What’s more thrilling than dangling 116-storeys above Toronto on your 92nd birthday?
Doing it again on your 97th birthday.
It may seem a bit intense for a person of so many years. But Harry Whalen shrugs off any suggestion that he’s too old for the thrill.
Besides, he says modestly, it was a good chance to “get up there and take a look around.”
On Sunday, Whalen became the oldest person to ever stroll around the CN Tower’s external platform, more than 500 metres above the city streets below.
“All I can say is: awesome,” he says about the experience.
It’s a feeling Whalen knows well. He spent decades raising some of the city’s most recognizable buildings as a construction worker, often operating at nauseating altitudes.
He might have hung up his steel-toed boots long ago, but his taste for adventure is still palpable.
“I think I’m a little different,” he says when asked what sets him apart from other people his age.
“I’m not on any medication whatsoever. I can’t remember the last time I took an aspirin or Tylenol.”
Whalen’s good health (he refuses to reveal his secret) has allowed him to enjoy life well into his golden years.
His first tango with the CN Tower was five years ago, to celebrate his 92nd birthday. It was a family affair, but his youngest daughter, Cynthia Whalen, couldn’t bring herself to it.
She’s “horrified” by heights.
So she made him a promise: if he made it to 95, she’d do the CN Tower walk with him.
A femur fracture, however, put the promise on hold until this year.
“Only for him would I do it, nobody else. Only for him,” Cynthia says. “If I promise my dad something I’m going to do it.”
A promise is a promise
For Father’s Day she finally fulfilled her promise.
Along with her husband and two teenage sons, Cynthia took to the clouds with her dad.
“I was terrified,” she said. But behind her the entire time was Harry, whispering words of encouragement and support.
Between rattling off rapid fire jokes — a skill he attributes to his Newfoundland roots — Whalen talks about his family with a bursting smile.
“It was nice to have them up there,” he says.
Now he needs to come up with a way to top this adventure when he turns 100. He’s hoping his four children, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren might have some creative ideas.
“I’m hoping to get there. I’m pretty good now,” he says, gyrating his hips to the rhythm of some happy song only he can hear.