National team members display their medals at the World Nations Dragon Boat Championships in China.

All ages sport a full body workout

Eight paddlers from the VI Paddling club contributed to Canada’s medal haul at the recent World Nations Dragon Boat Championships in Kunming, China. Athletes from various parts of the Island were on gold medal-winning teams in senior A Mixed (40-plus years), senior B mixed (50+), senior B women (50+) and senior C women (60+).

Since dragon boating is not an Olympic event, the biennial World Nations represents the pinnacle of competition in the sport.

“One of the great things about dragon boat is that a person can pick it up at any age and become world class,” said Gabby Kalaw, VI Paddling vice-president. “Some of our athletes hadn’t picked up a paddle until their late-50s, and a couple of years later were competing at international competitions.”

Comox Valley resident Andrea Keenan is the performance coach and organizer at VI Paddling, which has 13 dragon boat teams around the Island, ranging from elite competitive to novice recreational. It’s based out of Selkirk Gorge in Victoria, and has a training location in the Valley. Keenan coaches on Comox Lake.

“We’ve got a solid group of senior B’s and C’s training for club worlds that are being held in Hungary next year,” she said.

The paddlers include Ray St. Denis, Marcy Petersen, Barb Bock, Joan Goodwin, Patty Watt, Joanne Denniston, Dan Waldon, John Thornton and Dave Hay. The ladies are on the local Hope Afloat cancer survivor team.

“They’ve all come a long way,” Keenan said.

Over the past three years, Keenan has run dragon boat, outrigger canoe, and children’s kayak programs on the lake. She said VI Paddling North is growing, and will continue to run dragon boat and outrigger programs for any skill level. It also plans to run a greater number of children’s camps next summer.

“Paddling is a great full body workout,” Keenan said. “It gets you out of the grind and back to nature. I have spent most of my life on the water and am I excited to share my knowledge with the up-and-comers.”

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