By Missy Dunn (ISN)
Gorging Dragons come back from the Club Crew World Championships in Ravenna, Italy with medals
(ISN) – When I asked some random people what they first thought of when I said “Senior C Women’s crew”, a group of paddlers who are 60+, what they said wasn’t surprising at all as it varied from “sweet grandma”, “weak”, and “they must be bored”. Then I sat down with Loreli Urqhart, the drummer of this exact team, and nothing could be further from the truth. These women competed at the Crew Club World Championships (CCWC) held in Ravenna, Italy. They were one of four crews that qualified at the Canadian National Championships last year in Victoria, and moved on to compete at CCWC. Gorging Dragons, came home with silver in the 500 meter and bronze in the 2000 meter races for their Senior C Women’s division, with Canada sweeping the podium at both events.
The four Gorging crews that competed were as follows:
Gorging Dragons Premier Open; Gorging Dragon Premier Mixed; Gorging Dragons Senior B Women (50+); and finally, Gorging Dragons Senior C Women (60+). Although there is a minimum age requirement for some of the teams, there is no maximum, therefore strong paddlers are always welcome to compete and qualify in other divisions. And don’t let their age fool you, the most mature paddler on Gorging is 75 years old and celebrating her birthday with two shiny new medals.
To qualify for CCWC you must be one of the top 5 clubs in your country for your division, with only one team allowed per club. To be the top team, not only in your club but also in your country, teams train hard, pushing their limits and monitoring their progress with regular fitness testing and time trials. Gorging Dragons is part of the Vancouver Island Paddling (VIP) club, with women coming as far up island as Port McNeil. Some of these communities do not have large paddling clubs so they train on their own and travel to Victoria to participate in the training needed in order to qualify. This sport, like all sports at a National level, takes much training, endurance, and commitment. It is vital that I remind you that some of these paddlers are in their 60s and 70s. They train to excel at the world level. This is a group of strong, determined, and focused individuals. Most have jobs, families, other commitments and still they train 3x a week on a dragon boat, plus solo outrigger canoe (OC1) practices and individual cross training. Their club also has two and six man outrigger boats (OC2, and OC6 respectively), with many outrigger races being held in Victoria year round.
One dragon boat team is made up of 20+ paddlers plus a steers and a drummer. The steers is responsible for the steering of the boat and the drummer is the eyes, responsible for yelling cues and strategy to the paddlers during the race. This includes technical and motivation calls, with the most important call being the finish call, where racers find that last ounce of strength to push and give it everything they’ve got for a chance at the podium. Gorging only had two days to practice in Ravenna before racing, one of which was cancelled due to inclement weather which unfortunately carried on to the first day of racing. Despite this, and being thrown the curve ball of having to reduce their 20 woman lineup down to 16 for safety reasons in the 2000 meter race, Senior C Women’s still proudly garnered a bronze.
I asked Urqhart why these women, her teammates, started this competitive sport. While she can’t speak for all the women, she herself is a personal trainer who owns Alter Ego Fitness and helped to train two of the paddlers who wanted to qualify for the crew. Those women began as method of fitness because they really wanted to qualify and then it continued into a passion which ultimately was a life goal. Urqhart herself began with a curiosity to change up some of her own upper body strength training and came across the sport by her own interest at the Victoria Dragon Boat Festival.
I was curious if/how age either helped or hindered during training. Because really, who doesn’t first think that maybe the training wasn’t as hard core for these ladies with the thought that someone could get hurt? If you are one of those people you are seriously wrong. Urqhart herself is a force to be reckoned with once you sit down and have a conversation about racing. The amount of respect she has for her fellow teammates is most evident as she speaks. Herself, she wasn’t required to qualify for the crew as she is a drummer but she obviously trains just as hard as these women and puts her heart and soul into it. Paired with the coaches’ meticulous training and the ability to read their team, injuries weren’t dictated by age at all. Training correctly with down time to rest is what every athlete needs to excel and these women weren’t any exception because of their age.
What’s next for these athletes? For some of them they are training to qualify for Team Canada and compete at the 12th World Nation Championships in Welland, Ontario. Unlike CCWC, paddlers qualify as an individual to get on the team. Others will be looking to qualify with Gorging for the next CCWC in Australia 2016 by competing at the Canadian National Championships which will also be held in Welland this summer. For Urqhart she is more than interested in expanding her role in the boat and learning to be a steers.
I asked her what one of her best memories of their time in Ravenna, Italy and she proudly answered, “When we received our bronze medal and stood on that podium and sang our anthem…it felt surreal. But when we went back up for the 2nd time to receive our silver, it was super exciting! To actually come home with medals from this event was over the top and one of the best feelings ever! All four crews paddled and worked their hearts out.”
When asked as well what she wanted people to know about dragon boat racing she had the following to say. “Paddling is for everyone-it’s all inclusive. But to paddle at a world class level takes hard work, a mindset that keeps you going, commitment to yourself and your crew and passion! It takes everything you thought you had to give and more…but it’s so worth it!
As all teams and athletes who compete at the World level the coaching staff is just as important as the team itself and much strategy goes into the training and execution of these races. The coaches who got these crews to CCWC are as follows; Main coach Tom Arnold, Phillip Lauk, Malorie Nicholson, and club member and fellow paddler in both Premier Open and Mixed boats, Andree St.Denis.
There is a saying, “twenty-two hearts one beat” and it seems fitting for these crews of intensely hard working athletes.
The athletes that were on the Gorging Dragons Senior C Womens Crew are as follows:
Barbara Ambercrombie, Brenda Kalynchuk, Bronwen Brice, Carole Dodds, Catherine Mustafa, Darien Mikitka, Debbie Underhill, Dee Dalton, Diane Kay, Fiona Glaeser, Gail Stroud, Irene Paterson, Janice Meier, Jeanne MacGregor, Joanne Cowan, Joy Zwicker, Katherine Davison-York, Liz Dill, Liz Hoffpauir, Loreli Urquhart, Mary Heath, Mary Lou Whitwill, Mavis Pillar, Pam Carroll, Ruth Chase, Sheila Barnes, Shirley Imada, Terri Foote, Wendy Urguhart.
For more information on dragon boat clubs on the island there are many resources.
Victoria Dragon Boat Racing site www.victoriadragonboat.com
Vancouver Island Paddling Club www.vipaddling.com
Victoria Canoe and Kayak Club firstname.lastname@example.org
Fairway Gorge Paddling Club fgpaddle.com
For your bootcamp or fitness needs:
www.alteregofitness.ca or call Loreli Urqhart @ 250 590-FITT