The Laoyam Eagles of Pemberton got off to a rocky start at the Long Beach Dragon Boat festival last weekend, losing one of their strongest male paddlers to a viral infection he picked up at hockey camp. They lost another strong paddler to a run-in with a stingray.
Then there was a different format to contend with. The boats had only 16 seats, compared to 22 (including the steerer and drummer) at other events, which made it difficult to find the winning combination of paddlers for each race. The boats were also a lot heavier, and the California sun was intense.
To make matters worse, the teams they were seeded to paddle against in the International Division were not only the top teams, but the mens teams this meant that the Eagles were paddling about two divisions higher than they have ever paddled before.
And they did awesome.
On the first day, they blew away the other high school teams by huge margins. They had one race in the International Division, and managed to finish a boat length behind the Chinese mens dragon boat team, which was on its way to represent China at the worlds in Philadelphia this weekend, and Alcan Team Success, a mens team from Vancouver that claimed the fourth fastest time at the Vancouver Dragon Boat Festival this year.
The team thought they could have done better, and were determined to do better the following day.
The next morning the Eagles easily won the High School Championship, and claimed their gold medals.
They also made a strong run in their next international race, this time with a mens team from San Diego in the field. They came within a few strokes of beating the Chinese men, and finished a strong fourth.
Their high school championship earned the Eagles a berth in the quarter finals in the mixed division. The race was almost neck and neck between three teams until the halfway point, then the Eagles dug deep and pulled away to win by a boat length. The sick team member paddled in this race, redeeming and draining himself all at once.
One of the teams they beat in this race was the Bay Area Dragons from San Francisco, a co-ed team that beat the Eagles at this event last year.
Although they were tired, the Eagles managed to get into the finals by tying for third in the semis.
Without a break, they paddled out again for the final and finished in sixth position against seven teams, but when you consider who they were racing it doesnt seem that bad. The teams that finished ahead are the Shanghai Womens Team, which is representing China at the World Championships, the Bay Area Dragons mens team, the Vancouver Alcan team, the San Diego mens team and the Chinese mens team.
The Eagles were disappointed but realized they did as well as could be expected as a group of guys and girls aged 13 to 18 against grown men who have been training together for years.
Immediately after the Long Beach festival the Eagles flew back to Vancouver, dropped off dirty laundry, and then boarded a plane for Philadelphia and this weekends world championships. They earned the Philadelphia invite with their performance at the Vancouver Dragon Boat Festival.
Although that doesnt give the team a lot of time to relax, according to coach Jeanette Callaghan, paddling the heavy boats at Long Beach was the equivalent of having a weeks resistance training. Their regular boats will seem a lot easier to paddle after the experience.
Many thanks are due to Jeanette for taking the tremendous amount of time and tolerance to coach the team through its nervous and excited training sessions prior to these important races.