If studies are to be believed, more and more of us are expected to live to be over 100 years old. So how do you enjoy life past your century? Well, one man still tackling new challenges head on at the age of 101 is Verdun Hayes from Somerset.
The World War II veteran, who fought on the beaches of Normandy in 1944, has become the oldest man in the world to complete a skydive. How old you may ask? Well, Mr Hayes was 101 years and 38 days old to be exact when he broke the Guinness World Record.
Bryson William Verdun Hayes, known as Verdun, took to the skies with 10 members of his family, at Honiton in Devon, England.
Professional daredevil Verdun put his vitality in later life down to his need for adventure, and doesn't let his reliance on a colostomy bag stop his zest for life. He actually made his debut skydive last year to celebrate his 100th birthday. Not that it all went completely smoothly.
Verdun, who insists he felt no nerves on his debut dive, has previously flown gliders, been a county champion runner and even survived a small hot air balloon accident in his eighties. He has also kept his mind active, dabbling in woodwork and photography and – as a party piece – also likes to swim a length underwater.
He says: “I thought to myself, 'This is queer, I can’t see nothing.' It didn’t dawn on me for a while until I realised we were in a cloud! After we’d got through the clouds I could see all of Wales and all of the coast. It was so beautiful.”
A recent visit medical check saw the doctor learning as much from Verdun as the other way round. “I had my colon taken out when I was 78,” he says. “I’ve had a bag for 23 years and it’s not stopped me. The surgeon said to me, 'Mr Hayes, I’ve never seen a man look so well.'”
Verdun credits his long life to his late wife Hilda. He says: "We were married for 76 years from the age of 21, and we started courting aged 17. I knew her 80 years of my life. She was a wonderful person. We always wondered who would die first. She went aged 95. Though I very much doubt she would have liked to have known I was doing a skydive!”
Verdun fought in the Second World War, but wasn’t called up straight away because his skills as a builder were needed for the war effort back home. He was then called up in 1942 and landed on in Normandy as part of Operation Overlord. He made an emotional pilgrimage back there last year to stand and salute – despite his need for a stick – his friends in the Royal Signals who didn’t come home.
His daughter Lin Tattersall has no problem keeping him entertained in the Devon home where she now looks after him. She says: “He has never stopped, he loves to garden and look after vegetables and orchids, he plants hundreds of bulbs and looks after them all himself. He’s always been a daredevil, doing what he wanted to do. He ran the mile race at county level when he was younger and my Mum would ride alongside him on a bicycle when he trained.”
The first murmuring of a record skydive appeared last year, but Verdun has long been keen on going into the skies. Lin says: “He first said he wanted to do a skydive when he was 90 and we had to talk him out of it. My mum was still alive at that point and she wasn’t very happy about it. But he then announced, 'I’m definitely doing it when I get to 100.' So we let him alone and crossed that bridge when it arrived.”
Verdun has previously raised nearly £4,000 for the North Devon Hospice, and for this record-breaking jump is raising cash for the Royal British Legion.
“The Royal British Legion is close to my heart, my father having served in WW1 and myself, brothers and sister in WW2. Any donations would be welcomed. I need to make sure my health is in order then I am going to do another challenge. It’s important to keep challenging yourself and keep moving.”
Verdun had zero nerves when it came to the record breaking skydive, dethroning a Canadian gentleman, by being just a few days older.
“I want to get the record for Britain. My first dive had no effect on my nerves, I wasn’t worrying about it. I was just thinking, 'Get me up there!' The landing was nice, I just put my feet up and slithered along my bottom. The worst part was having it all filmed, there were so many cameras there!”