‘You’re only as old as you feel’: 85-year-old celebrates birthday with annual river backflip

VARNAMTOWN, N.C. (WECT/Gray News) – A North Carolina man recently celebrated turning 85 with his usual celebratory backflip into the river.

WECT reports O’Neal Varnam doesn’t look like a man who has been around for over eight decades and at 85, he sure doesn’t act it.

On Thursday, Varnam did what he does every year for his birthday — a backflip into the Lockwood Folly River.

“They don’t make them like that anymore,” his grandson Hunter Varnam shared on social media. “Happy 85th birthday to my hero in life, Capt. Varnam.”

Varnum 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.

The 85-year-old has owned and operated shrimp boats up and down the coast. In the late 1970s, Varnum started a marine construction business where he still works.

Varnam said his work ethic is why he can still do backflips at 85.

“Hard work and determination,” he said. “All the years working in the river has kept me strong.”

Varnum and his wife, Virginia, have been married for 61 years. They have four children, eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Varnam’s backflip has already gained a lot of attention on social media. His grandson said he is exceptionally proud of him, which is why he shared it.

Varnam said he hopes to continue this birthday backflip tradition for many years to come.

“I believe you’re only as old as you feel,” he said.