Over 60, But Strong In Molokai Race

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - October 07, 2009
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Call them the “Driven Dozen” - 12 motivated women who wanted to make a statement in the 2009 Na Wahine O Ke Kai canoe race.

The annual competition is considered the world championship of long-distance outrigger canoe racing. Canoe paddlers from across the globe push their bodies and minds to the limit in the 41-mile journey from Molokai to Oahu.

Several years ago, veteran paddler Sammie Stanbro of the Big Island had a dream of making the crossing with a special group of women: a crew made up of paddlers who were age 60 or older.

In 2009, they stopped dreaming.


“We did it for other women,” says Stanbro. “In fact, I think we did for other women more than ourselves.”

Stanbro and several other crewmates from Keauhou Canoe Club teamed with paddlers from neighboring Kai Opua Canoe Club and one from Kihei Canoe Club on Maui. Each athlete is 60 years or older, two of them are in their 70s.

“The star of the show was Shay Bintliff. She’s 74 and one of our steer-swomen,” says Stanbro proudly. “This was Shay’s 30th crossing of the Kaiwi Channel. I think when people see a 74-year-old in the ocean still competing, they say, ‘Well, if she can do it, I can do it too.’”

A record 87 crews from around the world participated in the race. Team Bradley was impressive again, winning for the fifth consecutive year, the second-longest streak in race history. But some of the loudest and most emotional cheers came when Keauhou 60s crossed the finish line in 75th place with a time of 7:10:32.

“We really wanted to have a good showing and prove that women are worthy of a 60s division like the men,” says Stanbro.

Stanbro says most of the women on the crew have done the race five or six times, four of them twice, although two haven’t done it for 10 years and 62-year-old Katie Ecker was the newcomer.

“There are no limitations with age here in Kona!” says 72-year-old Karen Van Pelt.

Stanbro says the crew wanted to give women who haven’t paddled in years the inspiration to return to the ocean.

“Maybe they’ll say, ‘I should get back into the canoe,’” she says. “They don’t have to do the Molokai race, just get back in the boat!”

“Women stay in great shape these days and we can still compete at a high level,” adds Nancy Plenty, the lone paddler from the Valley Isle and the baby of the bunch at the age of 61. “I’m glad I was a part of this.”

Stanbro hopes their positive showing will encourage race officials to consider adding a 60s division in next year’s women’s race. She says at least three crews are needed to create a division.

“There is a real fraternity of women out there, and that’s the beauty of this sport,” says Stanbro. “Hopefully Oahu and Maui can put together teams next year.”

While their effort was ground-breaking, there’s no time to celebrate for Stanbro. She’s competing in the Molokai Hoe this Sunday as a member of Pure Light, a 12-member adaptive paddling team. The crew consists of men and women of varied ages - several are in wheel-chairs and one is blind.

“Our coach told me, I’m going going to be the first person ever to do both Molokai races in the same year,” says Stanbro, who says she has a bad leg. “I’m excited to compete against the men, but I’ll miss my girls!”

Here are the crewmembers and, with permission, their ages:

Shay Bintliff, 74; Karen Van Pelt, 72 ; Sue Lalanne, 65, Sammie Stanbro, 64;

Susie Shaw, 63; Carol Clifford, 63; Sari Lassitar, 63; Gladios Hoagland, 62; Kaeti Ecker, 62; Carolyn Strawn-Parnell, 62; Julita Fernandez, 62; and Nancy Plenty, 61.

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