86-year-old celebrates birthday with annual backflip despite recent heart surgery

Published: Sep. 12, 2023 at 12:10 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT/Gray News) – A man in North Carolina has a unique birthday tradition that began more than 25 years ago, and he has no plans to stop anytime soon.

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

“Born September 8, 1937, he is one tough guy,” his grandson, Hunter Varnam, said. “(He) had a recent scare with 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.”

Varnam has lived his entire life on the water.

A native of Varnamtown, a small town in the southeastern part of the state 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 said his work ethic is why he can still do backflips in his 80s.

Varnam and his wife, Virginia, have been married for 62 years. They have four children, eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.