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Jenna Bush Hager Was 'Terrified' During Her 'Emotional' Skydive in Honor of Late Grandfather George H. W. Bush

·4-min read
Jenna Bush Hager skydives with the U.S. Army Golden Knights in honor of her grandfather, former President George H.W. Bush
Jenna Bush Hager skydives with the U.S. Army Golden Knights in honor of her grandfather, former President George H.W. Bush

Today Show Twitter Jenna Bush Hager's skydive

Jenna Bush Hager was smiling from ear-to-ear during her Thursday morning skydive jump in honor of her late grandfather, but the Today co-host told PEOPLE she was more than a little nervous.

"I mean, I was terrified," Bush Hager told PEOPLE, shortly after she took the 10,000-foot plunge in honor of her late grandfather, former President George H. W. Bush.

Bush Hager said she knew "the only thing is you have somebody on your back" before she took the dive.

"It wasn't like I wasn't nervous," Bush Hager said about the moment she jumped. "It was just that there's somebody on your back, and so you go."

The former first daughter said that although the moments before the jump were nerve-wracking, the fall itself was exhilarating.

"It's terrifying, because it goes against everything you think is natural," Bush Hager said. "The thought of jumping out is like the craziest idea. And it's like this really intense fall, free-fall period."

Bush Hager said "there's this moment of really peaceful gliding" once the parachute is pulled.

She added that "it was a really emotional experience for me, because I was inspired by somebody that I've loved and lost."

Her grandfather, the 41st president, died in November 2018 after battling Parkinson's disease. His death happened just seven months after his wife and former First Lady Barbara Bush died.

Jenna Bush Hager
Jenna Bush Hager

TODAY Jenna Bush Hager

Bush Hager said when skydiving, "you do feel close to the heavens."

"You're looking at this magnificent world below and, I mean, it was really, really special," she said. "It's hard to even describe."

The former first daughter told PEOPLE the moment left her feeling thankful for friends and family cheering her on.

"There was a moment of extreme gratitude for this person I loved, my grandfather that came before me," she said. "And then also just for this incredible, supportive team that I work with that were cheering me on when I was doing something that I was so obviously terrified of."

Bush Hager said that "to have colleagues who care about you in that way, is just a really, really lucky thing."

RELATED: Jenna Bush Hager Skydives in Honor of Late 'Gampy' George H. W. Bush: 'I Jump for Him'

Once Bush Hager landed safely, she began receiving calls and texts from family members, including husband Henry Hager, as well as her mom and former First Lady Laura Bush.

"My husband called afterwards and he was like, 'I just so wanted to hold your hand, because I know you so well I could tell you were shaking. You were so nervous,' " Bush Hager recalled, adding, "I mean, I definitely was."

Her mom, meanwhile, called in to the Today show during her daughter's jump.

"You could hear it in her voice," Bush Hager said: "She said she was watching and super nervous."

Bush Hager said her mom "is the calmest woman in America" and "the fact that she was nervous to me was actually a big surprise."

Bush Hager added that her dad, former President George W. Bush, sent her a text after she landed, which read, "I'm so proud of my baby."

Jenna Bush Hager skydives with the U.S. Army Golden Knights in honor of her grandfather, former President George H.W. Bush
Jenna Bush Hager skydives with the U.S. Army Golden Knights in honor of her grandfather, former President George H.W. Bush

Today Show Twitter Jenna Bush Hager

Bush Hager said the idea to do the jump Thursday morning was sparked by the recent re-opening of the National Museum of the Army, which was first opened last March but quickly closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"They were opening their museum, and obviously my grandfather had long admired and jumped often with their team, the Army's Golden Knights," Bush Hager told PEOPLE.

"So, it was their idea to reopen it with this jump right before my grandfather's 97th birthday," she said, adding the fact that it's Father's Day weekend also "made it really special."

"I immediately was like, 'Oh my gosh, to do it for him, I will do it!" she said. "If it's for him and in his honor, let's go,' even though once I was up there I don't know if I really felt that way."

H. W. Bush told Bush Hager during an interview before his 88th birthday that he first jumped out of an airplane at 19 years old, when his plane was shot down over the Pacific Ocean in 1944.

"He jumped and he hit his head," Bush Hager told PEOPLE. "And those in the plane passed away, they didn't make it out."

From that moment on, H. W. Bush made promise to himself that - because he survived - he would honor those who didn't by skydiving on all of his milestone birthdays, a tradition his granddaughter kept up Thursday.

"It really speaks to who he was," Bush Hager said. "He wanted to live life to the fullest, and all the way through his life. So, to get to do it with him a few days after what would have been his 97th was just really, really emotional."

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