The youngest, fastest, highest fliers


On Sunday, eight-year-old Jaimie Donovan from Galway became the youngest person to visit the North Pole, but she is not the first child to attempt a Guinness World Record

ON EASTER SUNDAY, eight-year-old Galway girl Jaimie Donovan stood at the North Pole, in minus 26 degrees, and had a place not only at the pole but, it seems, in the Guinness Book of Records as the youngest person to visit it.

She had flown there courtesy of her father, Irish endurance runner Richard Donovan, to mark the 10th anniversary of a marathon he organises in the Arctic. Jaimie looks to have succeeded in breaking – by only a day – the record held by another eight-year-old.

She was quoted as saying afterwards: “I loved the North Pole and I want to go back.” Her family must now wait for Guinness World Records to verify her accomplishment so that she can take her place among a small but growing number of young record breakers. While Jaimie visited by plane, aided by her father, some of these  youngsters have taken on feats of extraordinary endurance and have even raised questions over the appropriateness of being exposed to extreme conditions and situations at such a young age. In recent times, Guinness World Records has decided not to recognise some feats so as not to be seen to encourage dangerous attempts.

So, who are some of those young record breakers?


In 2009, Dutch girl Laura Dekker, who is now 16, had her sights set on becoming the youngest person to sail solo around the world from the age of 14. She first had to convince authorities and some of her family that she should be allowed to attempt the record.

Eventually, she received permission once she abided by certain court orders with regard to her training and access to education. After 518 days, Dekker completed her journey of 27,000 nautical miles earlier this year, although she did stop off several times along the way. Neither Guinness World Records nor the World Sailing Speed Record Council would recognise her feat, saying that they no longer recognised dangerous record attempts by child sailors.


In 2007, when he was 23, Barrington Irving became the youngest person to fly solo around the world, taking in 27 countries on his 97-day trip. The aerospace student, who assembled his plane from donated parts and was assisted by corporate sponsorship, made stops in Canada, the Azores, Spain, Italy, Greece, Egypt, Dubai, Thailand, Hong Kong and Japan.

On landing in Florida after completing his trip, Irving said: “I came up with the idea to fly around the world just to prove a point to other kids that they too can do something amazing in aviation and follow their dreams.”


In May 2010, having already conquered Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro when he was 10 years old, American Jordan Romero became the youngest in history to reach the summit of Mount Everest at the age of 16. He was accompanied by his father, stepmother and several Sherpas, but the climb sparked a debate around the issue of young climbers and parental responsibility. Romero now has his sights set on reaching the tops of the highest mountains on the seven continents. When he reached the top of Everest, Romero called his mother, who had been tracking his progress on GPS. “Mom, I’m calling you from the top of the world,” he said. Officials in Nepal insist climbers are aged 16 or over, so Jordan and his team began their climb from the Chinese side of the mountain, where no age restrictions exist.


An Indian boy who was reportedly sold by his mother to a passer-by for 800 rupees (€12) became one of the youngest marathon runners in the world at the age of three. His story of triumph and tragedy was later turned into an award-winning BBC Four documentary, which told the story of how Budhia was pushed to excess and became an overnight celebrity, running dozens of marathons before he was eight. A coach, Biranchi Das, took him on with hopes of turning the youngster into an Olympic athlete. But tragedy struck, and Das was murdered. According to the most recent reports, Singh was awarded a scholarship to a prestigious state-run boarding school, and is now banned from long-distance running because of fears for his health.