The local International Boundary Waters Dragon Boat Club, comprised of Fort Frances and Minnesota paddlers, emerged as champions of the Mixed Competitive Division at the FMG Manitoba Dragon Boat Festival over the weekend in Winnipeg.
Their fastest time also was tops overall among the 60-team field.
“We had three goals written in our training plan for this season,” enthused Boundary Waters head coach Annely Thorstad.
“To win the Civic Cup in Bemidji again [they did], to place top three in Superior, Wis. [finished second], and to win Winnipeg,” she noted.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the team’s time and dedication to make this happen for us.”
Boundary Waters clocked almost identical times of 2:19.64 and 2:19.66 to win both its first two heats covering the 500-metre course and build a roughly eight-second lead over runner-up Boeing and even more than that over the Prostate Paddlers (Winnipeg).
The top three teams then were grouped together in the final race of the day, with Prostate winning the dash to the finish line over Boundary Waters and Boeing.
But with the event title based on the teams’ total combined time, Prostate’s winning mark (unavailable at press time) wasn’t enough to erase the local club’s advantage.
Last year, the locals celebrated a second-place finish at the event but gave the impression being second-best wasn’t going to be satisfactory this time around, although Thorstad begged to differ.
“It’s not a matter of [finishing second] not being good enough,” she stressed.
“All the competitive teams in Winnipeg are top competitors and to be there racing with them is an honour,” she noted.
“It was the training and teamwork that tipped us to the top this time.”
Thorstad said the club’s strongest part of the three races was the dedication to training that went in before it got on the water in Winnipeg.
The hardest part was maintaining focus for the race on Sunday, when the crew arrived on-site at 9:30 a.m. but didn’t race until around 2:45 p.m.
“Winnipeg is the only race we have attended that is spread over three days,” she noted.
“Normally, we have one intense day and we are done,” she explained.
“[Getting used to the wait] will come with experience.”
Boundary Waters recently changed its stroke pattern at the start of the race to help get out of the blocks quicker.
“Our race plan is based on time, distance, and energy systems,” Thorstad explained.
“As the team’s overall physical fitness and technical abilities increase, so our race plan changes to complement the growth.
“It’s really just about making the most of what you have to work with,” she reasoned.
Knowing they had a sizable lead heading into the final race, the local crew had to battle overconfidence.
“Paddlers get complacent, fatigue sets in, and their minds begin to wander to the journey home and Monday’s responsibilities,” said Thorstad, who credited assistant coach Mike Wu with helping in that and all other departments.
“It’s tough but this is something that can only be learned through experience,” she noted.
“And in the last race, a senior team [Prostate Paddlers] taught us the importance of focus.”
Thorstad also professed pride in her club’s dedication.
“This is an intense sport that takes a lot of training to achieve the precision needed to win within fractions of a second,” she remarked.
“It’s not easy getting 22 people in the boat to work together on and off the water–it’s the ultimate test of team-building.”
Thorstad also said the support the local crew has received from outside sources has been crucial.
“The knowledge, support, and sharing from Jim Farintosh [Canada’s all-time winningest dragon boating coach] was instrumental in the team’s success, as was the mentorship and support of FMG’s Scott Walker, the weight training of Jen Comas, [and] from the community,” she noted.
She also cited the friendship and sharing from other teams, like Edmonton’s Oil City Crew and Racine’s Motley Crew (Wis.) that they will be attending Farintosh’s camp in Florida with in April.
With the final event of the year behind the club, Thorstad already has ideas for 2018.
“Next year, we plan on developing our mixed recreational team [and] growing the [number of] youth paddlers,” she said.
“And in the competitive team’s race plan for next year, we will be attending Superior, Minocqua [its first 2K race], and what is becoming known as the ‘Kentucky Derby’ of dragon boat racing in Louisville [Ky.]”