Five Nathan Benderson Park Dragon Boat Paddlers Named to U.S. National Team
The paddlers join a Team USA roster built for the 15th World Dragon Boat Racing Championships, which was to be held Nov. 1-7 in Hong Kong. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic forced the International Dragon Boat Federation to cancel the championships, but the U.S. Dragon Boat Federation continued to select America’s team.
Team members are chosen in age groups and for standard boats, which have 20 paddlers, and small boats, which have 10 paddlers. Each boat also has a drummer at the bow, and a steerer who stands in the stern of the boat with a long oar.
The Women’s Senior B standard squad includes Mandy Kendall Boyers, while the Senior B short boat squad includes Doreen Clyne and steerer Angela Long. Beth Turconi, the first NBP paddler to be named to the national team in 2019, makes the roster for 2021 as Senior B team alternate. Don Bickel was named to the Senior A small boat squad.
The Senior A teams are for paddlers age 40 and older, while the Senior B category is for age 50 and older and the Senior C category is age 60 and older.
Long is the head coach of NBP’s paddling program, and is the founding coach of the park’s breast cancer survivor paddling team, NBP Survivors In Sync. She said the team selections bring recognition to the park’s program.
“I definitely think it has put us on the map, being recognized as a serious competitive program, with quality paddlers and resources,” she said.
In alternate years to these biennial championships, entire club teams qualify for the club crew national and world championships. The national club crew championship is at Nathan Benderson Park Oct. 1-3, and the world club crew championship is also at NBP in mid-2022. All of NBP’s paddling program teams will appear in the national club crew championships, and those teams include the paddlers who qualified individually for the 2021 U.S. national team.
Long said Turconi, the lone Team USA veteran, was “instrumental. And we all consider Beth an assistant coach, but she was definitely the pioneer, the mama bear of all the Team USA hopefuls from NBP. And she definitely took them under her wing and gave them all that she had in respect to knowledge and encouragement, tips and inspiration.”
The leader of the nonprofit that operates the park said the NBP community is proud to send five of its own to the national team.
“We are proud of Mandy, Doreen, Beth, Don and Angela on their achievements,” said Stephen V. Rodriguez, the interim president and CEO of Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates (SANCA). “The program truly endured and thrived during the pandemic, as we can see from the number of NBP paddlers that made Team USA.”
During 2020, as paddling programs across the nation were finding ways to keep participants engaged and in competition shape, the park introduced NBP Race Days, a monthly weekend event where paddlers hit the water for friendly, socially distant scrimmages in kayaks, paddleboards and outrigger canoes. The race days were the pilot light for a return to competition, as the Sarasota International Dragon Boat Festival was held in-person at the park July 10.
“We also had organized practices with the outrigger canoes during the time we weren’t in the boats,” Long said. “We’d go out on kayaks and paddleboards, and we did Zoom workouts — strength training, erg (ergometer), stretch, and we also did swim fit. We took a majority of the park’s ergs, and that’s how we did the erg Zoom. A lot of the paddlers have already purchased ergs to work out at home. And that’s still going — the strength training, the erging and the stretch via Zoom, all that’s still going.”
The park’s paddling program continues steady growth over the last several years, Long said. Part of the program’s success is because of the facility and its staff. She said the park’s nonprofit manager, Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates (SANCA), provides coaching, clinics, timing, logistical support, promotion and communications, and equipment for the program and its paddlers. At the height of the pandemic in 2020, SANCA purchased several outrigger canoes so paddlers could continue practicing while maintaining social distance.
“I think there are some programs that have a full gym or they may have the ergs, or boathouses, but not to the caliber of what we have,” she said. “They don’t have the whole shebang. We’re unique.”
Rodriguez said he saw “these outstanding paddlers while timing some of the monthly NBP Race Day time trial practices during the pandemic. What impacted me the most was the overall camaraderie and fun.”
Paddlers qualifying for Team USA did so with outrigger canoes. The access NBP’s paddlers have to the outriggers, called “OCs” for short, is far better than many places, she said.
The park’s efforts to keep paddlers on the water during 2020 poised the five Team USA paddlers, Long said, but those efforts elevated the entire program.
“We had a lot in the beginning,” she said, “who were thinking about training and sort of involved, and even that alone just rose everyone’s game, the whole program. And I hope to keep people in that mindset.”
Rodriguez said the access NBP’s paddlers have to the facility sets competitors up for success.
“The NBP Paddling Program is poised for success, with Coach Angela at the helm, and the upcoming club crew nationals and world championships coming here to our home course,” he said. “This is really what the park is all about, providing a public space for memorable moments, achievements and friendships for our residents.”
“Paddling, specifically dragon boat, is a sport for all,” he added. “With an easy point of entry, excellent coaching and a welcoming environment, there is a place for everyone. We invite the community to get involved at NBP, whether as a paddler, volunteer or supporter.”
Photo from Nathan Benderson Park Staff