Who has more stories than a bus full of seniors? A boatload of seniors.
On July 13, eight senior citizens signed up for the Adventure Club with the Gulfport Senior Center. They loaded onto a bus, blinked through the general sunscreen haze, and headed to Suncoast Watersports on St. Pete Beach for a parasailing trip over the Gulf of Mexico.
“It looked like so much fun and I’d never done it before,” said 73-year-old Mel Donovan. “I like to stay active – mostly to keep up my image for my granddaughter.”
Parasailing is the first of many adventures, says Senior Center supervisor Rachel Cataldo, who started the club.
“I’m a firm believer that just because you’re growing older, that doesn’t mean you have to sit down and be boring,” Cataldo said. “It’s a bucket list club, and we’re going to do some bucket list things that are available locally.”
The Gulfport Senior Center serves not only Gulfport, but any person 50 or older who wants to join; it’s $50 a year for anyone to join, but free for Gulfport residents. Members gain full access to the gym, clubs, and activities such as parasailing. The Senior Center, which will have a full renovation in the coming years, can be as relaxed or active as its members want it to be.
Cataldo says the Center has 3,000 active members right now. When she started in 2013, it was a much quieter place. Her nine-year reign as supervisor has seen growth and change.
Walk in on any given day and there could be a group playing chair volleyball with a beach ball, an impromptu farmer’s market, or a quiet table of domino players. As for the adrenaline junkies at Wednesday’s parasailing group, they’re not facing senior citizenship waving a white flag.
In fact, Wednesday was Susanne Abrahams first big outing since retiring the week before.
“I can’t just not do anything,” Abrahams said from her spot on the bus.
On arrival to the St. Pete Beach water sports company Captain Jacob Bobo welcomed his boat of eight (nine, counting our reporter) people. He made the kind of jokes boat captains make (“This is my first time driving a boat, hope the YouTube video was correct!”) and made sure every passenger was strapped in and dipped in the water.
Adventure Club member Patricia Maria lost her water shoe on a dip, and another lost her favorite ball cap.
Despite the chaos, club members were all smiles, on the boat and on the way home, despite the summer heat.
What’s next? The Adventure Club has a helicopter ride and indoor skydiving up next. It’s a few of the many ideas Cataldo has on her office white board, with more ready to launch.
“I think independence and dignity (a mission statement of the center) means you should continue living your life to the fullest,” she said. “I’m almost 50 and I’m not going to stop doing things.”
In fact, when Cataldo’s husband turned 50, she gifted him with a membership to the Gulfport Senior Center.
“It should be an exciting age,” Cataldo said with a laugh.
A future helicopter trip is sold out, but the Adventure Club has indoor skydiving planned for Nov. 17. Interested? Call the Gulfport Senior Center for details at 727-893-5657.
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