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.

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