Dress shoes sit in the closet collecting dust. Sneakers and slippers have become the footwear of choice. The ones with Velcro are nice because there’s no need to take Advil in order to tie them. Dreams of sandy beaches and coastal living suddenly be- come reality—the prospect of finally settling down sinks in. But what now? Golf? Water aerobics? Gardening? Society says those are the only things retired folks are suited for. But who says society is right?
Chris Smalley effortlessly cruises through the Oregon Sand Dunes’ hilly terrain on his 2004 Yamaha Banshee. Modifications to his quad’s suspension allow him to absorb the bumps while maintaining his speed in third gear. Without warning, Smalley stands up and stomps down with his left foot, shifting into second gear. The royal blue four-wheeler screams as his thumb presses on the throttle. A sand dune towers 60 feet high in front of him. At 40 miles per hour, the Banshee grows louder and lunges at each shift. Smalley takes it up to fourth gear—his tires spray sand behind him as he begins to climb the steep incline.
When Smalley makes it near the top of the hill, he stops and surveys the landscape, looking for obstacles before riding back down to the base.
“You never know what or who is on the other side,” Smalley says, noting that a small child could be playing on the hill. “Most of the time, people are stupid here.”
Smalley, the oldest member of the Northwest Quad Riders club, is turning 59 this year. Being a quad rider for most of his life has taught him proper “sand etiquette.”
“I have been riding dirt and sand since I was little,” Smalley says. “When I was a young sailor stationed in San Diego, we had friends that took us out to Glamis [California] to ride once. After that, we were hooked.”
Even after a hip replacement, Smalley continues to ride, yet he does admit his mentality has changed over time. He now values quality over quantity because he cannot ride as frequently as he did in the past. The same way surfers are always searching for that “one perfect wave,” Smalley looks for that one perfect ride.
“While I am riding . . . I am by myself with my music and thoughts flowing,” he says. “It is so cool when the turns, dips, and ‘whoops’ line up to the music you are listening to—like skiing the moguls to a beat.”
He calls his riding experience “sand therapy,” as he claims it improves his mental health. Although his body isn’t in the same condition as when he started riding seriously back in his late teens, Smalley still sees these adventures as an essential part of his life and sense of happiness.
Smalley isn’t unusual. According to the AARP, about 63 percent of senior citizens say being active is the best thing they can do for their health, a statistic widely accepted among aging thrill seekers.
Mike Cotton, a 63-year-old entertainer from Pensacola, Florida, has spent fifty years in the entertainment industry doing everything from hosting radio shows to producing television and musical shows. During this time, he has searched the country far and wide to find extraordinary members of America’s older population who, like Smalley, refuse to let age interfere with their passions.
One of Cotton’s most recent entertainment ventures started when he got a call from a friend who was working on another show at the time and wanted a new project. The friend told Cotton he noticed people all over the world wearing t-shirts bearing the slogan “Old Guys Rule.” The shirts were made by a company that celebrates the experiences of older men. From there, Cotton had the idea to begin documenting the active lifestyles of older individuals.
Titled Senior Xtremers, the show received phenomenal feedback through various social networking sites and early screenings. Cotton eventually signed a deal with Global Telemedia in Boston, ensuring that the show, which is set to come out within the next two years, will be marketed worldwide.
Cotton, who also surfs and has recently begun riding motorcycles, didn’t fully understand the importance of maintaining an active lifestyle before his team started working on Senior Xtremers. During this time, he developed a blood infection and was forced to undergo open-heart surgery at the age of 60. After a year of recovery, he was back on his feet and working again.
Cotton says his ability to recover from a procedure of that magnitude can be directly attributed to his active lifestyle and upbeat attitude.
“I’ve always been about working hard and playing hard,” Cotton says. “I think, and the doctors think so as well, that the only reason I was able to make it through the way that I did is because I lived an active lifestyle and had a good attitude.”
For Cotton, Senior Xtremers became much more than a show. He believes his program has the power to change people’s lives for the better. “A big part of what we’re doing is we are inspiring a lot of people who said at first, ‘Well, it’s time to lay on the couch with the clicker,’” Cotton says. “People are coming back to us now and saying, ‘You know, I saw this and I really didn’t even live an active life. So, I started and picked up whatever.’ And they are 60 years old.”
