Paddlers from left Pamela Boyce Lillian Hall Linda Shulist Chris Whittemore Lois Deacon Carolyn Ellis. Photo submitted

Haliburton dragon boaters competing in New Zealand

By Jerelyn Craden

Special to the Echo

April 25 2017

Excitement is growing for seven members of the Haliburton Highlands Paddlers  dragon boating club who will compete in the largest multi-sport event in the world – the 2017 World Masters Games in Auckland New Zealand this week.

“I’m retired and I never thought I’d be doing this” said Haliburton resident Carolyn Ellis.

“The first thing that got me going was when we competed at the Port Perry Dragonboat Festival and we won a medal. I got excited and loved it.”

Ellis joins locals Pamela Boyce Lillian Hall Linda Shulist Chris Whittemore and Lois Deacon who will compete with 22 other paddlers from Lindsay as part of the all-women IB Dragonboating Club team.

“My husband Mac will compete on IB’s mixed crew of six men and four women one drummer and one steersperson. We wanted to experience it together” Ellis said.

“I’m very excited” said Whittemore a crew member on the IB women’s team and  a spare for the mixed crew. “I’m 66 years old and I hike canoe and cycle. The more I do the better I feel. It’s really rewarding mentally. We’re all over 50 but most of us are over 60. One of our crew members from Lindsay is 76.”

Only three years ago the paddlers grew from a spark of an idea to a member of The Haliburton County Community Co-operative an umbrella organization that runs a number of not-for-profit initiatives in the county. Through the co-op they joined Dragon Boat Canada and obtained marine insurance. The Co-op also provided some start-up  funds and 20 individuals stepped forward with donations and interest-free loans  that together were sufficient to allow the paddlers to obtain a steersperson’s oar 20 paddles and a dragon boat – the Susanna Foo.

“There’s a whole gang working on refurbishing the boat right now – sanding painting varnishing” Whittemore said.

“We’ve received tremendous support from the community. RPM stores it for the winter. Patient News lets us keep it docked during the summer. And the Minden Curling Club is where it’s presently being worked on indoors.”

Boyce loves the competitive aspect of sports and looks forward to the challenge that the World Masters Games provides.

“We’re not representing Ontario or Canada” she said.

“We’re representing our own club made up of male and female paddlers from Kawartha Lakes Durham and Haliburton.” Boyce who used to be a competitive swimmer has been dragon boating for two summers and will compete with both the IB women’s and mixed crews. “I’m very excited. We worked hard all year for this.”

In addition to practices twice per week last summer on Head Grass and Kashagawigamog lakes in Haliburton most of the women paddlers aptly dubbed “The Kiwi Crew” also made the trip to Lindsay twice a week where they practised on the Lindsay River with IB Dragonboating under Games coach Carol Gonder – a competitive swimmer and former competitor in the first World Masters Games in 1986.

When the cooler weather came it didn’t curb their enthusiasm. They practised throughout the fall and winter at “The Tank” (created for indoor simulated dragon boat training) at Trent University in Peterborough focusing on both fitness and technique.

Participation in the Games started with Gonder. When she learned of the opportunity to compete in the World Masters she wasn’t sure if they could field a team.

Each paddler would have to cover her own costs to New Zealand.

According to Ellis “When she put it out to us we all said: Let’s do it.”

To help with the cost of training and registration fees for the Games which run from April 21 to 30 fundraising initiatives included “Project Turkey Pie” where the team made and sold 2700 pies; and two fashion shows.  Approximately $19000 was raised.

They also received $4000 in donations from local (Lindsay) business owners. The money raised was applied to registration ($400 each) and training costs for the tank rental.

“The most amazing thing is how the Lindsay group welcomed us” said Ellis.

“Some of them started with the breast cancer survival group the ‘Dragon Flies’ which Carol Gondor helped to create so they had been together for quite awhile. I’m really proud to be part of their team. They’re inspiring and have a different outlook on life.”

According to a blog post at 25000 athletes at the 2017 World Masters Games will compete in 28 sports across 48 venues.

The IB dragon boating teams will have two practices in Auckland Harbour prior to their races on April 29 (500 metres) and 30 (200 metres) in Lake Pupuke near Auckland.

Regardless of the outcome at the New Zealand World Masters Games Whittemore and the Kiwi crew look forward to competing again.