80-year-old paddles Mississippi river source to sea | Canoeroots Magazine | Rapid Media
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80-year-old paddles Mississippi river source to sea Photo: Paul Colletti/QCConline.com

How Dale Sanders, 80, earned himself a world record and the adoration of a nation

Dale Sanders celebrated his arrival at the Gulf of Mexico last fall with a much-deserved glass of champagne. He’d spent the previous 80 days paddling the Mississippi River, a 2,300-mile stretch of water known for its difficult portages, countless dams and intimidating freighter boats.

Even when Sanders reached the salt waters in his Wenonah Wilderness, what he’d achieved hadn’t entirely sunk in. In addition to raising over $22,000 for Type 1 diabetes research, Sanders had set a world record. At 80 years old, the “Grey Beard Adventurer” had become the oldest person in the world to solo paddle the river from source to sea. 

Who was your canoe Anna named for?

My grandniece, Anna, was diagnosed with Juvenile Type 1 Diabetes when she was four. I had considered several different causes, but none of them seemed to click, until I got that feeling in my gut that this was the thing—to paddle for the kids.

I saw so much suffering from diabetic children whose parents brought them to the water’s edge. I paddled the full Mississippi River—under every bridge, around every dam, through life-threatening conditions, in record high waters—all for those kids suffering from T1 Diabetes.

When did you decide you wanted this world record?

All my life, I’ve had a competitive spirit. The first world record I had was for holding my breath underwater back in the late ‘50s. (Ed’s note: Sanders held his breath for six minutes and four seconds.) In the mid ‘60s, I was the United States champion underwater spear-fisherman, and...

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