The Oklahoma Regatta Festival is set for Thursday through Sunday and this year a dragon boat team made up of retirement village residents will be part of the festivities.
The team is comprised of about 30 Spanish Cove Retirement Village residents between the ages of 72 and 87.
“They amaze me. I think that seniors, and this group specifically, are hopefully changing the stereotypes of aging,” said Debbie Miller, director of wellness and resident relations at Spanish Cove Retirement Village in Yukon. “I'm amazed at their tenacity and their endurance.”
The notion of putting together a senior dragon boat team sparked when Spanish Cove resident, local philanthropist and self-described “River Rat” Ann Lacy added a new dragon boat to the fleet she's bought for the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation.
Her fellow Spanish Cove residents thought for sure that she'd bought the boat just for them.
“They jumped into it with both feet,” Lacy said, laughing. Though Lacy had really bought the boat for the Foundation, she was happy to let her friends use it, if they formed a team.
Before long, Miller had assembled a team of Spanish Cove residents, including Lacy.
The team had T-shirts printed up with their team slogan emblazoned proudly on the back: “Paddle Strong, Live Long.” Wristbands with the slogan will be available for a donation at the event.
The senior paddlers wear their team name on their sleeves: Golden Dragons. They get together at 7 a.m. each Thursday to practice on the Oklahoma River.
“It's something that not one of us had an idea of doing a year ago,” said Lois Cain, 76, a team member and Spanish Cove resident. “Sometimes you limit yourself ... we're stepping out of our boxes and doing something new.”
Paddling on a dragon boat team isn't as strenuous as it looks, Cain said, though she keeps in shape by line dancing and other activities.
For Cain, the most challenging aspects of dragon boating are staying in rhythm with the drummer and in sync with all the other rowers.
“You know, I'm not a water person. So at my age, going out on the water was something I decided I would conquer,” Cain said. And conquer it she has. Miller said Cain is one of her best paddlers. “It's all about coordination and rhythm. You just put it all together and work with a whole team.”
For some of the other senior team members, getting in and out of the boat is a challenge, Miller said, because they're going from a floating dock to a floating boat. Keeping balanced can be tough in that situation.
But once the senior team is in the boat, it's all about the water, the rhythm set by the drummer and the instructions of the helmsman.
Miller said she hopes her team of senior paddlers will inspire other groups of seniors to follow suit.
“I think it shows them that if there is something they want to get out there and do, they can do anything that they put their hearts and minds into,” Miller said.