When you get up into the 80s, most people are content to just lay back and take it easy. When we picture our grandmothers, they’re usually engaged in a sort of leisurely activity: knitting, gardening, watching The Price is Right, etc.
But what about skydiving, ziplining, and walking on an airplane wing?
85-year-old Trish Wagstaff of Oxfordshire, England has done them all. Every year, she undertakes another audacious daredevil stunt, activities that would be bold for anyone let alone an octogenarian, raising huge amounts of money for charity in the process—and she has no plans on slowing down.
This inspiring story was set off by unfortunate circumstance.
Nine years ago, Wagstaff’s husband Peter died after 56 years of happy marriage, leaving her depressed about her “awful life,” she told the Oxford Times.
But she claims that one night, she heard her husband’s voice, encouraging her from the beyond:
“Come on poppet, snap out of it.”
Wagstaff realized there was still life to live, adventures to go on, and people to help in the world, despite her advancing age.
“I do feel that age doesn’t enter into it,” she told Caters News. “If you’re healthy, and able to do them, get up off your backside and go out and raise money for those less fortunate.”
So she did something extraordinary: she signed up to go skydiving, kicking off a yearly tradition of doing challenging stunts to raise money for various charities.
Wagstaff’s stunts get crazier every year.
After that initial skydive in 2008, she’s kept up her daredevil lifestyle, charity fundraising via sponsorships of her stunts.
In 2014, she went to Wales and did the longest zipline in Europe. She raised £11,500 for Thames Valley Air Ambulance, according to the Ilkley Gazette.
Another year she raised money for a hospice by going scuba diving—with sharks, evidently, according to Caters News.
She most often does it on behalf of cancer and hospice centers, causes that hit close to home for her.
“Cancer is very near to my heart as I nursed my husband with it,”
she told the Oxford Times. “Several family members including my father also had it.”
But she’s also honoring her husband by doing stunts that would’ve terrified him.
“I’ve always helped raise money for charity but my husband hated heights and I don’t think he could’ve watched me do this,” she told StoryTrender, “So I thought what could be better?”
In 2015, she was scheduled for powered paragliding, but after hearing of someone being injured doing the sport, she backed down at her daughter’s suggestion (even the bravest daredevils have their limits.) Instead, she did another skydive, which at this point was a walk in the park for her.
“I don’t mind heights at all,” she said.
But last year, she did the ultimate stunt, one she had wanted to do for years.
By 2016, Wagstaff was longing to take it up a notch, presumably because her lust for danger had by then become insatiable.
So she had her sights set on the most dangerous stunt of all: Wingwalking.
She was tired of jumping out of planes, she wanted to jump on them!
Regulations stood in her way: “I want to wingwalk, but they won’t let you get sponsored. They will let me join the wing walking team but I don’t want that,” she told the Ilkely Gazette in 2015. “I want to do a one-off and raise money for charity.”
But she persisted with her dream, and by next year finally gained permission: “I have finally tackled the aviation board about it,” she told the Oxford Times.
The biggest stunt called for the biggest donation, and Wagstaff set her sights on topping her fundraising records.
“This one is going to hit the record,” she told the Oxford Times.
The stunt itself went smoothly. Was Wagstaff nervous? No way, she said—not for her, at least.
“The wing walk wasn’t the slightest bit frightening although I think my family were having hysterics on the ground below.”
In the end, she succeeded in shattering her record—with a whopping £22,700.50 for Cancer Research UK.
“I’m absolutely delighted that I beat my target—this has totally exceeded my expectations but people have been so marvelous,” she told the Oxford Mail. “People were so generous, but they know there is a lot of cancer out there so they are happy to give generously.”
She’s received countless thanks and recognition from charity organizations.
But the biggest honor came in 2012:
She was recognized with the British Empire Medal (Civil Division), an honor she told the Ilkley Gazzette was “absolutely incredible.”
And Wagstaff is far from finished. Stay tuned next month when she will pull off this year’s stunt: a catapulted paraglide.
As for what else the future holds, Wagstaff is always open for suggestions.
“I really don’t know what to do next,” she told Caters News.