Facebook pixel
Donald wife and Goodyear team members in front of blimp

Donald Soars in the Goodyear Blimp

You’re sure to see one iconic sight at every big college football game—but you’ll have to look up to spot it. Donald could tell you all about the iconic Goodyear Blimp aircraft that’s been flying over sporting events for almost 65 years.

It’s been a familiar sight for Donald, age 79, an avid sports fan. He loves the solidarity that comes with rooting for a team. That’s because Donald values community and is the type of person who goes to exceptional lengths to help those around him.

That value is reflected in Donald’s choice to serve in the United States Army. Donald enlisted in 1962 and became a paratrooper, bravely jumping out of airplanes in Korea during the Vietnam War.

After being discharged, Donald searched for a new way to help people while feeling the same camaraderie he had experienced in the army. He rediscovered that feeling in firefighting. Over the next 20 years, Donald bonded deeply with his peers as they fought fires side by side and supported the community.

Donald would have continued to be a firefighter for many more years if an injury had not stopped him. While attempting to put out a fire on top of a building, the roof collapsed underneath him. His back was severely wounded, and he had to retire.

Once again, Donald searched for a new role where he could support others while feeling a sense of connection. That led him to become a high school social studies teacher, a career he embraced wholeheartedly until retirement.

Donald loved teaching and became more involved in the school. He coached and sponsored the school’s cheerleading team, chaperoned at prom, and even volunteered as the announcer at football games. He also became certified to teach English as a Second Language (ESL). For over 15 years, Donald taught and mentored refugee children, supporting them as they experienced challenging moments and adjusted to life in the United States.

To this day, many of Donald’s students—from all over the world—have stayed in touch with him and have reached out to thank him for the positive, fun, and supportive culture he created for them at school.

After Donald retired from teaching at age 63, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Living with Parkinson’s has challenged Donald in new ways, affecting his daily routine and limiting his activities.

But, one thing has remained constant: Donald’s enthusiasm for athletics! He remains a sports fan to this day.

When Wish of a Lifetime heard Donald’s story, we were thrilled at the opportunity to help recognize the person he is while fulfilling one of his lifelong dreams. Working together with Goodyear, we invited Donald for the ride of a lifetime—on a Goodyear blimp, of course!

But first, Donald was surprised by a crew of cheerleaders. AARP volunteers from across Los Angeles had gathered to cheer him on before he climbed aboard the humongous aircraft.

“When we turned the corner, and I saw everyone holding the signs and cheering, it set the whole trip up for me,” he said. “I was really excited and thankful.”

“He was the hero for the day,” Donald’s partner Lynda said.

With some extra pep in his step, Donald climbed aboard the Goodyear blimp, accompanied by Lynda and their friend Launa. He was reminded of his paratrooper days, although Donald knew he would be sitting comfortably on board instead of jumping out this time!

Donald was speechless as he took in the 365-degree views of the California landscape below him.

“I was really kind of stunned. It was so much more than I anticipated,” he said. “It is going to stay with me for a long time.”

Reflecting on the experience, Donald shared the newfound perspective he had gained from the day.

“Sometimes it takes a second look at life to know what things mean or represent,” he said. “Getting a birds-eye view of my world and everyone in it that makes my life easier was invigorating and left me feeling hopeful.”

Want to see more stories like Donald’s?

Sign up for our email list and continue to be inspired by the stories of older adults fulfilling their dreams.

Wish of a Lifetime from AARP is changing how we age, one inspirational wish at a time.

Submit a life-changing wish in your community, and share your favorite wish story on Facebook and Instagram to inspire your network!