Welcome to the Fast Five Series, where we chat all things dragon boating with some of the club's members, in five short questions.
This month, we caught up with one of our fierce female Senior B paddlers, Joanne Dearlove. When she isn’t helping lead her crew from the front of the boat as one of the trusted strokes, Jo is busy introducing new paddlers to the sport as one of our friendly Come and Try coaches. As a passionate advocate for women in the sport and the club, Jo is also a constant source of inspiration for our women’s crew. We’ve taken away so much from Jo’s Fast Five, and we’re sure you will too.
1. How did you get into dragon boating and when did you start paddling?
I think I joined DSA and began dragon boating in about October of 2017. I’d been playing soccer and had torn my ACL, so wasn’t going to return to soccer. Sally, who I played with, had heard about dragon boating so a few of us came down to try it. The Come and Try session was fun and I really liked the idea of gently cruising down the river on an evening (seriously!). At the real training, I genuinely wondered if I might have a heart attack. I couldn’t work out how the other people in my boat who were my age could do this, and even sometimes talk after a drill while I was gasping for air. But clearly they could, so it was possible, and I was determined to learn how to do it too.
2. What is the most rewarding thing about dragon boating and being a member of DSA?
Apart from the paddling itself, I’ve really valued the social and personal growth opportunities that DSA has afforded me. Dragon boating is the first seriously competitive sport I’ve done, and it’s taken me my entire time so far to learn how to be more effectively competitive by managing my nerves. While I still work at managing this now, I’m only half as nervous and somewhat excited about racing now! I used to be terrified, but I’ve learnt more about myself and how to manage this thanks to DSA and dragon boating.
Socially, I’ve met people here that I would never meet outside of DSA life and it’s been truly rewarding. It broadened my view of life, and I’ve made friends in DSA that I hope to keep for life (hope they feel the same!). It’s also been personally rewarding to be in an environment that draws on and values not just our physicality, but also those socio-emotional parts of us involved in mentoring, leadership, developing, maintaining and protecting team bonds and creating a positive culture.
3. Thinking about your dragon boating journey so far, what is the thing that has surprised you the most?
The thing that has surprised me the most about dragon boating is what I can do physically. I’m not a natural paddler and I've had to work really hard to develop my strength and get the technique right (and I’m still working on it). Between dragon boating and OC6, with thanks to many people’s advice, I can now feel boat run, set a rate that approximates the coach’s call, adapt to different paddling conditions and seat positions, enjoy racing (mostly), and I no longer get out of the boat wondering how I survived. I’m truly surprised that I can now do more than I ever thought I could.
4. When you’re not actually out on the water in the dragon boat or outrigger canoes, what brings you the most joy in the club?
The most joy I get, apart from actually being on the water (which I love), is the sense of being a part of something that is bigger than the sum of its individual parts. Enough of the senior B crew have been together long enough to all know our jobs in the boat, to know we can trust each other to do our jobs, and to be supportively honest about what we need to change to improve our performances - strategy, rate, lifts, starts etc. This is a truly joyful feeling, to achieve as a part of such a crew, to feel I can contribute to such a group endeavour.
5. Do you have any words of wisdom for any women who are new to the sport?
Oh ladies! So many experiences to share! But you will need to take from them what will work for you.
Try not to take things personally
I’ve worked out that you can’t put 20 highly competitive people into one boat and think things will always run smoothly! There are, and always will be, tense times in the boat and I don’t think any of us are at our best when we are tense. Often, the way people speak is simply a reflection of their own internal emotional state, so I don’t take it too personally. Instead, I’ll listen to the content of what is said, balance this with my own judgement, and then decide what will help me achieve my personal goal - to be the best paddler I can be.
Don’t underestimate the contribution you can make to a crew
With regards to strength and fitness, I remember trying sooooo hard and yet I was still being called out for being weak in the boat. In retrospect, I realise I began to believe I couldn’t make a difference to the relatively strong boat I was in. One day, Kira came up after one training session and put it quite differently. He said that the super fit paddlers had nothing left to give, but that those of us who were newer had much more potential to add to the boat. This made me recognise how I’d fallen into the trap of thinking I couldn’t make a difference, when in fact I was one of the few who could - but I had to work out how!
Find your supporters in the crew and club, work consistently together towards improvements and celebrate them - even if they are small.
Another realisation I had was that Kira’s advice applied to about four of us newer paddlers, not just to me. If four of us improved by 2.5% each, quite a doable goal, this would add to 10% and this would be a significant contribution to the boat. Some of us banded together, trained a bit more together and really encouraged each other. We focused on what we could achieve, not what we couldn't yet achieve. We celebrated our improvements. Even when they might have been small, they were still improvements.
Expect it to take time, but be patient with yourself.
Believe - we women CAN do this well!
Coaching a DSA Come & Try Session
Sharon & Jo