Mary Lou McKillips hates heights.
But that didn’t stop the great-grandmother from parasailing 500 feet above Sandusky Bay on Wednesday afternoon in celebration of her upcoming 75th birthday.
“That’s just the way she is,” said Chuck Darling, McKillips’ nephew. “She’s nuts.”
Crazy Aunt Mary Lou, as her family affectionately calls her, doesn’t let trivial inconveniences like fear stop her from having fun.
Despite her slight acrophobia, she’s ridden in hot-air balloons and helicopters, and recently braved the highest ski lift in Michigan.
She still travels quite a bit, too — “been pretty much everywhere” in the United States, she said — and decided to try parasailing before her birthday, which is Friday. “I don’t ever want to have to say, ‘I could’ve orI should’ve done this or that,’” McKillips said.“Life’s too short.”
McKillips doesn’t look like a daredevil.
At 5-foot-5, with gray, short-cropped hair and wrinkles lining her forehead, the born-and-bred Sandusky native looks like a typical grandmother.
But once she opens her mouth, she quickly spurns any preconceived notions.
“I got three calls while sitting on the pot today,” she said at one point. Later, after putting on a lifejacket, she said, “I’m just glad my boobs won’t pop out now. I was scared the elastic (on my swimsuit) wouldn’t hold.”
McKillips doesn’t venture alone. Eight familymembers and friends accompanied her to Cedar Point Marina to watch her parasail. Her neighbor’sson parasailed with her, while the others marveled at her courage and vitality from the ground.
“I look up to her,” said Barb Pridemore, watching her aunt soar through the sky. “I try to pattern myself after her.”
They especially admire McKillips’ perseverance. McKillips suffered a brain aneurysm in 1984 and her doctors predicted she wouldn’t survive the ambulance ride to the Cleveland hospital.
“But here I am, 20-something years later,” she said.
After an emergency operation, she needed to re-learn how to walk and talk. The right side of her body still lacks strength. And she’s suffered further tragedy in recent years. Both her husband (heart failure) and son (drug-related) have died since 2003.
But McKillips shuns the notion that her brush with death has propelled her to live a more adventurous life.
“I was crazy long before (the aneurysm) ever happened,” she said with a wry smile.
And, according to McKillips, she will continue to live without fear. Although she doesn’t have anything on her agenda, she promises the thrill-seeking will continue.
“As soon as I think of something to do, I’ll do it,” she said.