Sharon, Randy Hollander plunge into kayaking

By Chelsea Retherford | Living 50 Plus

Randy and Sharon Hollander were in their mid-50s when they sat in a kayak on the water for the first time in their lives. Now in their 60s, they say the water sport has not only brought them closer as a couple, but it’s given them something new to do with their grandsons.

The Hollanders’ first kayaking trip was taken with members of The Club, which meets at the Florence Senior Center for weekly activities throughout the year.

Fran Davis, activities director for The Club, said kayaking became a monthly venture for the group thanks to members Dan and Pam Swinea. Davis admits she’d also never been kayaking until the Swineas expressed an interest in getting others involved.

“I went with them, and I got so excited about it, that I started talking about the trip at The Club,” Davis said. “Before I knew it, we had 18 people buying boats, and we were going kayaking every weekend. It just turned into something that we didn’t know about. Once we discovered it, it was fun.”

Sharon Hollander said that was the case for her and her husband. They were among The Club members who jumped right into buying their own kayaks before their first trip.

“I was really kind of nervous at first,” Sharon admits. “Dan has kayaked, and he’s probably the biggest kayaker in our group along with Pam and Fran. He knows the creek, and he would tell us when we were coming up on some rough water. He’d tell us what to do. He’s a good teacher.”

Pam Swinea, 66, said she and her husband, Dan, who is 65, started whitewater kayaking with their oldest son, Chess, in early 2000.

While Dan and Chess enjoyed the rapids, Pam eventually convinced her husband to exchange her whitewater kayak for a recreational one, meant for calmer waters like lakes and gentler creeks and rivers.

“I think that was in 2014. I got the rec boat, and they are totally different,” Pam said, adding that The Club members mostly enjoy the rec boats for paddling Cypress Creek and the Tennessee River between Florence and Sheffield.

When the Swineas introduced the group to kayaking, Pam said most beginners were apprehensive like Sharon Hollander.

Most first-timers, she said, were worried about capsizing and being stuck in the single-person boat.

“If you do turn over, you automatically pop out,” she said, adding that she and her husband took several friends to a pool to teach them some basic maneuvers before they hit the creek.

“We wanted to make sure they could swim if they did tumble over,” she said. “If we were with people who hadn’t been (kayaking), Dan would tell them what to expect. The main thing is not to panic. Of course, we always made sure that they could swim and that they weren’t scared of water. And you always wear a life vest.”

Randy Hollander said he was less reluctant to try kayaking than his wife.

“We’ve always been outdoors people. There’s nothing scary about it,” he said.

It turns out, Randy was more nervous about joining The Club’s dance groups than he was about paddling down the river. Square dancing, the Hollanders said, is how the couple got involved with The Club activities in the first place.

“How it all started,” Randy said, “we were on a cruise, and all these people were dancing. We’d never done it before, ever. I said, ‘Why don’t we get out there?’ She said, ‘I’m not going to do something I don’t know how to do.’”

Sharon said she’d always wanted to learn to dance and found out about ballroom and square-dancing nights at The Club from none other than Dan Swinea.

When she decided to check it out for the first time, Randy’s story is that he had high school football games to call that night — he’s a referee for area football teams in his free time.

Eventually, though, Randy did give dancing a shot.

“He was a little skeptical at first,” Sharon said with a laugh. “Between me, Dan and Pam, we talked him into coming, and he picked it up fast.”

Since that first lesson about 13 years ago, Randy and Sharon have also picked up round dancing — a cued ballroom dance that progresses in a circular motion. They enjoy square dancing at The Club and at another weekly venue in Decatur, and the Hollanders travel to Huntsville for round dancing.

They’ve competed in state competitions across the U.S., their favorite being the Tennessee Square Dancing Convention held in Gatlinburg. They even competed in a national Convention held in Mobile since they picked up the hobby.

“It’s a great activity as far as exercising and working your mind,” Sharon said.

“That’s the thing about square dancing,” Randy agreed. “You have to think, and you have to know what’s going on. If you make a mistake, you not only mess it up for yourself, you mess up eight people.”

Sharon said she and Randy have become closer as a couple thanks to dancing and the other activities they participate in at The Club. As they grew used to matching outfits for square dancing competitions, it spawned a new daily habit for Randy.

“I wait for her to get dressed, and then I figure out what I’m going to wear. That’s at church, and anywhere,” Randy said. “Our kids have even noticed. They say, you know y’all are dressed alike. It drives them crazy. We show up to our small group class, and they go, y’all dressed alike again.”

Now that Sharon is retired and Randy is hopefully not too far behind, they say they do everything in their free time together.

When Randy does ready for retirement, he said he’s looking forward to taking more trips as a couple. Aside from their square-dancing travels together, the Hollanders can be found a few weeks in the summer at Lake Guntersville, or even kayaking near their Gargis Hollow home in Ford City.

“Now, when we go camping, we carry the boats with us,” Randy said. “We take our grandchildren, and we just have a blast.”

The Hollanders and the Swineas say kayaking and social dancing are just another way to connect with others their age — though they may act and feel younger at heart thanks to the fun events they do together.

“It’s amazing, we’re all like teenagers actually,” Pam said of her friends at The Club. “It’s people like that — when you’re around them, it just makes you feel so young. It just changes your life.”