Skydiving granny jumps out of a plane to mark 20th anniversary of son killed in car crash
Skydiving supergran Yvonne Boyle recently fulfilled a dream when she leapt out of a plane at 10,000 feet to raise money for charity. It was a bittersweet achievement for the 59-year-old Armoy woman who took on the challenge in memory of her teenage son and her father.
Yvonne, who works as a care assistant at Leabank Nursing Home, run by the Macklin Care Group in Ballycastle, is a self-confessed adrenaline junkie who wanted to do something special to mark the 20th anniversary of her son James' death.
James was tragically killed in a car crash on his way home from school when he was just 14. The talented footballer usually got the bus home but accepted a lift that day. He was thrown from the car when it crashed and his distraught mum arrived on the scene to find him lying on the road surrounded by paramedics.
Earlier this year there was more heartache for Yvonne when her father Robert Robinson passed away in February aged 86. He had been diagnosed with dementia a year after the death of Yvonne's mum Margaret in 2014.
The couple had been married for 63 years and Yvonne says they had never been apart.
She and her five brothers and sisters took it in turns to stay overnight with her father in his final months and they are convinced he give up on life because of the loss of their mum.
Yvonne's amazing skydive has raised over £1,000 to be split between Dementia NI and cot death charity Lullaby.
A mum-of-six with seven grandchildren, Yvonne was cheered on by her family including husband Colin (59), a plasterer, as well as colleagues from Lee Nursing Home as she took to the skies for her daring fundraiser.
She says: "It is something I've always wanted to do before I'm 60 and I also wanted to do something special to mark my son's 20th anniversary and my father's passing."
Yvonne admits, however, that she did have a few reservations before take-off.
"When I go on holiday I don't like it when the planes are taking off or landing although I am okay once it's up," she says. "And when I saw how small the plane was for the skydive it did make me feel really nervous. Then, once I was inside it, I was sitting on the floor, which didn't exactly reassure me either."
And yet the moment she took the plunge, she knew that she wanted to do it again. "It was unreal, I absolutely loved it," says Yvonne. "My favourite bit was the freefall. I am definitely doing it again in two years time for different charities, although I haven't decided which ones those will be yet.
"Doing a skydive was on my bucket list and I am so thrilled to have done it."
Yvonne freely admits that her nearest and dearest were rather taken aback when she first mooted the idea of jumping out of a plane.
"My family thought I was crazy when I told them I was doing it and some of my grandchildren came to watch with my husband and friends from work. I think they may have thought I was mad - and they certainly weren't brave enough to do it with me, though I think that now they perhaps see me as a rather cool granny."
So where did her sense of adventure come from? Yvonne says that she has always loved the thrills of rollercoasters and has tackled some of the biggest in the world while on holidays: "I did the big one in Disney in Paris - my husband got off and said never again, while I went straight to the queue for another go," she laugh
Although it is 20 years since she lost James - her third boy of five, she also has one daughter - she says the pain is something that never goes away.
Every moment of that day until she saw her son lying on the ground is etched clearly in her memory, but the resulting shock of what happened has left the rest of the day a blur.
She recalls: "To me it is still just like yesterday, I can see still everything. It never ever goes away. James took a lift home instead of coming on the bus which he usually did and the car crashed.
"My niece was due to come to my house after school that day and she came in hysterical. I thought somebody had done something to her and I actually had to slap her she was so hysterical.
"She just kept repeating 'James, James, James' and I knew something was wrong.
"I jumped in the car and went to Ballycastle and came across the accident.
"I saw James lying on the road with paramedics around him. After that everything is a blank. Somebody must have brought me home but I don't remember."
James had lived for football and was a member of the local Triangle Club in Coleraine. He was due to go to football practice on the night he died.
Later, his parents learned he was going to be told that he had been selected to play in the Milk Cup.
His mum says: "He was Liverpool mad and loved his football. We were told afterwards that he had been picked for the Milk Cup and he would have been over the moon with that."
And reflecting on the special bond they shared, she adds: "James was a very caring boy. He would have done anything for anybody. We were so close that he was like a best friend to me as well as a son.
"Christmas is still tough without him as are his birthday and anniversaries.
"They say time is a healer and it's been 20 years and you do heal a bit but you never ever forget. I still miss him every day."
As well as thinking of James as she jumped from the plane, Yvonne also wanted to honour her father.
His death came four years after she lost her mum Margaret.
She says: "Mum took an aneurysm and never woke up. She was in hospital for three weeks and me and my five brothers and sisters took it in turns to stay with her every night. She slipped away in her sleep.
"Dad started to go downhill after that. They had been married over 63 years and had never been apart.
"He was diagnosed with dementia and took to his bed on his birthday last August.
"He never got to the stage where he forgot who we were or didn't recognise his family and he still would have made you laugh right up until he passed away. We all believe that he just gave up in the end. Losing mum knocked him back and he never got over it."
Yvonne loves her job working with the elderly, some of whom also have dementia. She is in charge of laundry as well as having a caring role.
She says: "I love seeing the residents settled and I love sitting talking to them. I am one of those fortunate people who can say I look forward to going to my work.
"I wanted to do the skydive for Dementia NI because I work with it and also because of daddy.
"I also chose the cot death charity Lullaby to benefit as they don't seem to get much support and they are a great organisation.
"I am grateful to everyone who donated and supported me and I can't wait to do it again. My plan is to give myself two years and then do it again.
"I really enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone."