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It's up, up and away for adventurous 84-year-old

July 18, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. -

Motorcycle ride?

Check.

Helicopter ride?

Check.

Balloon ride?

Thanks to the organizers of the Spirit of America Over Martinsburg Balloon Festival planned for next month ... Check.

Bettiejean Grout of Hagerstown, 84, said there were three things she always wanted to do in life: take a cruise on a motorcycle, hop on a helicopter and take a ride in a hot air balloon.

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Grout took care of the motorcycle ride in the spring when a friend of hers took her out on a Harley-Davidson.

"A big one," Grout said.

Her helicopter ride came unexpectedly.

Grout was suffering from a heart condition about a month ago and had to be flown by helicopter to Washington (D.C.) Hospital Center for treatment.

"I couldn't see what I wanted to see because I was flat on my back," Grout said.

Then came the hot air balloon ride.

Nic Diehl, organizer of next month's planned Spirit of America Over Martinsburg Balloon Festival at the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport, said he received an e-mail from one of Grout's friends recently asking if organizers of the event would be willing to take Grout up in a hot air balloon during the festival.

Some test flights for the balloons were being conducted Monday evening behind the Martinsburg Mall for the event, scheduled for Aug. 4, 5 and 6, and Diehl said he suggested to Grout's friend that it would be a good opportunity for her to take her ride.

Grout agreed.

Grout showed up behind the mall Monday night with a carload of friends and a gung-ho attitude.

"I'm ready," said the silver-haired Grout, wearing silver-colored earrings and a light green outfit.

"I've just seen them in the air and I've often thought I would love to do that some day. It looks so peaceful," Grout said.

Grout's balloon ride was slightly delayed Monday evening due to the hot temperatures. About 8 p.m., Grout and her friends were called to the site where the balloon was being filled with air.

"All aboard, whoever is going aboard," a man called out from the balloon.

"Here I am," Grout said.

People gathered put down an ice cooler for Grout step up on to board the balloon and she climbed into the giant basket that holds the riders.

It was a busy night at the Martinsburg Mall and dozens of people ended up stopping at the practice site to watch two balloons lift into the air.

"It's fun already," Grout said when the balloon had lifted only a short distance from the ground.

The balloon continued rising and was soon high in the sky over Martinsburg.

The ride was expected to last about 45 minutes, Diehl said.

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