86-year-old celebrates birthday with annual backflip

Published: Sep. 11, 2023 at 11:36 AM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - It’s a birthday tradition he’s been doing for more than 25 years, and he has no plans to stop anytime soon.

O’Neal Varnam celebrated his 86th birthday last week with his annual backflip into the Lockwood Folly River.

“Born September 8, 1937 he is one tough guy,” his grandson, Hunter Varnam, told WECT. “(He) had a recent scare with a heart surgery a month ago and to bounce back and still continue on with his birthday backflip is an awesome story.

“He has been doing this for more than 25 years. He said he’s going to go to 100.”

You can see video of his leap from last year here.

Varnam has lived his entire life on the water. A native of Varnamtown, a small Brunswick County town named after his family, he grew up around commercial fishermen and boat builders. He owned and operated shrimp boats up and down the coast, and, in the late 1970s, he started a marine construction business.

Varnam and his wife, Virginia, have been married 62 years.