The Vancouver Island Paddling Club’s Gorging Dragons returned home from Australia with some hardware.
The local paddlers were in Adelaide competing in the 10th annual International Dragon Boat Federation’s Club Crew World Championships from April 1 to 7.
Langford resident Joanne Cowan was one of the athletes competing Down Under and proudly showed off the seven medals she helped earn.
But the road to Australia wasn’t easy.
Cowan has been paddling for five years, starting in a recreational league before transitioning to a competitive team.
“I was kind of going through withdrawal,” she recalled about her first season coming to an end. When she heard about a competitive seniors team that was starting up and would be training all year, it seemed like an obvious move, so she tried out.
She made the team and as a whole, the group set their sights on competing at nationals, which happened to be held in Victoria that year. The team placed in the top five at that competition and qualified for the world championships, which were held in Italy.
“We were over the moon,” Cowan said of reaching the worlds. The team paddled away from Italy with bronze and silver medals.
Once back in Canada, the team set a goal of making nationals once again. Last summer it was held in Wellington, Ont., and again the local paddlers finished in the top five, earning their spot to compete in Adelaide.
“So off we went to Australia and we did so well. We’re so proud,” she said. “It’s just been a trip and a half.”
The competition offers three age groups for seniors to compete in: A (40 plus), B (50 plus) and C (60 plus). Cowan said the local club sent three C teams and a B team to compete in Australia, and she paddled in seven races with the C teams.
The C women’s 2,000 metre race was a strong start for Cowan and the rest of the team. “Our goal was to just get out front and stay out in front,” she said, showing off the gold medal the team won that race.
The 2,000 m race went a little differently for the open division team, which is a mixed-gender boat, filled with the club’s best paddlers. “It was so dramatic,” she said. “We almost dunked the boat.”
Waves were washing over both sides of the boat during the race. “The seventh member of the team just had to shovel water out of the boat,” she added, noting he only spent about half the race paddling.
The open team claimed the silver medal for that race.
For the 500 m races, the women’s boat took bronze, the mixed boat claimed silver and the open boat notched another gold medal for the club.
The 200 m race, “which is the fastest race you can imagine,” said Cowan, saw the open boat win a gold medal, the mixed take a silver and the women’s placed fourth.
“We were just blown away … It was such a reward, all that hard work paying off.”
But Cowan said they couldn’t have done it without their three excellent coaches. “We’re really lucky,” she added, noting the coaches set the goals and the team practised really hard to meet them.
The competition also opened her eyes to the opportunities in the sport for younger athletes. Cowan stayed in Australia a few extra days to volunteer at the youth races. Seeing all of the young athletes competing, she said, inspired her to get more local youth involved in the sport she loves.
For more information on the Vancouver Island Paddling Club and dragon boat racing go to vipaddling.com.