Going up, up and away in a hot air balloon

Fulfilling a lifelong dream, bucket list item for 80th birthday

Shirley Szweduik stands ready to take her first hot air balloon ride on June 9, the day before her 80th birthday. “I wasn’t afraid,” she said. Submitted photo.

Shirley Szweduik stands ready to take her first hot air balloon ride on June 9, the day before her 80th birthday. “I wasn’t afraid,” she said. Submitted photo.

HIBBING— All my life I’ve been a giver. Above all else, I wanted to bless others— from family to friends to strangers. Young and old. Anywhere.

When I turned 60, I put on my own birthday party at the Maple Hill Hall in Hibbing. I called it “Food for the Table, Food for the Shelf.” I was lucky my brother and his band “Young Country” were willing to do a freebie for me. I invited the Northern Spurs Line Dancers from Hibbing and Chisholm to dance. I had a candy toss for the children. I also had a coin toss—I had saved my change for a year. There were more than 253 people at my party. We harvested 26 bags of groceries and $300 cash for the Hibbing and Chisholm food shelves.

When dinner was over, I raised my arms with praise and thanks and said, “See you in 15 years.” Did I keep my promise? Oh, yeah! I was all too eager to party again. By this time, I had my own line dance class—Otta Line Dancers—and, together with the Northern Spurs, we danced. Once again, my brother’s band did a freebie performance. This time, more than 150 people attended and we brought 400 pounds of food, dog food, paper supplies and $400 cash to the food shelves. Success!

In March, I was shocked to learn I had cancer! Everyone was in shock. So, as my 80th birthday was drawing near, I thought the final item on my bucket list—a hot air balloon ride—was a lost dream. I told my kids there would be no party—instead, I wanted to go for a hot air balloon ride.

My youngest son Darin called me the end of May and said, “Mom, don’t go making any plans for June 7 – 9. Your bucket list is going to be filled.” I got emotional and told them they couldn’t spend that kind of money on me. Darin replied, “Too late, Mom.”

My two sons, along with their wives, and my daughter came with me to the balloon ride on Saturday, June 9, in Custer, SD. It was the day before my 80th birthday. I can’t tell you exactly how it felt, because it still tickles in my belly. What a thrill!

We got up at 4 a.m. and headed to the site. We got there at 5 a.m. “What? Where are the balloons?” I asked. Then a guy pointed to a trailer off in the distance. We got in a van and drove to a huge field. I told my kids to go have breakfast and I’ll be back in a couple ofhours. They said, no way. “We want to watch from the beginning.”

A group of men laid the balloon on the field, took out two huge fans and blew the balloon up. Then they brought the huge basket, hooked it up to the balloon and started the fire. I got in the balloon basket and went up, up and away! It was so quiet and peaceful. I was heaven-bound. At one point, the balloon pilot said, “Everyone listen.” After a few minutes, a gal said, “To what?” The pilot responded, “That’s what I’m talking about! Nothing.”

The horse farms below looked like toys. There were seven people, including me, in my balloon. There were three other balloons flying just yards away. Awesome!

After we landed, the balloon crew served mimosas, cheese and crackers. They also gave a brief history of hot air ballooning. It was very educational.

It was a dream come true, thanks to my two sons and their wives Craig and Margaret Johnson, Darin and Donna Johnson, and my daughter Sue Degelau. I’m forever grateful.

Now that I’ve completed my bucket list, I’ll just have to start a new one. I have never been jet skiing. I want to go ziplining….

My message to all is, never give up. Dream your dreams.

Shirley and her husband Kenneth live in Hibbing, MN. Her two sons also live in Hibbing, and her daughter lives in Minneapolis. Shirley teaches a line dancing class and goes for a daily walk and run. And she’s off to a good start on her second bucket list.

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