From hand-crocheted blankets to the toys paid for by a child’s birthday money, many of the donations that come to patients at Akron Children’s Hospital have interesting and heart-felt back stories.
But several hundred teddy bears the hospital recently received get top honors for the donations arriving by the most circuitous route.
Two northeast Ohio skydiving clubs have delivered teddy bears that traveled thousands of feet through the clouds to, ultimately, land in the arms of our patients.
These bears can’t talk, yet still deliver a powerful message: If I am brave enough to jump out of an airplane 14,000 feet above the earth (albeit tandem with a human partner), give me a hug and I can help you get through a hospital stay, a test, a procedure or anything else that’s kind of scary.
The Alliance Sport Parachute Club, which recently donated 242 bears, attaches a poem from Winnie the Pooh to each of their bears.
It says, “Promise me you’ll always remember. You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
“Name me one child – or even adult for that matter – who doesn’t need a reminder like that from time to time,” said Tiponi Potts, a paramedic for the City of Pittsburgh, who has logged 400 jumps with the Alliance Sport Parachute Club.
Potts delivered the bears to the hospital with Barb Kellogg and fellow skydivers Robb Scherer and Ben Kellogg, who estimate their jumps at 4,000 and 2,000, respectively. Their club is based at Skydive Rick’s in Petersburg, Ohio, near the Ohio/Pennsylvania border.
Meanwhile, Kelly Fox, of the AerOhio Skydiving Center in Rittman, recently delivered 144 teddy bears wrapped in plastic “flight suits.” She is affiliated with a national non-profit organization called Canopies for Kids (CFK), which also delivers certified skydiving teddy bears to children’s hospitals.
“I have always loved doing charity work and 3 years ago my husband and I started skydiving,” said Fox. “I thought I would love to combine these 2 passions and, sure enough, I learned about Canopies for Kids.”
Fox said the jump over Rittman, Ohio, in June set a CFK record with the most bears skydiving at one event. Sherry Butcher, president of the United States Parachute Association, set a CFK record for most bears jumped at one time by one person.
The card attached to one bear, named Captain Ted E. Bear, that made that June jump cites the numerous cities in which he had visited (Cleveland; South Bend, Ind.; Barcelona, Spain; Nice, France, and Venice, Italy, to name just a few) before his jump as he was in the hands of a pilot named Ron Langenderfer.
A note card signed by Langenderfer reads,
“This bear is for you. He is one of the bravest bears in the world. Today I helped him join an elite group of teddy bears when we jumped out of an airplane together at 14,000 feet, falling faster than 120 mph before we landed safely back on Earth together … Give him a good name and hold him close if you’re ever scared. He will always be there for you when you need him, and the two of you can get through anything. I am so happy to be able to give you this amazing bear, and wish you best in your journey towards a happy and healthy life.”
So how do these teddy bears make it safely to Earth without a mishap?
The Alliance Sport Parachute Club buys teddy bears small enough to tuck into a sleeve or zip into a pocket. Meanwhile, the Canopies for Kids group safety pins their bears to their clothes for hands-free jumping.
Phrases as varied as “adrenaline rush” and “peaceful” are often used to describe the skydiving experience. Helping kids in need, it seems, can be equally satisfying and exhilarating.