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Holy Name Convent Water Dragons: A sisterhood of strength

By Simone Delochan

The youngest member is 12 years old; the newest girl to join had entered sixth form from a different school, and they all were vociferous in their enthusiasm for a sport that not many may be acquainted with. The Holy Name Convent dragon boat team has had a successful year thus far in 2019, emerging victorious on March 23 in the Pan American Club Crew Championships in Tobago in the all-female 500 m race, and March 24, 200 m; and April 13 in south Trinidad at the Excellent Stores Ltd Dragon Boat Regatta, 200 m.

The win at the Pan American competition was significant: it was an international competition with teams from the US, Canada, representation from Puerto Rico and, of course, Trinidad and Tobago. The HNC Water Dragons is also the first Junior Division team ever to win two gold medals in one competition. Catholic News’ interviewed the girls at their school and encountered a team of strong, bubbly, articulate young ladies.

A few members already had family and friends involved in the sport; others were simply curious about it, just searching for an extra-curricular activity. Shauna Cato said: “I was looking for an extra-curricular activity to join in Form One. I had never heard about it and I wanted to try it. I tried it and I liked it, so I continued.” She is now one of two captains.

Sarah Ross, co-captain, had friends who were already on the team from since Form One, “I liked their teamwork and work ethic they had. I just wanted to be a part of it.” The teamwork and ethic were characteristics continually emphasised by all the girls.

The sport calls for synergy, a strong unified effort by all individuals in the team. As the girls ran through the positions that make up the team: the drummer, the pacers in front, then the engine and the rockets in the back—to the uninitiated and unathletic as this writer is, it all seemed a little bewildering that these could be pulled to together in one moving unit. And all of this alongside water and wind conditions.

The drummer, for example, a position now held by Helen Pidduck of Form Two is as important as the paddlers themselves. “It’s motivation as well as for keeping count. For example, if there is salt in our eyes during a race, we would listen for the drum. We will hear her banging, and she’ll call the commands. Those are encouragements. They will let us know when to power up,” one member explained.

The pacers set the time for the rest of the boat; the engine drives the power; the rockets, the last seats of the boat, pull the back of the boat in congruence with the pacers at front; the pacers work with the drummer…one well-oiled machine. The school, they said, set the foundation: “Holy Name Convent as a school teaches us how to work together. We are all sisters, so coming into the sport wasn’t all that difficult to know this is your team.”  They also have an extended network of parents, coaches, managers and trainers, who provide both technique training, strength building and motivation. It is a sport they say, that gives complete development.

“In terms of dragon boat, I think it is all-rounded. [It’s a water sport] but you also have land training. It also requires discipline. Being part of a team, you are building social skills; you are building teamwork and respect for other people,” commented Siu Lin Cook, sixth former.

And what has the sport done for them as young women? It seems much in terms of self-awareness of which time management is part—you have to know what your productivity level is, says one student of balancing the training regimen and school work. It may mean sacrificing half your lunchtime break for studies and the other half to ‘lime’.

Kaitlyn Smith, to the amusement of her teammates, observed with an air of complete confidence: “As a female, being able to train and seeing myself next to other male teams like Fatima, and seeing that I am able to do more push-ups or my technique is way better than theirs, it gives me a feeling of power…a certain level of respect for myself and others. I am strong physically, mentally and emotionally. The sport has taught me that. It’s not just exercise.”