Sports Monday: nationally ranked athletes compete in Titusville

While the country is enthralled by the Olympic games taking place in Japan, Titusville is having its own brush with athletic greatness. During recent weekends, Team USA Dragon Boat time trials have been taking place on the Delaware and Raritan feeder canal behind the Titusville Presbyterian Church.

Women prepare for time trials two weeks ago. Photo by Amie Rukenstein

Dragon boats originated in China and are somewhat similar to crew sculls. According to “These boats measure 40 feet in length, 4 feet in width, and carry 20 paddlers, 1 drummer, and 1 steersperson. On average, these boats weigh 500 pounds.” A typical race is 500 meters (about 1/3 mile).

Unlike crew, in which eight team members sit single file with their backs to the coxswain and the direction of travel, in dragon boats, the 20 team members sit face forward in ten pairs. The coxswain steers from the rear and, often, a drummer sits in front.

Photo from 2019 video.

According to the Team USA website,”Dragon boat is uniquely accessible to paddlers of all fitness levels, ages, and abilities.  It is multicultural and inclusive.  It is a sport that one can learn to do effectively in a single practice session, and yet it takes a lifetime to perfect the technique.  It is welcoming to people that are looking for a recreational opportunity on the water, and it is challenging for an athlete, at the top of their game, looking to be selected for Team USA. Special interest divisions for competitions include Breast Cancer Paddlers and All Cancer Paddlers. For paddlers with impairments, Paradragons is an exciting and inspirational new division within our sport.”

In the time trials, competitors use one-person, Polynesian outrigger canoes. Laura Kent, a former Titusville resident who now lives in New Hope, is a Team USA veteran and explained that, in a full dragon boat, a hopeful paddler could hide behind their team members, but during time trials in a single canoe, it is all down to just you. Based on the license plates in the church parking lot, hopeful Team USA competitors travelled from all over the east coast to try out. Kent said that there are trials in California and Florida as well.

Matthew Au, preparing for his speed trial last week. Photo by Amie Rukenstein

During the 2019 world championship, Kent competed in Thailand with her group, which was “Senior C”, and came home with all golds. She explained: “I first heard of the sport when my neighbor would watch me and my better half drag our kayaks out to the car for a couple months. She had been paddling with a local club for about a year and kept telling me that I should try dragon boating. Her pestering went on through the Spring of 2012 when I jokingly told her I’d try it, if she’d leave me alone. Well, needless to say, I was hooked. I joined the local club and, as they say, the rest is history.”

Kent continued: “Bucks County Dragon Boat Association (BCDBA) was founded in the Fall 2012, out of a seed planted by fellow paddlers Jacquelyn Wetzel and Laurie McHugh (the neighbor who instigated my dragon boat journey), and the strategic planning of Jacquelyn’s husband, Chris Wetzel.

Laura Kent in 2019 video

“We grew quickly and, in 2015, won our first Nationals title for Senior A Women (Chicago), defended that title in 2017 (at Mercer County Park on my 60th birthday-told the ladies I preferred GOLD over cake!) and, in 2019, our club not only defended the Senior A Women title, we added Senior A Mixed (Colorado). Each of these victories earned berths to participate in the Club Crew World Championships.

“Our 2015 victory earned us a berth at Club Crew in Australia 2016, however we did not attend. In 2018, we participated in Club Crew in Szeged, Hungary. We were thrilled to earn our berth for 2020 CC, to be held in Aix-les-Bains, France, however the event was cancelled due to the Pandemic.

“2015 was also BCDBA’s first venture onto the World’s stage, when three of our youth athletes made Team USA U18 (under 18). The competition was held in Welland, Ontario. Laurie McHugh was part of the coaching staff.

“BCDBA had three members chosen for Team USA for 2017 Worlds in Kunming, China and eight members chosen for Team USA for 2019 Worlds in Pattaya, Thailand. Co-Founder, Jacquelyn Wetzel and Chip Ryan were members of Team USA 2017 and 2019!”

Photo from 2019 video

Kent said that while she participated in Senior C in Thailand, this year she competed for the Senior B team.  In the premier and senior divisions, “anyone can try out for a younger team,” she explained, “you just can’t try out for an older one.”

Unfortunately, the 2021 world championships, which had been scheduled for November in Hong Kong, have been cancelled due to the ongoing pandemic threat, a particularly crushing blow for Kent, who had scored her personal best time trial last weekend. However national championships are scheduled for Sarasota Florida in October.

For more information about the local dragonboat club, click here. Kent said they always are looking for new members.

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