Langley dragon boaters paddle furiously toward Italy

Three teams of female dragon boat paddlers from the Fort Langley Canoe Club will be skimming along the waters of Ravenna, Italy, Sept. 3-7.

Fast & Furious, Abreast With FORT-itude, and Titanium (a crew consisting of paddlers in the 60-plus age group) will compete in Ravenna in the ninth annual World Dragon Boat Championships.

The actual race location is Mirabilandia, just south of Ravenna.

A senior B (50-plus age group) club crew team, Fast & Furious is made up of 20 paddlers, a drummer and a steersperson, plus a few spares.

“Some people’s goal is they must win the gold medal,” Fast & Furious team captain Sandy Ferguson said, looking ahead to the world regatta. “It’s an interesting goal, [but] it’s something that is somewhat out of your control, because you’re competing against other teams that have done as much preparation, and maybe even more than you.”

During the world championships, Fast & Furious will be aboard a Level 3 Champion boat, a vessel that’s completely foreign to the paddlers.

“We don’t have champion boats here, so our first experience in these boats will be when we get there,” Ferguson said. “They’re supposed to be very ‘tippy.’”

Led by their longtime coach Ben Lee, most of the Fast & Furious paddlers have been competing together for the better part of four years.

Fast & Furious has competed twice at nationals, as well as at the 2012 club crew world championships in Hong Kong.

The team qualified for the world regatta by tying for fourth place at the 2013 nationals, held last August at Elk Lake in Victoria. The top five boats earned spots in the world championships.

“You qualify the year before so that way, you have a year to make your decision whether you are going to actually put in all the time and effort and money and all that stuff,” Ferguson said. “We have sponsors but nobody takes you to Europe. So this gives people time to figure out if they can afford to do it or not.”

Fast & Furious decided very early on that going to Italy was worth the time, effort, and expense.

“We made the decision the day that we won fourth place,” Ferguson said.

“I would say that any time that you are going to club crew [world championships], it’s actually a two-year process, because you do a lot of work getting yourselves to nationals… and then you move on from there,” Ferguson said.

Anyone who steps into the competitive world of dragon boating is somebody who absolutely adores the sport, Ferguson added.

“It’s not so much about going for the medals, it’s about being on the water,” she added.

Fast & Furious trains three nights a week on Fort Langley’s Bedford Channel (and in outrigger canoes during the winter months), and when conditions are unseasonable, they travel west to downtown Vancouver’s False Creek to practise.

“We’ve worked so hard, and we have been putting in the hours and all the time necessary, and I think every girl has got it in her mind that she is going to do her very best that she can possibly do,” Ferguson said. “Where the chips fall from there… you can win a gold medal and it can mean nothing to you, sometimes, but if you performed your best, you’re a success no matter what happens.”

She added, “We’re successful because we’re not sitting at home. We’re out exercising and socializing.”

Fast & Furious paddlers range in age from 52 to the crew’s msost senior member, 66-year-old Ann Mohs, who is in her third year with the team.

Being a part of Fast & Furious has helped the soft-spoken Mohs come out of her shell.

“Joining this team has opened up my world and with every woman on the team being unique, I have learned so much from each one of them,” Mohs said. “I have always been competitive, but now I’m also more confident in myself.”

Gals with FORT-itude

Excitement is mounting, as Abreast With FORT-itude paddlers put the final touches to their long and strenuous season leading up to the world championships.  

The all-women crew of 25 paddlers from all over the Lower Mainland is one of six crews of the Abreast In A Boat Society, the world’s first breast cancer dragon boat team.  

Diagnoses of breast cancer brought the women, spanning five generations (ranging in age from their 30s to their 70s), together.

The paddlers have formed a bond so tight that it can only be explained as “one of the best things that has happened in my life,” noted crew member Carol Short. “The women work out on and off the water and have really used their ‘fortitude’ to condition themselves for the upcoming challenge.”  

FORT-itude won a silver medal in the 2013 nationals, which earned them a berth at this upcoming international competition.

“We are extremely excited. It has been building for two years, now, as our crew has pushed beyond what we thought were our limits of endurance and strength,” Short said. “Our goal is to do the absolute best that we can. Our coach Juanita Peglar is ensuring that we are digging deep within ourselves to continually improve. Our practices are very challenging.”

Short said the FORT-itude paddlers are very close, on and off the water.

“A lot of us do dryland training together,” she said. “And we have quite a few parties throughout the year, too, We are very lucky to have such supportive families behind us, as well.”

It’s been a satisfying and eventful year for the FORT-itude paddlers, who last month received an award for saving a man’s life on the Bedford Channel.

On July 11, Canadian Red Cross presented the entire crew with a Red Cross First Aid & Water Safety Rescuer Award, to acknowledge their bravery and heroics in saving a drowning man’s life.

The paddlers were practising on the Bedford Channel in April when they heard a call for help.

A man who had been rowing on the river had fallen into the cold, swift water while exiting his boat.

He could not swim.

With the assistance of an onlooker, the team paddled at race pace toward the man.

The dragon boat team members pulled up alongside the man, tossed him their life bag and personal flotation device (PFD), and guided him to shore where paramedics were waiting

“I am very proud of my teammates and that is why I nominated them for this award,” team member Cindy Reimer said. “I am so impressed that we stayed calm and did not panic, we listened to our coach and steersperson and did our best to get to the man as quickly as we could to help him.”

The Rescuer Award recognizes acts of humanity that use Red Cross skills and training learned through water safety, first aid, and swim programs.

“What Abreast with FORTitude did took tremendous courage and teamwork,” said Tania Burgi, Red Cross water safety program representative. “We encourage everyone to be safe in, on and around the water and, most importantly, wear a PFD.”

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