Thirteen dragon boaters, 11 from the Comox Valley and two from Campbell River, and other members of VI Paddling won 13 medals in 15 races at the Club Crew World Championships, July 18-24 in Sarasota, Fla.
Locals include Barb Bock, Cindy Hardy, Dan and Alma Walden, Dean Dogherty, Angela Ohlman, Colleen Salter, Jo-Ann Denniston, Joan Goodwin, Tina Dent, Marcy Petersen, and Jane and Dave Hay.
“I was invited to learn to paddle 20 years ago and it has changed my life,” said Petersen, who was part of the team that competed at the 2018 club crew worlds in Hungary. “Because of it, I am more accountable physically, have goals, have travelled, and connected with a very large community of others doing the same thing.”
Tom Arnold, VI Paddling president and head coach, said these athletes have shown that Vancouver Island is a force to be reckoned with on the international dragon boat stage.
“I’m sure none of them ever imagined being world champions when they started dragon boating, but through hard work and dedication that’s exactly what they’ve become,” he said.
The 70-plus VI Paddling delegation finished 10th overall at the event — no small feat for a volunteer-run club in the midst of a pandemic. In all, the five crews won three gold medals, nine silvers and a bronze in various 200-metre, 500m and 2,000m races.
The club qualified for the CCWC at the 2019 national championships in Regina. Races were cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID.
The five Gorging Dragon crews sent to Florida included three 20-paddler teams (50+ senior B women, senior B open, and 60+ senior C women) and two 10-paddler dragon boat crews (open age/gender premier mixed and 50+ mixed senior B).
VI Paddling has made an all-ages/all-abilities approach a cornerstone of the club’s governing philosophy — something which has become a strength of the growing club. In fact, some of the club’s highest performing athletes found their way to the sport while looking for a low-impact activity following illness or injury.
“I was not familiar with dragon boating at all until being diagnosed with breast cancer and having a double mastectomy,” said Denniston, who trains out of VI Paddling’s Comox Lake location. “I had never played any team sport in my life and in joining first my cancer survivor team, the Gorging Dragons high performance team, going to world events is still something I think about everyday, shake my head sometimes and say, ‘Yes this is me.’ It’s a sport for anyone and it has completely changed my life for the better.”
VI Paddling competes at the Victoria International Dragon Boat Festival Aug. 13, and at the 55+ BC Games in Victoria, Sept. 13-17, before ramping up training in October in hope of qualifying for the next CCWC in Ravenna, Italy in 2024. vipaddling.com