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Best in the world

Heather Campbell November 1, 2008 Lifestyle No Comments on Best in the world

Team Chiro, Sudbury’s internationally competitive premier dragon boat club crew, came home with a handful of medals from the Club Crew World Championships in Pengan, Malaysia.

They travelled with hope and came back with silver in the 2,000-metre race, bronze in the 500-metre race and silver in the 200-metre race.
Winter 2008Team Chiro, Sudbury’s internationally competitive premier dragon boat club crew, came home with a handful of medals from the Club Crew World Championships in Pengan, Malaysia.

They travelled with hope and came back with silver in the 2,000-metre race, bronze in the 500-metre race and silver in the 200-metre race.

“The sights, sounds, smells are all very different and it was 35 C in the middle of the summer,” says coach Jeff Walker about competing in Malaysia earlier this year.

It was a whole new setting but it didn’t hamper the team, nor any other Canadian team since the top four teams on the podium were Canadian. The world championships hosted boats from 21 countries and more than 2,000 paddlers.

Dragon boating is one of the fastest growing team sports worldwide. Sudbury is no exception. In 2000, Sudbury held its first Dragon Boat Festival with 62 teams participating, and spawned competitive teams including Team Chiro.

Dragon boating began more than two centuries ago as a way for the Chinese to honour the death of poet and philosopher Qu Yuan. Disillusioned by the political regime, he attempted to drown himself in the Mei Lo River. However, villagers wanted to save him, so they jumped into boats and paddled vigorously while throwing rice into the water to scare away the fish from eating his body. This rescue has been re-enacted for more than 2,000 years on the fifth day of the fifth month on the Chinese calendar.

Today it’s all about racing, although many festivals are raising large sums of money for charities especially cancer research.

Team Chiro was doing so well at Ontario festivals that they decided to move to the next level and compete internationally. Canada is a powerhouse at international dragon boat competitions making Canadian competitions an excellent training ground. For Team Chiro, they have risen to the top, a goal they set for themselves over six years ago.

“Why did I do this?” Those words are like gold nuggets to  Walker. He wants to see his paddlers exhausted when they climb out of their dragon boat after a gruelling race.

“When I see them getting out of the boat exhausted and hear them ask,‘why did I do this?’ then I know I’ve done my job right.”

The Sudbury crew is comprised of 26 members including a steersman and drummer. Walker likes to describe them as “alpha types.”

It’s that competitive drive that took this team from Sudbury to the Canadian National Dragon Boat Championships in Calgary and the World Championships in Malaysia.

Each race is unique and requires specific skills to accomplish. Distance does not make any of the races more prestigious, as each race piece requires certain techniques. The 200-metre race, which only takes 45 seconds to complete, has the crew in the boat and giving it all the athletic power they have. The 500-metre, a standard festival distance, requires some strategy.

The crew will only have time to get the boat up and running and look for a strategic finish. This race only takes about two minutes. The big race, the 2,000-metre, is performed on a circular course and has been compared to chariot racing on water. This race takes about nine minutes and tests the team’s endurance and strategy.

Races don’t come without collisions either.

“In Montreal during the 2,000-metre, another team collided with us – side by side – (we) couldn’t paddle on one side,” recounts Walker. “We would have had gold, but with time penalties we came home with silver.”

The youngest paddler, Andrew McMillan, 19, came from sprint canoe racing and has added some young energy to the crew.

“Gotta have fun, or no point in doing,” says McMillan with youthful exuberance. With his experience in competitive paddling, he contributed some useful race techniques.

Team Chiro is always recruiting new members. “It’s physically demanding. It’s a lifestyle,”

not just a way to stay fit, says Walker.

You “have to want to be there,” says stroke Stephano Biondi. Biondi has been on the team since 2004 and is the chair for dragon boat teams at the Sudbury Canoe Club.

“Training is not just on the water, once off the water in the fall, we are in the gym until we can hit the water again.

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