Up in the air, down on the ground and in between: loads of thankfulness

November 24, 2022 12:01 am

Rebecca Muir, the skydiving teacher from Chesapeake. (Courtesy of Rebecca Muir)

Teachers go to great lengths – and even heights – to provide the best learning environments for their children. Sometimes literally. 

Let’s praise Rebecca Muir, a Georgetown Primary School third-grade teacher in Chesapeake, for combining education and skydiving to pique her students’ interest. We have YouTube and Facebook to prove this daredevil inspires you to look up. 

Muir tops my list of things I’m thankful for in Virginia, my annual collection of items that I hope make you smile, appreciate our commonwealth even more and spotlight events overlooked during the rush of the year. 

The entertaining educator filmed herself reading the book, “A Letter from Your Teacher,” a rhyming welcome note to her students before the school year started. She jumped out of a small plane at 13,000 feet, pulled her parachute and used a GoPro 360 with a chest mount to film the recitation.  

Her “wow” factor is off the charts. 

“I’m very passionate about teaching and very passionate about skydiving,” Muir told me last week. “I just wanted to start the school year off getting them excited.” She’s made similar welcome messages since the pandemic started, but this was the first time she took to the skies for one. 

Muir, 29, says parents and fellow teachers were in disbelief after watching the video, but students thought it was cool: “I’ve got street cred with them!” 

You’ve got that right. In the video, the licensed skydiver with 350 jumps exudes enthusiasm and confidence as she glides to earth. After donning sunglasses, her toughest task seemed to be preventing the book from whooshing out of her hands.  

“People just appreciated it was positive, light and airy,” Muir said.   

What will she do for an encore next year? “I don’t know!” Muir chuckled. “I’ve been thinking about that. Maybe solving a math problem and taking a whiteboard.” 

While Muir gets folks to look up, one man prefers looking down – where the acorns fall.  

Virginia Mercury colleague Meghan McIntyre wrote about Mike Ortmeier’s continuing efforts to scoop up acorns near his Arlington home. He then turns them over to the state. The volunteer has collected more than 8,000 pounds of acorns over the past 13 years.  

Forestry officials plant acorns and nuts at state-run nurseries to grow into seedlings that are then transplanted around the commonwealth. As one conservancy official noted: “What we are really looking for is more Mikes.” 

Sportsmanship at all levels was once routine. However, at a time when referees are attacked, parents go overboard or athletes behave badly, you wonder whether basic decency by players has become passé. 

So it took a simple act by Eric Fila, a catcher in a Virginia high school baseball playoff, to remind everyone that it’s still a game, and we should adhere to standards – win or lose. The West Springfield player’s team had just given up the winning hit. Eric removed his catcher’s mask, turned toward the home plate umpire and extended his hand. Shortly after, the ump shook hands with him.  

The video went viral, but Eric, a rising senior at the time, thought the reaction was overblown. “It’s something so simple,” he told The Washington Post.  

It should be, Eric. Thank you for reminding us. 

Get out your hankies. If any story this year could make you boo-hoo, it’s one about the bonds between Julia Prendergast and Tyme Fiedorczyk, who have been friends for 15 years. The Virginian-Pilot wrote about the relationship of the two 20-somethings. Fiedorczyk has cerebral palsy; Prendergast is her full-time caregiver.  

They’ve shared movie nights, shopping trips and birthday parties. And much more. “I decided I would be with her every day,” Prendergast said during an interview at Fiedorczyk’s home in Chesapeake. “And I told her to get used to it.”  

On the gift-giving front, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts announced it had received a nearly $60 million gift. That’s right, eight figures. The gift included a major contribution to the Richmond museum’s expansion campaign and paintings by prominent American artists.  

When thinking about staying healthy, oral care is often overlooked. People forced to choose between a doctor’s office and a dental chair usually opt for the former.  

So it was great news the Appalachian Highlands Community Dental Center in Abingdon announced plans to expand following $650,000 in donations. The nonprofit says it provides oral care to the uninsured and adults in recovery programs in Southwest Virginia. The center said it treated more than 3,600 patients in 2021.  

 Was it God? Kismet? Extreme luck? 

Perhaps some combination kept 59-year-old Todd Rowan alive early last month after he suffered a heart attack on the sand in Virginia Beach. Fortunately for him, a pair of surfers – one a physician’s assistant, the other a health care worker at a local hospital – and other onlookers tended to Rowan. They did CPR, helping him to survive until paramedics arrived.  

Paramedics used a defibrillator to shock Rowan back to consciousness. They took him to a hospital, and Rowan later had quadruple bypass heart surgery.  

So much could’ve altered the outcome. Rowan and his wife were set to drive back to New Jersey that day, but they decided to walk on the beach first. One of the rescuers stayed out longer on the waves than he’d originally planned. I couldn’t reach the Rowans, but one thing’s for certain: This Thanksgiving for them will be unlike any other.  

May yours be special, too. 

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Roger Chesley
Roger Chesley

Longtime columnist and editorial writer Roger Chesley worked at the (Newport News) Daily Press and The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot from 1997 through 2018. He previously worked at newspapers in Cherry Hill, N.J., and Detroit. Reach him at [email protected]