Maybe you didn’t know this, but dragon boat racing is a big deal in Canada, with over 80,000 people participating annually in over 300 festivals and events across the country. Canadians seem to be pretty good at it too. Chloe Greenhalgh, Executive Director of Dragon Boat Canada, told me that our Canadian Team (with a contingent of almost 400 athletes) returned triumphant from the World Championships just a few weeks ago with 30 gold medals. The next closest competitor was China. That country earned 7 golds.
This weekend, at Elk Lake, near Victoria, BC, some of the best dragon boat athletes this country has to offer will be competing for a shot to participate in the Club Crew World Championships in Ravenna, Italy next year. And one of Moving Spirit’s own, Rosemary Shandler, will be in Victoria with her crew to compete. Rosemary is going to Nationals!
I have had the pleasure of working with Rosemary over the last several years. And I can tell you, this woman is FIERCE! I have been inspired by her grit, her positive determination and her passionate pursuit of her goals. I asked Rosemary if she would share her story with us. I have a feeling she’ll inspire you too. Introducing – Rosemary Shandler!!
Sue Steers (SS): You’re headed to the Canadian National Dragon Boat Championships this coming weekend (Aug 23 – 25th) in Victoria. That doesn’t happen by accident. When did you start Dragon Boating, and what got you started?
Rosemary Shandler (RS): I started paddling in 2000. I was recovering from the diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer, when I heard about Abreast in a Boat, a dragon boat crew that comprises of breast cancer survivors. I had run, hiked and done lots of fitness classes before breast cancer, but this was my first experience with a team since high school. It helped me get back in touch with the body I felt had let me down. Feeling the wind, rain and sun on my body gave me such a sense of peace and joy. The presence of other women on the boat who had gone through similar experiences to mine was very encouraging.
SS: Are you a competitive person? Had you had your eye on competing at the National event from the beginning?
RS: I am very competitive. I love to hear “OPEN WATER” in a race! I hadn’t considered going to Nationals until one of my team mates approached me last fall about joining the “Senior C Dragon Boat Crew.” Senior C is a racing category comprised of men and women over the age of 59 years. When we go to Nationals, we will be attempting to place in the top 5 crews in our category to earn a slot to represent our club and Canada at the Worlds next year.
SS: What kind of training do you do for this kind of event?
RS: The training is much more intense than anything I’ve done before in dragon boating. The pace is much faster and the training drills are at a much higher difficulty level. We have a coach who is not at all ageist, and expects the same from us as her younger crews. I paddle once a week with the Senior C Crew. Abreast in a boat has a short season from April to mid-June, so I have joined another mixed crew that I paddle with twice a week. I also do outrigger paddling twice a week. Outrigger is easier on the body, as we switch paddling sides every 14 strokes. I hike once a week, and try to move as fast as possible to add to my aerobic fitness. My savior is my sessions with you. Two or three times a week keeps my body functioning well and keeps me strong. You are so knowledgeable of the human form, and it’s remarkable that when my body “doth protest,” you always have some technique to help my body feel well again.
SS: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced on your path to Nationals, and how have you overcome them?
RS: This is the first time in my life I’ve had to try out for a crew. I had to do a time trial in a single outrigger canoe. I had to take a series of lessons to paddle an outrigger, and I also had to do a “huli” on purpose. A huli is when the very tippy boat flips over, dumping me into the water. This exercise was particularly challenging for me as I am very confident ON the water, but not so much IN the water. I had to learn how to right the boat and climb back in. After several tries and a lot of bruises, I was finally successful. I also had to do a series of exercises for the coach to prove I was strong enough for this crew. Thanks, Sue for encouraging me on to do a two and a half minute plank!
SS: What do you love MOST about dragon boating?
RS: I love the feeling when everyone is paddling in unison and the boat gets up and glides. It’s an amazing feeling. I also love the fact that I am constantly learning new techniques to make me a better paddler.
SS: Tell us something about dragon boating that most people wouldn’t think about.
RS: There are 20 paddlers in the boat with a steersperson in the back and a caller in the front. We paddle side by side in ten rows. The boat weighs about 700 lbs., and with 22 people in the boat we’re probably at 2 tons. It takes a lot of strength and good technique to get the boat up and racing from a dead stop.
SS: Do you have any special rituals before or after your events?
RS: I don’t do anything too unusual. I like a good, long warm-up on dry land before racing. I also like to go over the race in my mind and fill up with lots of oxygen as I’m waiting at the starting line. After the last race, a good, cold beer is especially satisfying!
SS: Do you find it challenging to balance training and racing with your family life?
RS: It’s been especially challenging this year, but we’ve managed to do lots of things together and have had some really great times this summer. My family is very supportive of my activities.
SS: When the going gets tough, what do you say to yourself to keep yourself going? Who or what is your biggest inspiration?
RS: I’m always excited to get up in the morning and head off to practice. I’ve had some injuries, but I get in to see you, my massage therapist or physio to nip problems in the bud. I’m inspired by my Dad who lived to be 98. He was active throughout his life. He was an avid walker in his later years and swam every day of the year until he was 75 years old. We hiked and walked together in my youth, and he gave me my love of the outdoors and nature. You inspire me as well, Sue. I feel so fortunate to have found you. Our relationship began in 2005 when I shattered two vertebrae in an accident. You worked diligently to get my spine moving again. I was able to go back and paddle with my crew the next season. It’s inspiring to see someone so excited by what she does. You have been a huge part of me reaching my goal this year.
SS: What are some things, people or experiences that light up your life and bring you joy?
RS: There’s lots of joy in my life! I have a wonderful relationship with my husband. I have a daughter who grew up to be a strong, kind and beautiful person. Seeing my son marry a lovely woman and give me two beautiful, active, healthy children was especially joyful. I get joy from every flower, plant and little creature that dwells in my garden. Travel! Travel! Travel! Being out in nature, whether it’s on the water or on a trail, brings joy into my life.
SS: What lies ahead for you, Rosemary? Are there any goals or aspirations you’d like to share with us, beyond the Canadian National Dragon Boat Championships?
RS: I’ve discovered in the last few years that I am at my happiest when there is a goal or challenge to work towards. And… there’s the World Dragon Boat Championships next August in Ravenna, Italy….
SS: We’re rooting for you and your crew Rosemary!!
The power of positive thinking goes a long way to helping people achieve their goals. And having the support of the people around you is invaluable.
Update: Rosemary and her crew came back with a gold and two silver medals from the World Dragon Boat Championships in Ravenna, Italy in 2014!!