Southern teams have a blast on ice

Jamie Mountain

They never had experienced a Canadian winter before but that did little to quash the enjoyment the “Paddlers Without Borders” teams had at Saturday’s inaugural FMG Ice Dragons Challenge hosted by the local International Boundary Waters Dragon Boat Club on the ice by La Place Rendez-Vous here.
Hailing from Oak Ridge, Tenn., Paddlers Without Borders had two squads compete–one in the women’s division and one in the mixed.
Head coach Esther Wallace lauded Fort Frances for its hospitality and for giving the teams the opportunity to have a great time.
“It was awesome,” she enthused. “We had the best time.
“[You have] great people,” Wallace added. “They welcomed us with open arms, [and] helped us learn stuff that we didn’t know anything about because we’re from the south and mid-south.
“So snow and ice like this is kind of crazy for us,” she chuckled.
“But everybody’s been great and it’s been a really good experience.”
The event saw a total of six teams participate–two in the women’s division and four in the mixed division–on a 100-metre long course.
The course originally was supposed to be 200 metres long, but a crack in the ice forced organizers to shorten in to just 100 metres.
Each team consisted of 10 people aged 12 and over, who competed in a dragon boat that had skis on the bottom, with each paddler using a steel pole to help move themselves along the ice.
Two preliminary races were held in each heat, with the squads that had the best times advancing to the finals.
Paddlers Without Borders claimed gold in the women’s division while the Good Samaritan Society (International Falls) earned silver.
In the mixed division, meanwhile, the Rusty Dragons (Toronto) took home the gold medal while the Kemira Paper Dragons (International Falls) nabbed silver.
Bronze went to the First City Paddling Club (Bemidji, Mn.) while the Paddler’s Without Borders’ second team took the consolation medal.
How difficult was it getting used to racing on ice, which “Paddlers Without Borders” had never experienced before?
“It was a challenge, for sure,” Wallace admitted. “But like I said, we had a blast. We had fun.”
The day wasn’t without its bumps and mishaps getting used to the wintery conditions, though.
“I took, let’s see, two face-plants into the soft snow and one “butt-buster” on the ice, and then another slide down the hill over there, so I’m good,” Wallace laughed.
She added she was happy with how her squads performed, and that the teams could not have asked for a better experience when it came to racing.
“We’ve made new friends, we’ve done something new in the world of dragon boating, and it’s just been great,” Wallace enthused.
“We’ve had an awesome time.
Would they be willing to do more events like this in the future?
“Oh absolutely,” Wallace replied. “I can’t stress enough how much fun we’ve had.
“We [even] got to snowshoe this morning, we got to ski [at the Rainy Lake Nordic Ski Club’s Rocky Inlet trails],” she noted.
“We’ll spread the word, and we’ll be telling our other dragon boat teams and people that we know that this is an event that they need to come to,” she vowed.
International Boundary Waters Dragon Boat Club president Greg Thorstad was delighted with how Saturday’s events unfolded and hinted that future ice-racing events could be in the cards.
“We thought it went really, really well,” he enthused.
“We had two teams from the southeast United States, basically based out of Oak Ridge, Tenn., another team from Toronto, and another team from Bemidji, Mn. [so] we had four of the six teams that came into Fort Frances from out-of-town,” Thorstad noted.
“We are so happy with that.
“We’re looking at doing this again next year, and if not next year, maybe the year after,” he added.
“And these folks all plan to come back, so we’re happy that it’s a good thing for the community.”
Thorstad also said there’s been ongoing discussions to make the FMG Ice Dragons Challenge an annual event, though a final decision has yet to be made.
But if it that does come to fruition, Thorstad would like to see more teams sign up to compete.
“We would like to see more teams because it makes the festival more fun,” he reasoned.
“But also, it’s good for the community,” Thorstad stressed. “We’re bringing in dollars from outside the country, a lot of it, and this is a community-minded event, community-minded sport.
“That’s what were here for,” he remarked.