Like every big city, Oklahoma City has its share of gangs. One of the city’s newest groups is the Golden Dragons.

The Golden Dragons is a team of around 30 senior adult dragon boat racers. Team members, all in their 60s, 70s and 80s, wear t-shirts that defiantly declare, “Paddle Strong, Live Long.” You can see the Dragons paddling in unison on the Oklahoma River early Thursday mornings, whenever weather permits.

The Golden Dragons are all residents of Spanish Cove Retirement Village in Yukon, a westside Oklahoma City suburb. One resident and team member is philanthropist Ann Lacy. When the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation asked Lacy to fund the purchase of a dragon boat, Lacy challenged Spanish Cove wellness director, Debbie Miller, to put together a team.

“I said, ‘Well, Ann, I’ll try,” Miller recalls. “Before I knew it, I had 30 people signed up.” Miller’s initial squad ranged in age from 72 to 86. The group began practicing in June, beating the heat by taking to the river before 8 a.m.

Lacy’s name is well known to anyone who has stepped foot on the campus of Oklahoma City University. Lacy funded OCU’s admissions center, a school of dance management and a softball stadium, all of which bear her name. As OCU’s rowing program grew to national prominence, she got involved in that, too, donating a boat to the team in 2010.

So Lacy already knew something about boating when the Boathouse Foundation asked her to fund a boat. This time Lacy planned to do more than write another check. She wanted to pick up a paddle and hit the water herself. The Golden Dragons were born.

A dragon boat typically seats a crew of 22, including a caller in the front and a drummer in the back. The crew paddles in unison to the drumbeat. But does dragon boat racing make any kind of sense for a group of senior adults?

Absolutely, says Miller. “A lot of our seniors are more physically fit than a lot of their children and even their grandchildren,” she says. Many residents walk or run several miles a day, and many of them lift weights. “They are in great shape.”

The Dragons got their first taste of competition in September at the Oklahoma Regatta Festival. They are proud to have placed third in a three-way contest against two teams whose members were around 35 to 40 years old.

“We came in third out of the three teams, but we got a standing ovation from the crowd,” Miller says. “And we had the best form.”

Lacy is shopping for a second dragon boat to add to the fleet. She’s not satisfied with the first one because it doesn’t looking menacing enough. “They’re searching for another dragon for my (new) boat that really looks fierce,” she says.

Meanwhile, the Dragons are gunning for more competition. Miller has sent inquiries to other senior adult communities, challenging them to form a team and meet them at the river. You can be sure the Dragons are spending the winter working out and pumping iron. When spring comes, the Golden Dragons plan to be ready to rumble

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