Twenty years ago, Pat Dockendorf moved 7 miles from what would become CooperRiis’ farm campus. At 70, she and her husband were ready to transition into a Life Care Community. But Pat was far from kicking up her feet and resting. “Living at Tryon Estates has been great. The support allows me the freedom to go back to work.” And what work she’s done…
In 2004, Virgil Stucker – CooperRiis’ Executive Director, went to Pat’s community to introduce the Farm: “We’re your new neighbors!” Pat immediately recognized that her dual background as a college professor and a psychotherapist would fit perfectly with the CooperRiis program. The next day she went to see the Farm with her own eyes and the following day was working. “It just clicked.” In the past 12 years Pat’s not slowed down—she’s been a tutor to residents, a family liaison, Recovery Coordinator and currently the Education Coordinator.
It’s not just her career experience that makes Pat such a good fit at CooperRiis. Our program focuses on wellness instead of illness – to become well and stay well; nutritious food and exercise are integral parts of the CooperRiis program. It’s integral in Pat’s life as well. “If I don’t swim or ride my bike 4 miles each day, I play water volleyball, pickle ball and Bocci ball. I square dance and line dance.” And that’s not all Pat does—she plays percussion in the Rutherford Symphony in North Carolina and the Spartanburg, South Carolina Community Band. She’s also been known to play the accordion from time to time.
But it’s swimming that’s been the primary focus in her life. “I started as a Red Cross Water Safety Instructor at age 17. In 1943 they lowered the age because everyone went off to World War 2. Since then I don’t know how many people I’ve taught to swim.” Pat grew up in Columbus, Ohio and was inspired in part by the Ohio State diving coach, Mike Peppe. She spent hours as a kid watching divers train for the Olympics. Despite these influences, Pat never swam competitively. That is until she turned 65.
In the last 24 years she’s competed in scores of USA Masters and Senior Games meets. “I have a shoebox full of medals.” Two weeks ago she won 5 gold medals in the National Sports Festival for Adult Athletes. Oh, and she also swam across the Columbia River from Oregon to Washington 5 times in the Cross Channel Labor Day swim. Her last swim was at age 82 and she received the trophy for the oldest swimmer to cross the river. Right now she’s training for the NC State Senior Games Finals in Raleigh. She swims the 50/100/200-yard breaststroke but this time she’s going to swim backstroke because she never has. “I just took a cross out flip turn workshop.” Why not, right? When you want to win, you push yourself. In 2017 national competition, she’ll swim in the 90-95 age group. Watch out!
At 89 years old Pat’s an inspiration to the entire CooperRiis community. “We all want to be like Pat when we grow up,” Virgil says. “I know I most definitely do!”
I suspect this year’s Olympians Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel, Missy Franklin, and all the young swimmers which follow, would want to be like Pat as well!