White-haired daredevils descend on Gaston's Tree to Tree

Photo Credit: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Toni Gerbracht, 88, rides a zip line at Tree to Tree Adventure Park near Hagg Lake as part of an excursion during Active Aging Week Sept. 24.“I’ve never been afraid of heights,” said 91-year-old Willie Hariahill as she stared up from her walker at one of the five “superzips” in Gaston’s Tree to Tree Adventure Park.

Hariahill was one of six seniors from Highgate Senior Living who made the long trip from Vancouver, Wash., to Gaston last Wednesday in celebration of Active Aging Week.

The annual health promotion led by the International Council on Active Aging prompted some Highgate Senior Living residents to engage in group activities like they were teenagers again.

Wednesday’s activity was zip lining.

“I could always outclimb my brothers,” Hariahill boasted.

She’s no stranger to the activity. When she was younger, Hariahill and friends would run a suspended wire through a piece of pipe to create their own zip line.

To her relief, Tree to Tree’s modern zip lines allowed her to wear a harness that connected her to the wire. This had been a concern because of Hariahill’s three hip surgeries and two battles with staph infections on the artificial joint.

It’s not the kind of thing the average zip liner worries about. Then again, the average zip liner is many decades younger.

Luckily for Hariahill, most Active Aging activities weren’t quite as extreme. Monday featured a tandem bicycle tour around the Highgate property, which was no problem for her.

“It was so much fun,” she smiled.

Because the zip lining was so extreme, however, Highgate’s Community Relations Coordinator, Katie Brooks, was extreme in preparing for it.

Weeks prior to their visit, Brooks took her own tour of Tree to Tree alongside the park’s manager, Dave Sullivan. Brooks took photos of ladders, bridges and other obstacles, watched others ride the zip lines, and ensured transportation for the residents up the many steep hills on the grounds. Photo Credit: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Tree to Tree staff member Logan Giacomini rigs up Toni Gerbrachts harness before she approaches the zip lines.

After all, this was the park’s oldest group of visitors.

Despite all the preparations, many of the Highgate staff were visibly anxious as they watched the ladies being secured in their harnesses and helmets.

“I’ve done this before and I’m always nervous to do it,” said Highgate’s vice president of sales, Adam Bryan. “But I’m more nervous to watch them do it.”

His anxiety, however, was not shared by the elderly women zipping between the trees.

When her feet safely hit the ground at the end of the first line, 88-year-old Toni Gerbracht had only one way to describe the experience.

“Wonderful,” she said, her eyes wide. “I was scared to death.”

With each conquered zip line, the ladies’ excitement and confidence only grew.

“That’s a hell of a lot better than all the ones I’ve been on,” 66-year-old Connie Nickerson said, high-fiving her friends as she stood at the bottom of one of the later zip lines.

Due to issues with her back, 88-year-old Dorothy Kurovsky thought it better to sit on the sidelines as she watched her fellow residents enjoy the course.

“I’m so surprised that so many of them wanted to do this,” said Kurovsky as she waited to see the other women zoom over her head. “I’m even more surprised that they let me come along.”

While the others prepared, Kurovsky sat outside the welcome center for more than two hours until she heard distant whoops of excitement and the distinct whirring of the wires from behind the walls of trees.

“That’s more like it,” she smiled.

When a few of the zip liners finally began to appear at the end of the course, Kurovsky stood to wave at each one as they flew by. She then joined them for a group photo alongside Highgate and Tree to Tree staff.

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