Several local athletes competed as part of Team USA in the 14th World Dragon Boat Racing Championship held in Pattay-Rayong, Thailand.
Local paddlers from Pottstown, Oley and Philadelphia returned home from the competition with gold, silver and bronze medals for their efforts. The local athletes represented the national team as part of the Senior B Division, which includes individuals over 50 years old.
Dragon boating is a competitive team paddling sport which originated in China. The sport involves teams competing in races of varying distances inside a boat decorated to resemble a dragon.
Rose Walters, a veteran member of the Pottstown Dragon Warriors paddling team, experienced her first world championship in August. She was selected to compete on an all-women’s team and a mixed boat made of the top USA women and men paddlers for her division.
“There is nothing more honoring and humbling as listening to the national anthem when you’re standing on a podium for that gold medal,” Walters said. “That was the best thing ever.”
Walters won three gold medals, three silver medals and two bronze medals in the world dragon boat competition. When she auditioned for the national team, her time allowed her to be selected as one of the top 10 women paddlers for her division.
Walters said it was an honor to be chosen and that she trained hard to achieve that goal. She practices her paddling stroke at the Pottstown Athletic Club which has specialized equipment used specifically for dragon boat training.
“The paddle erg (ergometer) for me was an excellent tool to measure my improvement,” she said.
As a Pottstown Dragon Warrior, Walters is coached by Christopher Marquart, president of the Philadelphia Dragon Boat Association. Marquart joined Walters at the world championships this year. He’s attended 11 of the 14 dragon boat world championships.
As part of the National Senior B Men’s Open Team for his division, Marquart received one gold medal, two silver medals and a bronze medal. Marquart said he enjoyed experiencing another world competition with those he jokingly called “rookies.”
“That’s what makes it fun to me … to see it through their eyes and see them get excited,” he said.
Marquart has been able to witness the development and improvement of the USA Team over the past several years.
“The team has gotten better each Worlds (Championship),” he said adding that the Senior B Division won their class overall.
Dave Andrien of Pottstown also competed on the men’s open team along with Marquart. This was Andrien’s first time competing at the world championships which is something he’s been training toward for the past two years.
“Pretty much that’s all I trained for was to make the team for two years. It cumulated with a decent time trail,” he said adding that his auditioned time allowed him to join the national team.
Andrien said he had the opportunity to paddle with people from all over the United States.
“It was really nice coming together as a team. Everybody working together for one medal was an awesome experience,” he said.
GiGi Copeland of Oley was another local resident who participated in the world championships last month. This year, Copeland returned to the sport after taking a three-year hiatus.
“The fact that I made the (national) team was such an unexpected surprise,” Copeland said. “It was a great experience.”
Copeland is a member of the Philadelphia Dragon Boat Association but will also be training with the Pottstown Dragon Warriors this winter to utilize the equipment and coaching available at the Pottstown Athletic Center.
Marquart, who coaches the Pottstown Dragon Warriors team, said the Pottstown Athletic Club has the tools to make a great paddling team.
“There’s a lot of raw material here, as far as the people are concerned. If they put the time and effort into it, the tools are here to get them to that level,” he said.
Walters said other members of the Pottstown paddling team are now interested in training for the next world championships which will take place in 2021. She said Thailand is an experience she will never forget, and it gave her the opportunity to explore a part of the world that she might not have seen otherwise.
“It’s important to me to inspire others to do it. I’m letting them know that you can do it if you put your mind to it,” she said.
Walters said although she specifically trained for the national team, the sport of dragon boating is something that anybody can do. The Pottstown Athletic Center welcomes all different levels of abilities to the paddling activity.
“You don’t have to be a former swimmer. You don’t have to be a former track runner or a football player. Anybody can do this. It’s all inclusive,” Walters said.
Marquart said the goal is to get more residents of the Pottstown area to experience dragon boating. He said the sport can be done for health reasons or something you do socially. He said dragon boating is great for families because parents can do the activity with their teenagers.
“It’s a very small percentage of people that go to Worlds (Championship) so it’s not just about that. It’s about being healthy, having some fun and getting some time on the water,” he said.
He said the Pottstown Athletic Club has three dragon boats, but currently only has enough local people involved with the sport to fill one.
Walters said the goal is two have several different kinds of Pottstown dragon boat teams such as a community team, a youth team and a competitive sports team.
In addition to the dragon boats, the Pottstown facility also has several pieces of equipment to help people improve their dragon boating skills. The facility includes a CrossFit exercise floor, a line of indoor rowing machines called ergometers tailored for paddling and an indoor pool that simulates paddling in a dragon boat on the water.
People interested in joining the Pottstown dragon boat team can contact the Pottstown Athletic Club or stop by for a trial demonstration in the paddle pool. Membership fees are flexible and can be adjusted according to an individual’s financial status.
The erg loft and paddle pool in Pottstown is available for regional dragon boat teams to reserve. Teams can also get customized strength training through the CrossFit facility as well. For pricing information, contact Rob Matthews at email@example.com.