Bridging Life-long Healers in Toronto, Julie, June 2014

My fiancee Andreas and I have been paddling with the Woodstock Water Striders for the past 3 years, and we have fallen deeply in love with the sport. We live in a small community in Woodstock, Ontario, and really wanted to check out a large international 2-day festival. We decided to try the Toronto International Dragonboat Race Festival for the first time. When we inquired about any teams that were looking for guest paddlers, we were put in touch with the San Francisco Dragon Healers.

At first, we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. It would be our first time attending a 2-day festival, and most importantly, we had never paddled on any team other than our own. When we arrived on the Friday night for the pasta feast, we had the same jitters you would expect to feel when visiting your in-laws for the first time. Walking into a room where everyone knows each other so well, they’re like family - are they going to like us? Will they make fun of our Canadian accents (or our colourful plastic money)? Thankfully, the San Francisco Dragon Healers are an incredibly kind, and welcoming group, we instantly clicked and felt part of the team.

We were very thankful that American dragonboat commands are pretty much the same as here in Canada, with a few exceptions like "let it ride" (we say "let it run"). This made paddling together pretty smooth. On our first race, I think the adrenaline kicked in a little too hard. We took off at an alarmingly high race pace, we were basically dead at the end of it. We didn’t sweat it though, we regrouped and came up with a plan as a team to fix the race pace for the second race. Our next 3 races were just perfect. Everyone gave it their all and we had nothing left in the tank by the end, which is exactly what you want in a team. Kudos to the two strokes who were able to take the feedback we discussed at the end of each race, and execute it perfectly for the next one.

All our hard work paid off. We won not one, but two gold medals!! We won first place in the J Division, beating out some pretty competitive teams. We also won the Category Cup for best hospital team, beating out Mount Sinai Hospital who held the record for the past 7 festivals.

While the winning was pretty fantastic, what really made the festival so great for me was all the wonderful people we got to meet. I’d like to send a shoutout to my very loyal seat partner Bill, who echoed all the commands for us so I didn’t have to pay attention to anything other than doing my best. Tony, who is so much fun and laid back on land, but when he gets behind the boat is probably the most drill sergeant-y steersman I’ve ever had the pleasure of paddling with. Brennan, who I could always count on for a great stretch, and some pretty epic dance moves by the stage and DJ booth. Jacky, who we could always count on to finish any leftovers!! Lawrence, who I swear is Andreas’ alter ego. Every team needs a math/physics expert paddler to make spreadsheets and analyze the angles of paddles, resistance against the water, etc. Colette and Amy, our fantastic pacekeepers who worked so well together to keep the rest of the boat in time. Kathy, who works her butt off to make it all happen and keep everyone organized, and finally Ross, who made sure we had the best strategy going into each race and that we were giving it our best effort each time.

It was an amazing and memorable weekend with some truly kind and caring people who are passionate about the sport of dragonboating. I’ll always remember my San Francisco friends, as well as my Toronto-based paddling friends. I hope to bump into you again at a festival in the future!