Shirley Payne, of South Kingstown, R.I., grew up on the water. At age nine, she fell in love with boating while at summer camp learning how to canoe. It wasn’t long before she became a camp counselor and shared her love of the water with others.

Embarking On Life

A child of the Great Depression, Payne learned to appreciate the simple joys of life—even more so as she anxiously awaited her soon-to-be husband’s return from World War II. When Ken Payne returned, the two moved back to Rhode Island—a sailing mecca—and started their family.

Shirley Payne shared her passion with her three sons, 10 grandchildren, and numerous great-grandchildren. The sole woman in an all-male household, she relished the opportunity to lead a local Mariner Girl Scout Troop on the water and expose the young women to the joys of sailing.

Payne entered college during World War II but left without her degree to start her family. Once her sons were grown, Payne, unwilling to sit around the house, went back to school, finished her degree, and embarked on a 25-year career as a librarian. She loved exposing younger generations to a world of knowledge—whether in the library or on the water.

Today, at age 90, Payne is the picture of good health and retains the same passion for the water, sailing, and having fun as she always had.

The Tide Is High (As Are The Demands)

An accomplished and compassionate senior and current resident of Brookdale Senior Living’s South Kingstown community, many of Payne’s wishes have come true. However, Wish of a Lifetime, a nonprofit organization committed to creating a cultural shift on how aging is viewed in the United States, granted her a very special wish: Payne wanted to meet and sail with the women of Team SCA, the only all-female sailing team competing in the 2014-2015 professional Volvo Ocean Race (VOR), viewed as one of the most grueling sporting events in the world.

The VOR is a nine-month, round-the-world sailing race in some of the most challenging waters. When the teams are at sea, they are racing nonstop, sleeping in shifts. Members are allowed to take only one change of clothes for the entire voyage.

No fresh food is on board—the team eats around four freeze-dried meals per day. Each woman burns 600 to 1,500 calories a day and loses around 17 lbs. over the course of the race (they have to lift sails that can weigh over 650 lbs.

As one member of the team summed up, it is like “driving a convertible through a carwash”—they’ll experience unpredictable weather and temperatures ranging from 23° to 104° Fahrenheit.

Come Sail Away

In addition to meeting members of Team SCA, Payne, with several fellow residents from her Brookdale community, sailed around Newport Harbor in a companion boat while witnessing Team SCA in action, competing in the in-port Pro-Am race.

The Pro-Am race does not count for the overall ranking for the greater VOR competition. Guests are allowed on the racing boats with the team, and spectator boats sail around watching the race. Payne got a chance to sail with several Team SCA sailors as well as have lunch with them. 

“This is a wonderful dream,” says Payne. “At 90, it’s nice to check a few things off the list.”

Sail On Sailor

“Getting Shirley back on a sailboat exemplifies that older adults continue to dream and want to connect with the things they are passionate about and add meaning to their lives,” says Sara Terry, vice president of resident and family engagement at Brookdale. “For each of our residents, our focus is to seek out and find opportunities to enrich their lives and honor their spirit.”

Wish of a Lifetime partnered with SCA, a global hygiene and forest products company that develops and produces personal care products, and Brookdale Senior Living, a leading operator of senior living communities throughout the United States and No. 1 this year on Provider’s Top 40 Largest Assisted Living Companies list, for Payne’s seafaring journey.

Further Adventures Await

This summer, two additional senior women with a similar commitment to helping others and a passion for adventure also saw their wishes fulfilled through this partnership.

SCA recently launched an initiative to recognize women around the world. Amazing Women Everywhere (​aweonmosaic) is a global storytelling platform that honors and celebrates women who have had a positive impact on others, their communities, and their surroundings—just like Shirley Payne.