Solano County

Vacaville woman proves you’re never too old to swim with dolphins

By From page A3 | October 03, 2013

dolphin senior, 10/2/13

Virginia Groah, 87, interacts with a dolphin at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, Wednesday, with her daughter, Nancy Silva. Groah is a resident at the Vacaville Convalescent and Rehabilitation Center, and the visit was made possible by the Stay Young Foundation. (Brad Zweerink/Daily Republic)

VALLEJO — All 87-year-old Virginia Groah told her daughter was that she wanted to walk in the water again.

The Vacaville senior didn’t expect to end up in the water with dolphins named Jasmine, Chelsea, Bella and Maddie.

“If anyone had told me that at 87, I’d be swimming with the dolphins, I wouldn’t believe them,” Groah said after being treated to spending a morning with four of Six Flags Discovery Kingdom’s marine mammals.

It was as much a treat for the marine mammal trainers who assisted her into the dolphin’s habitat as it was for her.

“This is our favorite, favorite thing ever,” said Senior Marine Mammal Trainer Toni Rael, while giving Groah a big hug and telling her how much fun she had introducing Groah to the dolphins.

The opportunity was created by the Stay Young Foundation, which provides once-in-a-lifetime experiences for the elderly. They have ranged from seeing Mount Lassen from the air to riding a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, according to Joe Niccoli, owner of the Vacaville Convalescent & Rehabilitation Center.

“It’s a great thing, something out of the ordinary and it’s great for the others (at the center) because it stirs conversations at the facility,” Niccoli said.

The dolphin swim is part of Six Flags Discovery Kingdom’s Dolphin Discovery program, where members of the public can register online to get an opportunity swim with a dolphin. The encounter is combined with an educational classroom session, where visitors are taught about the charismatic marine mammals.

Groah arrived Wednesday morning with her daughter Nancy Silva, son-in-law Jim Silva, grandson Robert Simpson and great-grandson Jacob Simpson.

“This is a great opportunity,” said Robert Simpson. “This is a life experience that not everybody gets.”

After a half-hour class on marine mammals, Groah and her daughter donned full-body wetsuits and joined Six Flag’s marine mammal trainers at the side of the dolphin pool to learn about training techniques and hand signals before finally getting into the pool with the dolphins.

One after another, the four dolphins made their appearances after Groah was gently, carefully assisted into their pool. Each one allowed Groah to touch them, feed it, hold its head in her hands, “dance” by standing up in the water and allowing Groah to hold its flippers, and playfully splash Groah.

Chelsea was picked to tow Groah by allowing the woman to hold on to the dolphin’s dorsal fin. It initially was a little too coy to allow Groah to get a good grip. More coaxing got Groah a short ride.

“It’s great. I can now tell everyone that I did something crazy at 87,” Groah said.

Her daughter, Nancy Silva, also got to be towed by one of the dolphins, saying afterward, “I could have done that forever.”

“This is great to have her down here,” Nancy Silva said of her mother. “I had more fun watching my mom.”

Groah is not the oldest participant to swim with the dolphins. Last year, a 90-year-old woman took the plunge to get some face time with the marine mammals.

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.

Ian Thompson

Ian Thompson

Ian Thompson has worked for the Daily Republic longer than he cares to remember. A native of Oregon and a graduate of the University of Oregon, he pines for the motherland still. He covers Vacaville and Travis Air Force Base for the Daily Republic. He is an avid military history buff, wargamer and loves the great outdoors.

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