Adventure to Adelaide

Two Washougal women are on a dragon boat team competing in Australia

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Two Washougal women are paddling on a dragon boat with 18 others in an adventure to Adelaide, Australia.

Kit Brown, 40, and Jill MacKenzie, 50, helped the Catch 22 racing team win the 40-and-older division at the Pacific Dragon Boat Association Championships Aug. 1 and 2, 2015, on Vancouver Lake. Throughout the rest of the summer, autumn and winter, members have trained three times a week to get ready for the 2016 International Dragon Boat Federation Cup World Championships, March 30 to April 7, on the Ramsay Regatta Course, in Adelaide, Australia.

“What I hope they take from this is that the sport of dragon boat racing is truly international,” said head coach Jeff Campbell. “Those competitors from all over the world have jobs and families, but they continue to do this just like we do. We all love it, and we’re all in it together.”

In a field of more than 60 dragon boats at the Pacific Association Championships, Catch 22 won its 250- and 500-meter races to qualify for the World Championships.

“There were teams from California, Oregon, Washington and all over the region,” MacKenzie said. “It was a great opportunity for us to showcase what Vancouver Lake is all about.”

As the event organizer, Campbell said he was “running with [his] hair on fire” making sure every race went off on time and without a hitch. His favorite part was handing out medals to every racer, including his own.

“Being able to hang medals around your own team’s necks and seeing the look of astonishment on their faces when they qualified, that’s what made it worth it for me,” Campbell said.

Brown and MacKenzie remember those races like they were yesterday. The sun was out, the mountains were in the background and the water was calm.

“To have paddlers from all over the west coast participating in your own backyard was so surreal,” Brown said. “We actually won. It was super exciting to be a part of that.”

“I heard our time, and I couldn’t believe it,” MacKenzie said. “We shaved like 20 seconds off.”

The team practices Tuesday and Thursday nights, and Saturday mornings, in the rain, show, ice and sunshine on Vancouver Lake. The only thing that can cancel a practice on the water is the wind.

“You’re pretty dedicated when you’re on the lake playing icebreaker,” Campbell said.

“You could hear the cracking sound with each paddle,” MacKenzie added. “You don’t get that kind of experience very often.”

While on land, each paddler works on strength, conditioning and maintaining a healthy diet.

“Everybody is doing their part individually so we can all be in the best shape possible on racing day,” MacKenzie said.

“It’s a completely different experience paddling in the cold, in the rain and in the dark,” Brown added. “But, I also think it brought the team closer together.”

Covering the travel expenses is also taking a team effort. Campbell said the group raised about $4,000, but each racer is taking a hit in their wallets to enjoy this experience of a lifetime. MacKenzie plans to spend an extra week in Australia with some of her teammates visiting Melbourne and Sydney.

When Brown moved to Washougal from Charlson, South Carolina, in the summer of 2014, the first thing she did was look for a new dragon boat racing team. She describes herself as a fierce competitor with three children to inspire.

“I want to show them that it takes hard work and dedication to get to where they want to be,” Brown said. “You can be competitive and have fun at the same time, but it doesn’t just happen overnight. You have to put in the hours and paddle in the ice.”

MacKenzie is happy she started paddling again after raising her children.

“It’s one of those things you find where you feel intensely alive. It feels good for your mind, your body and soul,” she said. “I love the physical challenge of it, and the community of people you get to be with three times a week on the water doing something we all love.”

Campbell and the Catch 22 paddlers offer sessions for beginners and first-timers on Saturday mornings throughout the year. For meet up times, visit www.meetup.com/VLCDBP/

“We invite people on the boat, provide them a life jacket and a paddle, sit with them and work with them for an hour,” Brown said. “People on this team are very welcoming and they want to share their passion for the sport.

“It’s a great way for people get out on the water on a Saturday morning and take in the scenery,” she added. “Either they grow to love it, or it’s not their thing. There’s no harm in trying.”

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