85-year-old celebrates birthday with annual backflip in river

“Papa Knot” celebrates his birthday every year by doing a backflip in the Lockwood Folly River
O’Neal Varnam celebrated his 85th birthday with an annual backflip into the Lockwood Folly River. (Source: WECT)
Published: Sep. 9, 2022 at 4:52 PM EDT
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VARNAMTOWN, N.C. (WECT) - O’Neal Varnam doesn’t look like a man who has been around for over eight decades. At 85, he sure doesn’t act it. On Thursday, Sept. 8, “Knot,” as he is affectionately known around Varnamtown, did what he does every year for his birthday — a backflip into the Lockwood Folly River.

“They don’t make ‘em like that anymore,” his grandson Hunter Varnam posted on Facebook. “Happy 85th birthday to my hero in life Capt. Knot Varnam.”

At 85 years young, 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. He owned and operated shrimp boats up and down the coast. In the late 1970s he started a marine construction business. He still works there every day.

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

“Hard work and determination,” Varnum said. “All the years working in the river I’ve kept myself strong.”

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

Varnam’s backflip got a lot of attention on Facebook. His grandson is exceptionally proud which is why he shared it.

“Watching my Papa Knot do this gives me hope for tomorrow,” Hunter said. “I am truly honored to call him my grandfather and share this with people. The fact that most people at his age are in nursing homes and he can still do a backflip is impressive. He is my hero in life and a true staple to our community.”

For “Papa Knot,” age is really just a number. He hopes to continue this birthday tradition for many years to come.

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