N.Y. seniors keep fit with synchronized swimming

NEW YORK — Like ballerinas in the water, the Harlem Honeys and Bears float, flutter and twirl gracefully across the Olympic-sized oasis at East Harlem’s Thomas Jefferson Park.

From the way they move, you’d never know these synchronized swimmers are also senior citizens.

The 41 men and women of the Honeys and Bears, ranging in age from 62 to 100 years old, are members of Manhattan’s only 50-and-over synchronized swimming team. Despite the fact that many of them have walkers and wheelchairs, arthritis and asthma, these swimmers practice at the Hansborough Recreation Center up to three times a week for more than an hour and a half on end.

Their seniority, they say, is merely an afterthought.

“Age is just a number,” said Lettice Graham, 90, who has been with the team since 1986.

Graham is no slouch when it comes to being active; she frequently does yoga, line dancing and runs competitive track. But she credits swimming with keeping her healthy in her later years.

“It’s the best exercise in the world,” Graham said. “It keeps me out of the doctor’s office.”

Donning the uniform of black bathing suits, red swim caps and, for some, goggles and nose plugs, the Honeys and Bears performed Monday one of their approximately 40 choreographed routines — “The Pyramid” — before a sizable crowd of city officials and visitors.

As the name suggests, it began with a 10-person pyramid of female swimmers doing the backstroke in unison as another group of adjacent Honeys and Bears held hands and slowly spun around the placid waters. Coach Oliver Footé nervously paced the pool’s outer edges, following his swimmers’ moves with extreme attentiveness to detail.

Footé, 63, is a cross between a classical symphony conductor and a football coach — gentle but intense, cautiously directing every little stroke with his fingers while he shouts at his swimmers when they miss a step.

Footé, who has coached the team for 19 years, aptly describes himself as a “bulldog and angel mixed together.”

“It’s pretty difficult,” he said of managing his senior swimmers, “but I enjoy every minute of it.”

The Honeys and Bears group was established in 1979 with fewer than a dozen members. But every year its members actively recruit new swimmers to join, like Joyce Clarke.

The 62-year-old Clarke had never performed with the team before Monday’s show. In fact, she didn’t even know how to swim before joining the Honeys and Bears more than a year ago — she had “only the desire” to learn, she said.

Today, Clarke is a dedicated teammate and synchronized swimming enthusiast.

“Winter, snow, cold, I’m coming from Brooklyn to swim with the team,” she said. “It’s absolutely, positively worth it.”

More in Local News

Minutes mattered the day Pat Ward was brought back to life

The Mukilteo police and fire chaplain died at breakfast. She got a second chance thanks to a waitress.

Cool additions at an elementary school in Everett

A totem pole and new gardens grace the courtyard of Whittier Elementary School.

Kids suspected in school’s smashed windows and other damage

The cost of the damage at Explorer Middle School in south Everett is estimated to be $5,000.

Recall issued for about 1,250 pounds of meat

Camano Island’s Sausage Haus products might be contaminated.

3 women seek open seat in 39th District

The GOP nominees hope to fill the opening created by the resignation of Republican John Koster.

Lake Stevens High senior has an entrepreneurial mind

John Cramer crafts and sells designer pens to help pay for college

Marysville-Arlington fiber-optic link planned by Comcast

The high-speed internet line, to be ready next year, is seen as a boost for business development.

Front Porch

EVENTS Health fairs A Senior Healthy Living Fair is set for noon… Continue reading

Cellphone carrier substation in Snohomish vandalized

Detectives with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office are investigating a… Continue reading

Most Read