With their energy and spirit, the youngest members of the Boundary Waters Dragon Boat Club will be firing on all cylinders before too long.
Club member Sydney Chalifoux has taken the initiative–and the reins–in creating the group’s first program geared exclusively towards youths this season.
“I got the idea after we spent a night at Sunny Cove Camp last year,” Chalifoux recalled about the club’s visit to the Guthrie United Church camp held last summer to put on a one-evening clinic for the youngsters on hand.
“The kids had such a blast that I thought to myself, ‘We’ve gotta do this again,'” she added.
“And it’s such an excellent, inclusive sport that we promote as a club to families that it just made sense to have a junior team.”
Chalifoux’s endeavour so far has brought out as many as six youths for their weekly Tuesday practices at the Sorting Gap Marina here.
“I, of course, was hoping to get a full boat this season,” conceded Chalifoux, who steers the youth boat from the back while also serving as coach.
“I often err on the side of optimism rather than caution, so 20 kids was my goal,” she noted.
“It’s still early in the season and I expect more now with the Canada Day family paddles we held, as well as [the sixth-annual International Boundary Waters Dragon Boat Festival on July 8].
“So far I’m just glad the kids are having fun and their technique is developing,” Chalifoux added.
“I’m seeing a lot of enthusiasm and the girls that have been coming out the most have been stepping up, participating in the festival.”
Four of the youths were part of the Good Samaritan Society/Shooniyaa Wa-Biitong “Good Samaritans” team at the dragon boat festival last month.
The crew, which also included club veterans and brand-new adult paddlers from the local community, wound up finishing last among the eight teams involved.
But plenty of victories were to be found in the fact the crew improved three seconds from its first race to its second, and almost another three seconds in its third and final race.
That last race went right down to the wire against the all-adult Kenora Dragon Tamers before the “Good Sam” crew lost by just 2/10ths of a seconds in the closest finish in festival history.
“I haven’t seen much of the paddlers that participated in the festival because they’ve been at camp, but the smiles plastered on their faces on the day of the festival said enough for me,” Chalifoux enthused.
“Every new paddler always gets the itch after their first race,” she noted.
“I’m confident that once we start getting more kids out, word will spread and we’ll be adding even more youth and energy to our dragon boat family,” Chalifoux said.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the crew that I’ve started to grow already.”
The young paddlers themselves all got involved through different connections.
Maggie Jones’ mother, Leona, is an experienced member of the club who encouraged her daughter to give dragon boating a try.
“I thought it would be fun,” said Jones.
“I like being on the water,” she added. “It’s comfortable for me.”
Leona Jones then talked to Adrianna McCoy’s mother, who convinced her own daughter it would be a great recreational outlet for her to try.
“I had some family who did it last year,” noted McCoy.
“I was really excited to join although my first time in the boat, I thought it was going to tip,” she admitted.
Naomi Dunn of Emo also has a direct family connection to the crew as her dad, Lincoln, is a veteran paddler with the club.
“Being outside and doing physical activity is something I really enjoy,” Dunn said.
Malina Isensee of International Falls is the lone American among the youth paddlers.
“My mom works with [Boundary Waters head coach Annely Armstrong-Thorstad],” she explained.
“I was looking forward to it, but I was nervous about whether I would be able to be on the crew because I was limited in my experience.”
McCoy, meanwhile, said joining the youth crew has had multiple benefits for her.
“Meeting new people is really great, and it’s also nice to be able to see my friends that I don’t normally get to see in the summertime,” she reasoned.
And Isensee is certain she will stick with the sport now that she’s got her feet wet–literally and figuratively.
“I want to become a team leader and teach people about dragon boating myself,” she remarked.
“I would like to be a role model for others.”
Any youths or other district residents who would like to try dragon boating are encouraged to come out for the open paddling sessions each Tuesday beginning at 6 p.m. at the Sorting Gap Marina (weather permitting).