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View of Zipwire, Bethesda, Wales

Gran on a Wire

By Ben Cohen | 21 Sep 2016

Eighty year-old Norma flies down a giant zipwire at 119mph to ‘show the grandchildren.’

The idea was hatched when retired schoolteacher Norma Brown started talking about her upcoming 80th birthday.

‘It was last Christmas’ remembers Norma. ‘My granddaughters and I were having a meal and I said to them, “Don’t you start thinking about buying anything or having a party for my 80th birthday because I’ve got everything I need.” So they said, “Well, why don’t you do something else then?”’  

Zipping Off

A few months later and Norma had decided what that ‘something else’ would be. She was to celebrate by being strapped into a harness and sent flying down a zip wire at 119 mph. And so she did just that, at Zip World, the world’s fastest zip wire ride in Bethesda Quarry, North Wales. A little older than the other thrillseekers that day but every bit as enthusiastic.


‘My grandchildren think I’m getting too old. So I thought I’d have a go and show them what I can do.’
Norma

Norma has been sponsored by her friends, family and church, and Tearfund is one of two charities to benefit. However, chatting to her, it’s clear that she had other motives too: ‘My grandchildren think I’m getting too old – they’re at university and they think they’re the greatest, don’t they? So I thought I’d have a go and show them what I can do.’

And so, one slightly cloudy day in September, she found herself at the top of a very, very high former slate quarry in North Wales. ‘All I could see was just the mountainside full of slate. And then at the bottom, there was a lake. I wasn’t scared. It was just so exciting.’



Norma in full zipwire gear

Norma in full 'extreme zipwiring' gear (photo: Gerry Blackford Photography)

For all the children

Norma has never been one for staying in her comfort zones having travelled to Rwanda with two members of her church – also in Bethesda. ‘We saw a lot of children suffering there,’ she recalls. She’s a former primary school headmistress and can’t bear the thought of children suffering anywhere in the world.

‘I just wanted to help some children who were in difficulty. And Tearfund, they’re looking after small children. My lot (at school) were just a wonderful lot, they were sitting happy. Never a day goes by when I don’t think “those poor children in Syria and all those awful places”, it must be terrible for them.’

With 80 years of get up and go under her harness, Norma isn’t quite ready to hang up her derring do. Though she’s not sure how she will celebrate her 81st: ‘I want to do skydiving, I think that would be great. But I don’t think I would be brave enough.’

With a year to go, it would be foolish person that bet against her mustering up the courage.

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Photo of Ben Cohen

Written by Ben Cohen