Golden Dragons

Golden Dragons by Georgia Read Photo by Georgia Read

Oklahoma City’s Devon Boathouse District hosts athletes from around the world, but it’s the Golden Dragons paddling team that continues to earn a standing ovation at competitions. And they haven’t even won a race—yet.

“There’s something inspiring about seeing a boat full of 70- and 80-year-olds racing against younger athletes,” said team captain, Debbie Miller. “We’re white-haired people who are defying a stereotype,” said Nancy Tarr, age 74. “I’m one of the younger ones, but our average age is about 84.”

The mostly-female team paddles in 20-person boats called dragon boats, which resemble ancient wooden boats from China, although the modern version has a removable dragon head and tail that clamps on and off. “It’s like a large canoe,” said Mary Jo Blakeburn, age 78. Gail Kelley, 73, described the boat’s appearance as “a mean dragon—like we’re going to eat up the other boats out there!” she laughed. “That hasn’t happened yet, but we keep trying.” As surprised as onlookers are by the senior team, it’s the spirit of the individ