If you want to help in the fight against cancer, you can pick from dozens of fundraising activities: walking, running, hiking, biking and many more. But Alana Wilson, founder and president of Jumps for Hope, offers one of the most extreme. Get involved in her organization, and you’ll find yourself hurdling out of an airplane.
“My goal is to get people to step outside their comfort zone, to try skydiving and feel the power that comes from facing down fear,” says Alana. “We raise funds to support cancer research and help families impacted by cancer, but it’s not just about the money. It’s about empowering people to live fully, whether they’ve been battling cancer, have lost someone to cancer or whatever they have motivating them to join us.”
A Bigger Mission
Alana’s enthusiasm for skydiving began when she was in her mid-40s. Soon after her first jump, she was hooked. She set a goal to make 50 jumps before she turned 50. After she had a few skydives under her belt, she met skydiving instructor Byron Stuart. The two of them talked about Alana’s goal, and they decided they could make it more than just one individual’s challenge. Working together, they started Jumps for Hope.
“Turning 50 is significant for me,” says Alana. “My dad passed away from cancer when he was 49. He never got to that big milestone. Jumps for Hope honors his memory.”
The first Jumps for Hope event was held June 2013 at the Rushford Municipal Airport. More than 100 people went skydiving that day, and in the process they raised over $12,000. Alana also reached her goal of 50 jumps before 50 during the event. Since then, Jumps for Hope has expanded beyond Minnesota, hosting events in Wisconsin, Illinois and Texas. But the group returns to Rushford each year.
“Rushford is still my favorite place to jump, and I’ve jumped a lot of places,” says Alana. “I absolutely love the scenery. The bluffs are gorgeous. But beyond that, the people are awesome. I’ve found them to be supportive of our work and very interested in helping their communities.”
An Invitation to All
Although skydiving is her passion, Alana manages a busy schedule beyond the jumps. She works full time for Edward Jones in Winona, where she has lived for the last 16 years. Her children are grown, but she relishes her role as a grandmother.
“When you think about what a skydiver looks like, you probably don’t picture a 40-something grandma like me,” she says. “I think my experience has served as a catalyst for some people to realize they can do this too. Your age and your role in life shouldn’t dictate your limitations.”
To date, more than 600 people have taken up the challenge and participated in a Jumps for Hope event. The organization has raised more than $55,000. Alana would like to see Jumps for Hope continue to grow and offer opportunities for more people to get involved.
“The participants just love it. You can see it on their faces. As they land, everyone has a big smile,” says Alana. “But the ones I really enjoy are the cancer survivors who skydive with us. Many have told me that if they can face cancer, they can do this. And they’re right.
They are the folks who faced their fears and have been able to move beyond cancer to live their lives to the fullest. We celebrate them.”Tracy Will is a freelance writer who lives and works in Rochester. She has not gone skydiving. Yet.