LOOK – UP IN THE SKY, IT’S... SUPERGRAN
Irene dives into the record books
SHE held on tightly to her trusty walking stick as she walked toward the plane, but threw it away before boarding: she wouldn’t be needing it while freefalling at 220km/h through the clear blue sky above Lake Alexandrina.
Not yesterday’s swirling coastal wind, not the hip replacement a year ago, not her age could prevent Adelaide 101-year-old Irene O’Shea from becoming the world’s oldest female skydiver.
And she wasn’t even nervous. Instead, she waved at her support crew of family and friends – including most of her five grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren – as she boarded a Cessna 206 en route to 14,000ft and one giant leap into the record books.
Born on May 30, 1916, Mrs O’Shea said after landing: “It was just terrific, but I’m glad my feet are planted firmly back on the ground.”
While she wasn’t nervous pre-jump, there was a nail-bit- ing wait to see whether she’d be able to go skyward.
Already postponed five times since July due to bad weather, yesterday’s strong winds near Langhorne Creek meant an unexpected fourhour wait for calmer skies. Shortly after 4pm, the winds died down.
“I haven’t done any preparation because I’ve never been frightened of heights – but you won’t get me near water,” said Mrs O’Shea.
If there was one person who was nervous, it was SA Skydiving’s Jed Smith, who was the great-grandmother’s tandem master for the record jump.
Despite the 3500 jumps under his belt, Mr Smith – who at 24 is 77 years Mrs O’Shea’s junior – was the only one who admitted to pre-jump nerves.
“This is one of the few jumps where I’m more nervous than my student,” he said. “She is as cool as a cucumber.
“It’s thrilling and exciting when someone pushes the boundaries; for someone willing to throw the rule book out the window like this.”
It’s becoming something of a partnership for Mrs O’Shea and Mr Smith, who were together in June last year when, as a 100-year-old, she took her very first skydive.
Yesterday’s jump was done purely in the name of charity, raising money for Motor Neurone Disease.
“I am doing this to raise money for MND – that’s the main thing, not for personal gain,” Mrs O’Shea said.
“As it happens it’s a worldrecord, that’s just how it turned out.”
Mrs O’Shea has beaten current world record holder, Astrid Geertsen, from Denmark, who skydived in 2004, then aged 100 years and 60 days.
Yesterday, Mrs O’Shea was aged 101 years and 110 days.
And as she free-fell from the sky, with a backdrop of the Coorong to one side and the rolling vineyards of the Langhorne Creek wine region to the other, her daughter Shelagh was on her mind.
Shelagh died of MND aged 67 in 2008.
“It’s the most dreadful disease,” said Mrs O’Shea, who lives in the same house in Athelstone that she’s lived in since arriving in Australia from England in 1974 and still drives her own car.
After the jump, she was toasted with sparkling wine and didn’t quite rule out another one, saying: “You don’t know what the future holds.”
And she won’t be slowing down with a restful sleep-in today; she has friends coming over in the morning.
“There is no secret (to living to 101),” she said. “I just live an ordinary life.”
Well, some would disagree: skydiving at 101 years of age is hardly ordinary.
Mrs O’Shea is continuing to fundraise online through: www. give.everydayhero.com/ au/irene-s-skydive-for-motorneurone-disease-research
HIGH-FLYING: 101-year-old Irene O'Shea takes to the sky with Jed Smith at SA Skydiving at Langhorne Creek yesterday.
STEPS TO SUCCESS: Irene O'Shea and Jed Smith at SA Skydiving at Langhorne Creek yesterday.