“On the other hand, you have the guys who have been doing it forever,” Cotton adds. “Those are the two ‘Xtremers.’”
Urban Moore, 63, falls into the latter category. He continues to race motorcycles and even runs Eugene Skydivers, a skydiving company located in Creswell, Oregon.
“I love the teaching aspect [of skydiving], I’m good at it—I don’t know,” Moore says. “It beats working at Walmart.”
Moore’s skydiving career started in Idaho when he worked for the television show Idaho Recreation Reports. On the show, he taught parents and kids about sports like trap shooting, alpine skiing, and rock climbing in the Idaho wilderness. It was through this job that he met a group of men at the Lane County fairgrounds during an adventure sports convention. They first offered him the opportunity to go skydiving.
“It was pretty cool,” Moore says of his first experience. “It was totally unlike what I thought it was going to be.”
More than 9,300 jumps later, he hasn’t slowed down.
“Freedom, self-reliance—you’re kind of the master of your own disaster,” Moore says. “There isn’t anybody who can help you. It’s probably, to me, the freest thing that you can do that I’ve found.”
Throughout his life, Moore has been drawn to extreme sports and hobbies. In the past he’s been an alpine ski racer, a United States Ski Association coach, a small aircraft pilot, and a track motorcycle racer. Yet, of all the activities he pursues, his ultimate passion lies with motorcycle road racing. To this day, he continues to ride at the Portland International Raceway.
“I would say that I would probably be doing something [active] even if I weren’t doing this,” Moore says. “I’ve been active my whole life as a competitor or a coach.”
Many older thrill seekers believe that it’s activity, not relaxation, that keeps them going.
“I’m going to continue to [skydive] as long as I can in one form or another,” Moore says. “I’m not interested in quitting the jumping part of it any time soon. I mean, my knees are good, I could stand to lose a couple of pounds, but I’m not slowing up that much.”
Jack Hart, a 69-year old white-water rafting guide and canoe instructor at the Eugene River House outdoor program, is also a wilderness first responder, a person who responds to medical emergencies that occur more than an hour away from a medical center. Because of his responsibilities, Hart has set an age limit for himself to make sure he is physically capable of performing his duties. Even though he knows he can handle anything that gets thrown at him, he has decided to quit guiding professionally next year.
“I’m not as strong as I used to be, and I’m very concerned about the well-being of people who I’m on trips with,” Hart says. “I’m not going to stop rafting myself—doing it on my own—but I’m going to ask myself, ‘Am I safe enough to be taking people out here?’”
Hart, who is originally from Springfield, Oregon, has been in the water since he was 10 when he picked up canoeing as a Boy Scout. About twenty years ago, Hart tried his paddle in white-water rafting after watching people glide through the McKenzie River, a popular rafting site in Oregon. While this type of adventure has much to offer, his connection to nature is the number one reason why he still gets in the boat.
“The more I do it, the less I care about the adrenaline,” Hart says. “I care more about just being with the earth and helping people get out there and see what there is to see.”
Hart also sees canoeing as a source of personal accomplishment. Although he is on the water with people much younger than himself, his skill level is still comparable.
“There’s a sort of joy that you get out of knowing that you have the skills to still be able to go through some challenging white-water,” Hart says. “You do have a sense of accomplishment and you do have the thrill when you do that kind of stuff, so I’m glad I’m able to do that and I’m glad I’m able to run some challenging rapids.”
As for Cotton, he believes he finally understands what drives these individuals after interviewing numerous older “daredevils” like Moore, Smalley, and Hart for Senior Xtremers.
“People who are aging today are better than our parents and our grandparents,” Cotton says. “We are all baby boomers and older. And yeah, sure it is diet and it is exercise. But I’ll tell you, there is one common denominator with all these older people that I inter- view: they all have a great attitude and they stay busy and active.”
Cotton chuckles and adds, “I mean, that’s my motto: it’s hard to shoot a moving target.”