HLO — Paddling in the warmth of Hawaii’s waters apparently serves as the fountain of youth for 82-year-old Phyllis Fox, who looks decades younger than her age.
She’s the oldest paddler this season in the Moku O Hawaii Outrigger Canoe Racing Association, competing for Kawaihae’s women’s 55 and 65 crews.
Unfortunately, on a glorious sun-filled Saturday at Hilo Bay, Kawaihae scratched both races at Keaukaha’s regatta.
Fox, who competed in the 55 races the last four regattas, had a late start arriving on the open ocean sports scene, taking up surfing at 33 years old and paddling when she was 65 in 1996 for Kawaihae. She raced in regattas for nine years.
“The opportunity was there, and I love the water,” she said. “All three of my kids paddled for Outrigger when we lived on Oahu. I was tired of bringing lei and wanted to earn a lei.
“The best part is being on the water with the crew. We’re so together and have nice ladies.”
It’s her first year back in competitive paddling after participating in the club’s Ohana program the last seven years. The recreational paddlers are early birds, getting in the water at 6 a.m. at Kawaihae Harbor for friendship and fun.
With a shortage of older paddlers, Kawaihae members Sammy Teixeira and Jacque Miller convinced Fox to trade her routine of paddling for friendship and fun for the shot of going for gold.
The other crew members are Maddie Turner, Jyoti Ulrych and Eunice Veincent, wife of coach Manny Veincent.
“Phyllis is a great girl,” Teixeira said. “We wouldn’t have a crew without her. She came back so we could have a crew. I love paddling with her. That’s because I steer her. She’s our star.”
In 1956, Fox, who’s from Colorado, moved to Oahu. She and husband Evarts Fox have been married for 60 years; she pointed to patience and tolerance as the keys. The quick-witted Fox joked that he’s a youngster at 80 years old.
Their eldest son, Evarts Fox III, is a psychiatrist at Queen’s Hospital on Oahu. Michael G. Fox, the second son, owns a stand-up paddle board company (boardworkssup.com) in California. Youngest daughter Mary Lippert works with children with learning disabilities in Kansas.
Mr. Fox was a Navy aviator for 20 years, traveling a lot before landing at Barber’s Point on Oahu, where the family lived for 40 years.
The water was the family’s glue.
“We would have Thanksgiving dinners at the beach,” Mrs. Fox said. “We all enjoy the water. It was a bond for us.”
The couple moved to Waimea in 1993, appreciating the cool weather after enduring Oahu’s humid conditions for four decades, and enjoying the 20-minute drive to the beach.
Her husband no longer comes to regattas because of the sun. But he always offers support to his long-tenured wife.
“He tells me, ‘Go for it. When you race, have fun,’ And then he waves good-bye,” Mrs. Fox said. “We’ve got wonderful people in our club, and competing is always fun. We’re always ready to go for gold and to meet our goals.”
She graduated with a journalism degree and worked for a year at the Casper Morning Star in Wyoming. She spent 20 years working for the Historic Hawaii Foundation, retiring in 1993.
Mrs. Fox also poured her heart into the community, working nine years in fundraising for the North Hawaii Community Hospital.
Evarts Fox, who retired from the Navy in 1975, was a co-developer of the Hawaii Maritime Center, which closed in 2009. He also worked on Hokulia voyages.
As for how long Mrs. Fox will paddle, Hawaii’s fountain of youth has served her well.
“I went up to coach Manny and told him I’ll paddle as long as I can throw my legs over the canoe. He said, ‘When you can’t, we’ll get someone to lift you in.’ I enjoy paddling. I’m just blessed,” she said.
Jyoti Ulrych is 70 years young and has been paddling for about three years and finds comfort at Kawaihae, which has provided a warm embrace after her husband, Andre, passed away in March at 78.
He lived a most interesting life. His family is from Warsaw, Poland, and spent a year in internment during World War II. His father was a government official. The family escaped from Germany’s bombing campaign in 1940 when he was 6 years old.
The family made it to the island of Cyprus and found asylum in London, where Andre received a degree in architecture. He and Jyoti settled in Aspen, Colo., and he built a house with a circular staircase and different levels in the 1970s that was known as the “Mushroom House.”
Jyoti took care of Andre for 35 years. He suffered from Parkinson’s disease. The couple had no children, but she found a second family with her canoe club.
The couple has lived an interesting life, too. In 1964 for a Mutual of Omaha commercial, they climbed Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world. They lived in Aspen for 35 years and moved to the Big Island eight years ago.
Like her friend, Phyllis Fox, Jyoti also contributed to the community. She and Andre bought a plot of land near the Kohala lighthouse and have turned it into an eco-village, re-foresting the area, planting seeds and running cows and sheep.