Abbotsford paddlers Connie Thompson, Anne Vander Laan, Helen Leusink and Karen Baillie are key members of the Titanium dragon boat team heading to Hungary this summer. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)

Hungary for competition

Dragon boat team powered by four Abbotsford women heading to Europe this summer

Abbotsford’s Karen Baillie can remember the days when dragon boating wasn’t that popular.

It used to be extremely rare to see the boats in local waters, but Baillie recalled that Expo 86 changed all that.

“It was a demonstration sport at Expo 86 for breast cancer survivors,” she said. “That was really the beginning of the sport in our province and it’s grown exponentially since.”

The Concord Pacific Dragon Boat Festival, recognized as the biggest local race, now boasts over 170 teams and brings in millions of dollars to Vancouver. Teams come from all over the globe and there are now dozens of different divisions to compete in.

“When we started, it was wooden paddles and no PFDs,” Baillie said, laughing. “And now we have youth, elementary school teams, blind teams, seniors teams and so much more. When I started we only had 49 plus, and now they’re having teams with much older paddlers.”

And the craze has spread to the Fraser Valley. Baillie is one of four members from Abbotsford on Titanium, who operate out of Fort Langley. The team was formed in 2012 and is composed of women over 60 years of age. They have already competed at all the local regattas many times over, and have also competed in Italy and Australia.

The team won bronze at the National Club Crew Championships in Ontario in 2013 and 2015, gold at the Rio Tinto Alcan Dragon Boat Festival in 2015 and at the B.C. Senior Games that same year.

This year will see the team make its debut in Hungary in July at the 2018 Club Crew World Championships. The team is one of five teams from Canada and there will be over 4,800 competitors battling it out. Titanium qualified for the event last August.

Baillie, along with Helen Leusink, Connie Thompson and Anne Vander Laan, make up the Abbotsford contingent of the team. Mission’s Rita Holmes is a new team member for 2018.

While Baillie has been in the water since 1987, the other three are newer paddlers. They said a number of factors drew them to the sport.

“I love competition and the fitness part of it,” Leusink said. “When I retired and had more time to do such an intense sport I jumped at the opportunity.”

“Just having the time to go to the gym and getting the extra practice in made me love it,” Thompson added.

Training is serious business for Titanium, as members must have at least three years’ experience paddling to be considered for a spot on the team. They train all year long, hitting the gym at least three times a week and going on the water at least twice. Paddlers need strength and endurance, and all members do weight work, cardio, core and general fitness to maintain boat shape.

Hungary is the big trip for Titanium, and the team will compete in 200 metres, 500 m and 2000 m races.

The rest of the spring and summer is also packed with several smaller outrigger events, and then the debut of the Inlet Spring Regatta in Port Moody later this month. Titanium also heads to the Knockout on May 5 at False Creek, the Pre-Concord and the Concord races in June and possibly the B.C. Senior Games in Cranbrook in September.

The team said they are always looking for sponsors and wanted to thank their current sponsors Lark Construction, HCT, Impark, Hadden Electric and Harbourfront Wealth Management for their support. Team members pointed out it can be an expensive sport and any support is appreciated. Those interested in sponsoring can contact Vander Laan at ann.vanderlaan@telus.net.

For more on the team, visit fortlangleycanoeclub.ca/dragonboat/teams/titanium.

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