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Mary Brotherton
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Inside my Brain

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Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Mighty Quinn

“Come all without, come all within; you'll not see nothing like the Mighty Quinn,” is the refrain to a 1968 song performed by Manfred Mann. The song talks about Quinn the Eskimo, and is considered silly.

Palm Bay has its very own Mighty Quinn. Neither Eskimo nor silly, Jim Quinn is an unassuming, energetic 80 year old, who makes people re-evaluate their lives, take stock, and sit down to write their goals and dreams.

Quinn, originally from Pennsylvania, has traveled to all 50 states, visited nine countries, and taken nine cruises, with another scheduled on the Queen Mary II for April, 2006. Retired and newly widowed at the age of 52, the father of seven found himself restless with his new role as Mr. Mom. When his youngest daughter’s classmates tormented her for having an older father, he decided that most of their fathers probably had never parachuted; when he did the following year, he gave her the certificate, and began a lifelong quest for great adventures.
For the past three decades, on his birthday, Quinn has listed dreams and goals he’d like to accomplish that year. Some goals have been common, grandfatherly ambitions such as writing a poem or drawing a cartoon about his family; playing basketball with his oldest grandchildren; or planting a flower garden. When he sold his house to his eldest son, he started an adventure-filled life with Elderhostel, which was instrumental in helping him accomplish many of his dreams.
Elderhostel is a non-profit organization which provides extraordinary learning adventures at exceptional values, for people over 55. With over 10,000 options in more than 90 countries, Elderhostel programs are as unique as the participants who believe that learning and discovery are lifelong pursuits. Elderhostel provided the opportunity for ordinary Jim Quinn to become Mighty Quinn. At exotic and familiar locales, he worked a lobster boat, climbed mountains, went white water rafting, watched whales, and flew in a glider.

Some of his adventures have gone exactly as if scripted for one of the plays or comedy routines he’s performed in; while others have gone wrong. Two very memorable misadventures are a white water rafting trip when he and five other seniors were caught in a whirlpool that could have meant certain death, if not for the expertise of their instructor; and an early morning hot air balloon trip that crossed three states instead of just a few county lines, banging into trees and tearing up golf courses as it was bounced by the wind.

Jim Quinn does extraordinary things, in an unpretentious way. Whenever possible, he fulfills a goal through Elderhostel, but if he has the opportunity to fit an unplanned activity into his schedule, he does; because he has a monetary risk involved. His 11 grandchildren help him establish his goals, and any unaccomplished goal increases their college funds.

Quinn agrees with the theory that people who’ve had near death experiences tend to be risk takers, passionately enjoying life with enthusiasm, embracing each moment and savoring every breath. His first encounter with death was at age 17.

“Two weeks after I joined the Navy, I caught spinal meningitis, and was unconscious for 4 days. I went down the tunnel, toward the light, you know? I didn’t get to the end. I came back. Then I had a plane crash 130 miles out at sea, which was pretty close. In early 1978, during a routine exam, the doctor found a spot on my lung.”

“One of my sons had a near death experience when he was tossed off a motorcycle. He shares my love of taking risks. The rest think I’m a little nuts. Maybe there’s some truth to it, if you’ve had a near death experience; you’ll be a risk taker.”

His close calls and three angioplasties have only increased his zest for completing his goals each year. “It slows you down, but it doesn’t stop me. My doctor said, “Sure why not?” when I asked about sky diving.”

Quinn was among the participants in Senior Life Newspaper’s October event at Skydive Space Center. He took the entire adventure with uncanny calmness, unlike Suki Patterson who exclaimed, “Anyone who hasn’t done this has wasted life!”

Quinn said, “I remember turning around to Jeremy, my Jumpmaster, in the plane and saying, ‘Are you sure that’s tight enough?’ He said, ‘It’s loose now, but it’ll be tight when you need it.’ I guess it was. I made it.”

It’s likely that he’ll make it to the end of his 81st year list, too. Just a month after creating it, the Mighty Quinn has already accomplished three of his goals, and is well on his way to achieving four more. He’s not prone to sit around waiting for things to happen. He has more than dreams at stake.

“I have to go now,” Quinn said. “I’m wasting money. I have goals to fulfill. Every unfinished goal is worth $100 to my grandkids.”