What started as a simple dragon boat donation to the Boathouse Foundation soon turned into a new way for a senior community to work together.
Spanish Cove Life-Care Retirement Village is the first senior dragon boat paddling team on the Oklahoma River. Rowers range in age, with the oldest being 89, said Debbie Miller, Spanish Cove director of wellness. This is the team’s second season to practice and compete.
”The whole goal is they are supposed to paddle to the beat of the drum,” Miller said. “If I see they are getting a little tired I’ll slow down the beat or rhythm, a little bit. If I see they are going faster than me, I try to speed up to them. The amazing thing sometimes is they’ll say, ‘Debbie you’re going so fast,’ but they set it.”
At the end of the team’s first season, it took third place for its heat in the 2012 Oklahoma Regatta Festival. The Spanish Cove Golden Dragons paddled against teams in their 20s and 40s, Miller said. Recently, the Golden Dragons competed in SandRidge Stars & Stripes River Festival.
But the rowers cannot jump straight into the water without a little preparation. Staying healthy is important for the residents at Spanish Cove and rowing is just another way. Different classes, such as line dancing and stretch and strengthen, give the residents the strength and energy to paddle, Miller said.
Letha Long, 85, a Spanish Cove rower, said she didn’t feel this good when she was 75. It inspires her to have good health.
“It’s hard to differentiate [my favorite part] because there’s so many things it does,” Long said. “It inspires me. It excites me. It strengthens me. It brings joy. I love it. It causes me to want to get up in the morning and get going.”
As the Golden Dragons get better and more in sync, people are starting to take notice. A steerer for the team told Miller he hopes to still be on the water when he is in his 80s.
For Mona Rae Pigg, a Spanish Cove rower, just being out on the water paddling is her favorite part.
“It is especially great when we are all working together,” Pigg said. “[The most challenging part has been] us staying together. See one side would be stronger than the other. [Debbie] does a good job knowing who can and can’t to balance the boat.”
Although it can be a challenge to get everyone in-sync, Miller said the great thing about that is the rowers love challenges. And with a saying like, “We paddle for fitness, fun and fellowship,” it is clear why.