By Woodard, Dale on February 15, 2020.
Who says you can’t do a little dragon boat racing in February?
The Coulee Classic Ice Dragons will inform you that, indeed, you can and show you their silver medal as proof.
The 12-member women’s Masters dragonboat team bundled up and headed east to Ottawa Feb. 7-8 for the IIDBF World Ice Dragon Boat Championships.
Making their first appearance at the world-class event – and not exactly sure what they were getting themselves into – the Coulee Classic Ice Dragons paddled and picked their way to a silver medal in the aptly named Shiver and Giver charity race before making the semifinals in the actual race on Saturday.
For the local team team of paddlers who are no strangers to international events, the event on the Rideau Canal Skateway was unique.
“It was definitely new to us,” said Coulee Classic Ice Dragons team captain Carol Block. “We learned about it last year. It’s a world competition, and we decided it would be a fun thing to do. That was our plan, just to come out and have fun thinking that it was new to everybody.”
Hosted by the Beavertails Ottawa Ice Dragon Boat Festival, over 100 teams from around the globe, including Japan, China, Ireland and New Zealand, participated in this year’s international event, which is the largest ice dragonboat championship in the world.
The competition is a highlight of the Capital Region’s annual Winterlude Festival, combining the roots of dragonboating as a Chinese sport and Canadian winter sport culture.
Racing on the 200-metre course with seven lanes of boats, the clock and the other teams weren’t the only things the Coulee Classic Ice Dragons dealt with.
There were also the elements.
“The weather was minus-24, so it was not nice. We had a breeze as well to go along with that,” said Block. “We shivered a lot. We definitely learned to layer.”
It didn’t stop them from striking silver in the women’s division Shiver and Giver race Feb. 7 with a time of 1:11. The American Vermont Fire took the gold.
“The fun part of the charity race was it was Friday night after we had done our practice,” said Block. “We raced under the lights, so it was kind of a big event.”
The actual race took place Feb. 8.
“So we were up against a lot of teams from all over the world. There were women’s and mixed teams and no age categories,” said Block. “We ended up in the semifinals, but we did not make it to the finals at the worlds.”
Though not sure what to expect at a winter event, the team members quickly found out the technique in ice dragonboating is similar to regular dragonboats even if the equipment wasn’t.
“Basically your paddle is kind of like a spring-loaded ice pick. So you plant your paddle and you use your core and your leg strength to pull the boat ahead. Of course, by doing that you’re putting some stress on your arms as well, but it’s basically the same as paddling, that technique.”
Block credited the Coulee Classic Ice Dragons’ coaching staff of Karen Johnson, Suzanne Harris and Chris Lowings in helping the team prepare.
“We applaud our coaches for keeping us on track year round by making us train because we didn’t realize it would be very similar actions,” she said. “In regular dragonboat we use a lot of core and legwork and timing is really important. So that is something our coaches keep pounding on us.”
Despite being halfway across Canada, the Coulee Classic Ice Dragons had a local cheering contingent.
“We met them on the plane,” said Block. “Our uniforms are a little bit unique, so we get a lot of comments on them. They recognized us and asked if we were a team and asked where we were going and why. So we explained it and they thought we were crazy. But because they were going to be in Ottawa they actually came out and cheered us on.”
A Masters team of paddlers over 50, the Ice Dragons, an ancillary of the Dragon Boat Association of Southern Alberta Coulee Classic Dragons, are training to go to the World Dragon Boat Championship in Japan in 2021.
But if the World Ice Dragon Boat Championships are a little closer to home next year, the Coulee Classic Ice Dragons want to sign up.
“We’re hearing rumours that the next world championship will be in Sylvan Lake next year,” said Block. “So for sure if it’s at Sylvan Lake we will be there.”
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