Above and beyond: Baristas join 82-year-old skydiving customer

Vietnam veteran Victor Gelner found relief from decades of post-traumatic stress in an unlikely place: jumping from a plane 13,000 feet in the air. He started skydiving five years ago and soon after, so did many of his favorite Starbucks baristas who often join him in support.

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. — Victor Gelner, 82, jumps out of airplanes more often than most people buy milk.

An Army veteran, Gelner experienced decades of significant post-traumatic stress after serving in Vietnam beginning in 1962 – night sweats, flashbacks, bad dreams, hyper vigilance, irritability and even suicidal thoughts.

“They call them invisible wounds,” Gelner said. “I guess that’s what PTSD is.”

The retired Army sergeant major said a bright spot for him is his daily visit to the Starbucks Military Family Store near Fort Carson in Colorado Springs. It was there one day five years ago that Gelner overheard a couple of younger veterans discussing their own struggles with mental health, and how of all the treatments they’d tried, it was skydiving that made them feel better. Which is how Gelner, at 78 years old, found himself strapped to a skydiving instructor in a tiny plane 13,000 feet in the air about to put gravity to the test. What happened next was nothing short of lifechanging.

“When you go out of that plane and you’re freefalling at 120 miles per hour, the adrenaline – it does something to the brain. Nothing else matters in your mind. Any problems you may have, you don’t even think about them. Your whole self is looking down at that ground and then you pull the ripcord, and then the chute opens, and you’re floating. It’s so quiet,” Gelner said.

After his first jump, Gelner felt better than he had in a long time. He stopped at Starbucks on his way to tell store manager Jennifer Roxburgh all about it.

“You have got to try this,” he told her. She laughed. Other store partners wandered by as they spoke, and pretty soon a handful of Starbucks baristas had volunteered to jump with him. Gelner, who has now logged more than 200 tandem jumps, has skydived with his favorite Starbucks baristas several times, including this weekend in honor of Veteran’s Day.

“Skydiving makes me happy,” he said. “ I’m not the same person I was before I started.”

Starbucks has long committed to supporting our country’s military personnel, their families and their mental health. The company has hired more than 26,000 veterans and military spouses to help ease their transition out of service, exceeding a goal set in 2013, and is committed to hiring 5,000 more annually going forward. Read more about how veterans and military spouses make our company better and our communities stronger.

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‘By us and for us:’ New Starbucks merch inspired by LGBTQ+ community