Laura Darby is slaying dragons these days, but they aren’t the mythical fire-breathing kind.
Darby, 21, the daughter of Deb Cornell and Bill Darby, works as a canoe technician on the interior portage crew for Quetico Park during the summer months—paddling the waters to help enforcement staff make sure campers are adhering to the rules and preventing fires, among other duties.
But Darby instead was feeling the burn in her muscles this past Saturday as a member of the Quetico-Superior 100 Dragon Boat team at the Lake Superior Dragon Boat Festival in Wisconsin.
The team was made up of a group of Quetico Park employees who teamed up with U.S. Forest Service staff who regulate the boundary waters.
Despite the unfamiliarity, the 22-person crew dominated most of the other boats to finish third out of 80 entries.
Talk about being quick learners.
“The final race, we all set off and were tearing down the water and you could hear the buzzers were all in sync, beep, beep, beep [at each interval with the other top two boats],” Darby recalled.
“We ended up third, which was really exciting, but we were really close behind the winning team,” she added.
The race consisted of a 500-metre dash, with the four-team final seeing the Stone Dragons finish with a time of 2:07:40, followed by the Racine Dragonboat Club’s “Arashi” (2:07:78), then Quetico (2:08:06), and finally the “Don’t Get Me Wet, Dragons” (2:08:62).
The local crew qualified for the gold final through two time trial races, including a team-best timed race of 2:05.96, which was second only to the eventual winners, the Stone Dragons, in qualifying times.
“Our second race time ended up being the second-fastest timed run of the day, so we were all pretty excited about that,” Darby enthused.
“The best two rounds were combined and the four fastest boats were put into the division final.”
Darby, who also is a member of the University of Alberta rowing team, said the dragon boat team, as a whole, was made up of natural paddlers, but had just been together once before for the Thunder Bay Dragon Boat Festival.
“We paddle every day so we definitely have the endurance when it comes to that, but we didn’t really practice much as a team so the challenge for us was the timing and being in sync together in the boat,” Darby noted.
“You’re kind of dying by the end, but it was a lot of fun and we were really happy with how we did.”
Darby said she’s always enjoyed being on the water, but the decision to pursue rowing at the university level came at the suggestion of her fellow employees at Quetico.
“My dad liked to take us fishing and canoeing, and we do canoe trips once a year when there’s time, but quite a few of the people I work with at Quetico Park have or are doing it at university and they were like, ‘Do rowing, it’s a great workout and tons of fun to stay in shape,’” she explained.
“I was looking around and saw they had a rowing club at the university and figured I’d give it a shot.”
Darby heads back to Edmonton next week to continue her biology studies and rowing team commitments.
“There is an optional training camp this weekend and then [the rowing season] starts right when you get there,” Darby noted. “Runs right until the end of October normally, and last year we finished up with a big regatta in Victoria.”