It was almost a century ago when World War II saw the introduction of paratroopers, the military fighting force created to be flown behind enemy lines and dropped into combat zones. On May 14, 2017, a World War II veteran from southwest England brought to memory the spirit of those brave men when he set the world record for oldest tandem skydiver. Bryson William ‘Verdun’ Hayes is a D-Day veteran who, at 101 years of age, thrilled family and friends alike when he leaped from an airplane over Devon, England.
Hayes previously made his first jump at the age of 100.
However, choosing to return for a second skydive the following year, he managed the snatch the world record from its previous holder. Hayes beat out a fellow centenarian, Armand Gendreau of Canada, for the record by only 35 days. Although skydiving is a rigorous sport for anyone to undertake, it’s made easier when part of a Tandem jump. These jumps strap a trained instructor to the back of a less experienced skydiver. These paired jumps allow an instructor to help guide the student through the Free Fall, making the entire experience safer. The rush of flying headlong toward the Earth, however, remains the same. Hayes said of his jump:
“Last year’s skydive was an amazing experience. I must have got a bit of a taste for it, because it just made me want to do it again.”
Hayes managed not only to become the oldest individual to participate in a Tandem skydive, but he did so from a greater height than the previous record holder. Many skydives are done from about 10,000 feet. Hayes pushed that limit and jumped from 15,000 feet. On hand to witness the event were four generations of Hayes’ family. In fact, eight members of the Hayes clan leaped with him, including his son Bryan and grandson Roger. Even great-grandsons Joe and Stanley got in on the family event. Hayes has a history of bravery. As a veteran who fought on the war-torn beaches of Normandy, Hayes had definitely seen worse in his lifetime. His bravery in the face of the odds may not come as a shock to his family then. Indeed, his grandson-in-law, Ian Honnor, said that Hayes has an edgy streak.
“He would class himself as a bit of a daredevil,” Honnor said.
“He did a gliding session when he was 90, but he’s never done anything of this nature.” It may not even be the last time that Hayes attempts such a feat. Honnor continued to say, “It wouldn’t surprise me if he does it again in a year’s time, and he’s also talking about wing walking. So, I’ll now be looking into that to see if it’s medically possible.” Bravery seems to be a natural streak in Hayes, who noted that he never felt nervous during his dive. He’s also been a county champion runner and survived a hot air balloon accident. If there’s ever been a man alive who likes to push his limits, it would seem that it’s Hayes.
However, despite his love of skydiving and thrill seeking, he remembers to keep his priorities straight. His skydive was done, in part, to raise money for the Royal British Legion, a UK charity that helps members of the military, veterans, and their families. Hayes’ efforts alone have raised over $3,100 in funds for the charity. Hayes also looks back fondly on his wife, who recently passed. “I knew her 80 years of my life,” he said. “She was a wonderful person. We always wondered who would die first. She went age 95. Though I very much doubt she would have liked to have known I was doing a skydive!”
Whatever reservations his wife might have had, Hayes himself was more than happy to take up the challenge of skydiving. As his daughter put it, “He first said he wanted to do a skydive when he was 90 and we talked him out of it.” She continued:
“But then he announced, ‘I’m definitely doing it when I get to 100.’ So, we left him alone and crossed that bridge when it arrived.”
Hayes not only crossed that bridge, but also took the world record with him when he did.