other stuff, including Vicodin, although my pain was never that bad. I still recommend skydiving, and the folks at Skydive Twin Cities are great. However, I think I’m going to find a different hobby. That was my 14th jump, and it will probably be my last.

Skydiving sign

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