Canada shone in front of the world at the International Dragon Boat Federation Worlds in Welland, Ont. late last month.
A trio of Pemberton paddlers helped propel Team Canada to new heights at the competition, which was held Aug. 18 to 23.
Wes Finck, competing with the junior A open standard, small open and mixed squads, brought home nine gold medals. Steersperson Bailey Thomson, Finck's teammate on the mixed team and a competitor on the junior A women's team, brought home six golds and a silver. Isabel Peters, a junior A women's paddler, likewise won four golds and a silver.
Both racers competed together in the 200-metre and 500-metre mixed events, while Thomson also did the longer 1,000-metre and 2,000-metre mixed. In the open standard, Finck competed in the 200-metre, 500-metre, 1,000-metre and 2,000-metre distances while in the small boat open, he was in the 200-metre, 500-metre and 2,000-metre races. Thomson, meanwhile, did the 200-metre, 500-metre and 2,000-metre races with the women. As well, Isabel Peters won gold in the mixed 200-metre and 500-metre and the junior A 200-metre and 500-metre while also taking silver in the junior A 2000-metre.
Finck said the most special medal for him was the small boat open 500-metre victory, won on the last day of competition. A fatigued crew of 10 paddlres had to dig deep, especially with the margin for error at a minimum.
"These are always the closest races," he said. "It was probably the one where our team worked the hardest and there were a few moments in the race where Australia was gaining on us and they would pass us at that rate before the finish. Our steersman in the back will call a certain race plan and then we'll have to power through."
Thomson explained the bulk of Canada's success came from the team's ability to gel quickly, even though most of the team members hail from across Ontario.
"We were able to win the gold medals because the whole team worked very well with each other and we had (three) amazing coaches that kept us with high hopes during every race. We also all clicked and everyone felt confident in their own strengths," Thomson, 19, explained via email.
"The worst thing that can happen in the boat is getting out onto the water and no one paddles well together resulting in missing that important rhythm. Luckily our boat was able to nail all of those things and we won."
Thomson explained the teams had only a few days to get on beat and be comfortable with one another. However, after some early growing pains, the paddlers started to find a groove as they prepared to take on the world.
"We only had one week to all practice together before the actual races began, it took a few days for people to click; however, since the teams were all made of the best paddlers in Canada everyone found it easy to work together! I found it easy to be able to instruct my boat as well, everyone was committed to the team and all the members," she noted.
Finck said in a phone interview the training in advance of the competition was intense, as the team had two to three practices a day to come together.
"Our coaches prepared us really well for all the races," he said. "We had never paddled before with the other paddlers, so that definitely helped us work on our timing. We became friends with each other and we were able to work really well with each other.
"I don't think I've ever practiced, in any sport, as hard as that training camp.
"By the time the race came along, it was not as rigorous as I would have expected."
The training ended up being crucial, as the Canadian squad found itself in numerous races decided by roughly a second. The mantra, Finck recalled, was that they "can endure more pain than we would expect."
"We give it everything we have, and then some, somehow," Finck said. "Somehow we're able to give even more during a race.
"Everyone on the team is competitive and they want to win."
Many team members — Thomson included — had to contend with an unfamiliar distance. While it did end up being tricky for the paddlers, breaking their winning streak, Thomson still managed to right the ship and help the team at least take second place, 22 seconds back of the Australian champions but over eight seconds clear of third-place Great Britain. That was the only heat Thomson raced where her boat didn't cross the line first.
"In normal regattas, there is rarely a (two-kilometre) race; however, during worlds I did a (two-kilometre) race with the Junior A women's boat and we ending up hitting another boat. Sometimes a challenge during the race arises, in our case we did not (have) priority in a turn but the women worked together and I was able to overcome that challenge and get around the boat and still get us a silver medal," Thomson recalled.
Being her first time on the world stage, Thomson was appreciative of the opportunity afforded to her. Soaking in all Welland, which is located about a half-hour's drive from Niagara Falls, had to offer was enjoyable for her, especially as the town of about 50,000 embraced the Canadians.
"The atmosphere was amazing, everyone was so happy and grateful to be there, including myself. This event was different from regular events because we were racing for our country and not just our town. To be able to race for Canada and get gold and silver medals felt amazing, so many people came to watch us race and everyone greatly appreciated it," Thomson explained.
In other Pemberton paddling news, Hana Ronayne of Pemberton and partner Anna Zhang of Vancouver advanced to just one final at the Canadian Sprint CanoeKayak Championships from Aug. 25 to 30.
The duo placed 10th in the 200-metre U16 final after placing third in the initial heat. In the final, Ronayne and Zhang finished just over 12 seconds back of Manitobans Nicole Boyle and Maddy Mitchell. Both Ronayne and Zhang, however, were 15-year-olds competing primarily against those who are 16, so it was a learning experience for both.
Ronayne competed individually at the U16 level in the 200-metre and 1,000-metre and the U17 level in the 500-metre and 6,000-metre distances.
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