By Simone Delochan
Their measured, polite expressions transformed to openness and excitement as the interview progressed in the corridor outside of a sixth form class at Holy Name Convent, Port of Spain.
We are discussing dragon boat racing and they are members of the team, the HNC Water Dragons, fresh out of a historical win. At the Pan American Club Crew Championships in Tobago March 23 and 24, an international competition, they won gold medals in the 500 m and 200 m respectively. They are the first Junior Division team to have won two gold medals in one regatta. Victory was also theirs April 13 in south Trinidad at the Excellent Stores Ltd Dragon Boat Regatta, 200 m.
Sue Lin Cook, sixth former, described the team’s feelings before the competition: “Our 200 m race, we were very uncertain about the outcome because we were right close in time with SJC [St Joseph’s Convent, Port of Spain], and we weren’t sure who was going to come out victorious….At the time it was very stressful but we had determination to win. We went out and put everything in the water.”
One student drew the analogy that Tobago water was like mixing cement. Manager Angelique Lee described the water conditions as challenging: “It’s during the highest wind time of the year and the currents were strong. I am very proud of them.”
They were, however, motivated to always do their best because of the extensive support by school, a close network of trainers/coaches, managers and parents, and of course, by the team members themselves.
Their training regimen consists of both land and water training, twice a week after school, and on one day of the weekend. They run, do squats, gym work: “[The exercises] also integrate fun. If it’s just exercising it’s not going to be interesting. It’ll be like ‘Ugh, when is this going to be over!’. Sometimes you may dread it but we push through it…We have people supporting us endlessly with love,” continued Sue Lin.
The people are their trainers and coaches: Joel Patrick, Mei Ling, Thorne Fernandez and Darren Joseph; and parents, Amoy Van Lowe, Karen Valere, Carmen Ross, Michelle Laurenco, Yucklene Cha and Timothy Murray.
Sport builds discipline, teamwork and respect
Their ritual before any competition begins with a chant—very loud and heart pounding. Yes, they demonstrated. “Now I feel so pumped!” one student said softly as the circle broke. They say a prayer for safety, that the boat does not tip over, and they talk to their coach about strategy.
Sarah Ross, who is co-captain with Shauna Cato also assists in keeping the girls motivated before: “Another thing Shauna and I try to do is to get the girls to focus before the race, be calm and know that with all we have done to prepare for the race, it’s gonna work out. Remain calm and focused and do what we came there to do.”
All the teams they say are big competitors because each race is different: “We could lose; we could win” but of course, their goal is to win. The sport inspires respect and quiet camaraderie among the teams, as the level of training and discipline pushes all to succeed.
“Over time,” comments Sarah, “it has grown into mutual respect. Obviously, you want to beat everyone, but the nature of the sport is team-oriented and you realise that everybody is working the same and we have similar goals.”
The “team-oriented” spirit of the sport entails that each member not only works well with other members, but also draws on her own strengths if she is to have an impact on the team and lend to overall success.
Kristin Hill remarked on her own realisation of what being part of the team meant: “It helps you to understand, it’s not just you on the team…You have to work harder just to show up. It has made me realise that I have to put a lot more effort into things if you want them to turn out the way you want them to.”
It’s no surprise then, that the girls seemed such a self-assured bunch given their obvious commitment to the sport and the rigours of training, competing and working as a unit. Dragon boat racing is not just exercise: it builds discipline, social skills, teamwork and respect for other people.
Kaitlyn Smith says as a young woman, it gives her a feeling of power, being able to “train and see myself next to other male teams, like Fatima, and seeing that I am able to do more push-ups…or my technique is way better than theirs…but it also gives me a certain level of respect. It has grounded me a bit more and made me a bit more confident…”
The tight bonds of team and sisterhood is manifest. For Zara Lewis, “This sport has made me feel a lot of love because the sisterhood we have here, and the amount of support we give each other is unreal.”
“It’s good to have this sisterhood,” concluded Sydney Celestin.
See the video of the team’s pre-race chant on www.facebook.com/rcpos