As you know, the people who travel with Hawkeye Stages are special. Their ages vary and so do their areas of interest. We would like to introduce you to Rita and Stuart Ashmead who have traveled with us as part of the Community First Credit Union of Ottumwa for many years. According to driver Rick Brannen, they have been EVERYWHERE! “Gosh, I’ve gotten to drive them all over the country — Myrtle Beach, Florida, New York, the Mayan Dude Ranch — they are always up for a new adventure!” says Rick.
Curt Swarm of the Ottumwa Courier wrote a piece about the Ahmeads which appeared in the July 8, 2015 issue of the paper. What follows is part of that article.
Active Octogenarians Continue to Set Records
They are not your usual octogenarians either. They met at the “Y” 17 years ago. Or was it dancing? Rita and Stuart aren’t certain, but you can bet they met during some physical activity. Stuart is 87, and Rita will be 80 in November. Every year they compete in the Iowa Senior Games — Rita as a runner, Stuart as a swimmer. And they hold all the records. Rita: 50 meter, 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1,500 meter gold medals. All are records. Stuart: 50 freestyle, 50 back stroke, 100 free, 100 back, 200 free and 200 back stroke. Stu’s were records when he turned 85.
What’s even more amazing is that Stu can’t walk without assistance. He has spinal stenosis and lost the use of his legs five or six years ago. But he doesn’t let it bother him. He doesn’t need his legs to swim. The Iowa Senior Games has a lift for getting him in and out of the water. And then it’s all upper-body strength. Stu has perfected a method of keeping his head low in the water, which brings his legs up. By swimming real deep in the water, some people don’t even think he’s breathing. But he is, and he smokes the competition, what few there are left in his age division.
Stuart is a retired military man. He spent 30-plus years in the Air Force. He suspects that he is the ranking enlisted veteran in Iowa.
Rita had seven children and worked two jobs. When her last child left home, she went back to school, got her nursing degree and became the county nurse. She started walking about 20 years ago, faster and faster, until she was running. She’s never stopped and still has no joint pain. Today, she runs three to four times a week and lifts weights three days a week at the Y.
Stuart contemplates that, because of the progressive nature of his disability, this might be the last year they can compete together. But he has no regrets: “We have the best life in the world,” he says, wrapping an arm around Rita. “I swim for fun. Rita’s the competitor. You ought to see her at shuffleboard. She hates to lose.”