The Dragon Lady Within

A few years ago I was talking informally with a group of medical device investors about the potential for technology to increase human longevity. The one guy said, “but it’s not that we will be living longer, it’s that we will be old longer.”

These words came back to haunt me after I hit the half-century mark. I see friends and family my own age or younger being hit with cardiovascular problems, joint degeneration and diabetes. My parents are both still alive and in their eighties. They both have had heart problems that are being treated but quality of life-wise they are plagued with a million little ailments. Literally death by a thousand cuts.

Last year I turned fifty-five, the age when I qualify to take my pension and for seniors’ pricing at some museums. To sum it up: officially old. I am in good health and quick to advocate that 60 is the new 30, but I started to worry that that’s not going to be enough.

I’ve always been more of an indoor kind of girl. I was actually relegated to something akin to remedial phys ed in elementary school: what they called “coordination class”.

In my twenties I took up running modestly. I’d run around Lake Merritt or do 5 miles on the treadmill. When I developed bone spurs in my feet, I switched to 3 miles on the elliptical. When my neighborhood gym closed down, I tired different facilities but none were quite as convenient and the routine became boring.

After I moved to Alameda last year, I resolved to find a new fitness regime. Living on the marina, I felt a bit of an obligation take up a water sport. Since owning a sailing yacht is probably not in the cards, I thought about paddle boarding but it looked hard on the knees. Kayaking was another option but seems kind of solitary.

Back when I was running around the Lake I would see a dragon boat team practicing and thought someday when I have more flexibility in my schedule that’s something I should do. Dragon boats, for the uninitiated, are long narrow boats manned by up to 20 paddlers sitting two abreast. And the boats have a dragon head and tail. The group on the Lake appeared to be mostly female and middle-aged so it didn’t look too intimidating.

So when a neighbor invited me to join the local dragon boat team, I jumped at the idea. I went out to the big international dragon boat festival on Treasure Island last September and signed on soon after.

Now in all honesty, dragon boating turned out to be much more work than I expected. The stroke is not the most natural or obvious movement and some of these people are seriously

competitive – by my experience – even on our “recreational” team. On the upside there was the opportunity for me to shop for all kinds of dragon boat gear. Shopping is an activity much closer to my wheelhouse.

Since I started late in the season, I missed the novice initiation in the Spring. So I was mostly faking it until it got too cold for me to venture out on the water on Saturday mornings. But I wasn’t hitting people with my paddle and I wasn’t splashing too much.

This Spring I took to the water again. This time around with the help of the coaching staff I just finished my first race and our boat came in second!

In the quest for the fountain of youth people have been driven to try things much more drastic than joining a dragon boat team. While I have no illusion of turning back time, at least I might be able to extend my active middle years a bit by summoning up my inner dragon lady.

Paddles up!

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