Many thanks to Janet Mason, secretary of the Trentham Outrigger club, for submitting this wonderful story from Gilbert Owen. Stoke on Trent is certainly blessed with some inspirational octogenarians!
I'm 80 years old now and fit as a fiddle! How have I maintained my level of health and fitness? Well, it's a long story...a lifetime of perseverance really.
I left school in 1950 and by 1951 I was boating most weekends on Longton Park lake and that's when I met my wife to be. I managed to persuade her to get into my little rowing boat and we never looked back...Was I a good catch? Well, I was an apprentice with Stoke City Council and exempt from National Service because of that....so maybe there was a shortage of lads available for courting.....At the tender age of 21, I was conscripted into the Highland Light Infantry, spending my time in Cyprus and Germany. Kathleen wrote to me and after 3years I came home and we married in 1957.
We had a happy married life and when Kathleen died I found myself at a bit of a loose end....aged 72, still working...part time at Wedgwood Memorial College.....I needed an extra hobby. Kathleen had never wanted to dance...and had no interest in cruises. Now I was able to embark (no pun intended) on 2 new hobbies which would combine in a very satisfying way...
I went on my first cruise at 72......to Spain and Portugal...and met up with a guy who had also lost his wife. I decided, 'if I'm cruising; I need to get dancing!'
On my return, I enrolled with the U3A...Stone branch....and struggled greatly for the first 8 or 9 months...to learn the Cha Cha; the Rumba; the Foxtrot; Walz; and Quick Step. I suppose it helped that I have always kept fit...swimming, walking with the Ramblers, table tennis, and of course, always working; but honestly, there were times when I thought I'd never be a dancer!
I'm not one to give up though; and the company of other like-minded older people in the U3A really helped me.
I heard about a group who were enjoying paddling on Trentham Lake in a weekly session organised by ex-Olympic canoeist John Court under the auspices of Stone U3A. Just my cup of tea I thought, and joined up. After all, I was only 76, and not the oldest member. I discovered quite quickly that I have an aptitude for steering and I think I've been a useful asset!
My confidence was boosted and when I saw an advert for 'Dance Afloat' based in Ipswich; straightaway I applied to be a volunteer dance host with a variety of cruise ships. I've worked on 27 cruises now and have visited so many countries including Australia, Vietnam, the Caribbean, Iceland, Spain, the Baltic, the Rhine and Kiele Canal, as well as the British Isles. It's a fantastic hobby and I get to practice my dance steps with a huge variety of partners all expenses paid! Can't be bad!
I firmly believe that as you get older, you have to keep yourself fit and push yourself. Steering the Outrigger canoes is harder than it looks but like anything else, practice makes perfect. I'm not one to blow my own trumpet but I'm happy to share my experiences with others ......if it's useful.
During the last couple of years, we have been extending the membership of the Outrigger Club and I have been able to assist in that by sharing my skills and being available (when not cruising!) to help our new members...male and female...to master the art of steering. The làke can be a windswept cold place and as I said, it takes some hard work and perseverance to steer well. I take part in three sessions a week now and totally enjoy the experience. We are able to keep an eye on the wildlife...close up...and often have the extra bonus of catching sight of the kingfishers and rare red necked grebes.
I suppose I'm lucky to be so fit and healthy but I feel very strongly that we are able to add to our fitness at any point in our lives...and if you choose to be a couch potato you'll definitely get your chips...full pun intended....
Gilbert Owen and Janet Mason (Outrigger Club Secretary)