Thursday October 20, 2011
“It’s a love for the sport—an absolute love for the sport,” explained resident Gisela Veve and Liisa Reimann of Burlington in response to how they have found the drive and dedication to achieve breathtaking success in the sport of dragon boat racing.
Both medaled at the Canadian National Championships in Welland, Ontario, in July, earning them a spot at the World Championships to be held in Hong Kong next summer.
This level of accomplishment was previously unheard of in Vermont, a state that has embraced dragon boat racing through inspirational programs such as Dragonheart VT, a team of breast cancer survivors who organize the Lake Champlain Dragon Boat Festival held each August in Burlington.
Dragon boat racing has a 2,500-year history in China and “emerged in modern times as an international sport in Hong Kong in 1976” (www.ridethedragon.org). The sport itself involves a crew of twenty paddlers, one steersperson, and one drummer all working together to race with speed the elegant dragon boats, similar in structure to those used in ancient times.
And racing with speed is what Ms. Veve and Ms. Reimann do—and do well. “I did a lot of kayaking, especially in Canada,” explained Ms. Veve of her paddling life before dragon boat racing. “I kayaked with whales for a long time.” But it was a Dragonheart VT informational meeting in 2007 where she met Ms. Reimann that changed her life forever.
Both women were inspired by the “extremely committed, amazing group” involved in the sport, and after the 2007 Lake Champlain Dragon Boat Festival decided to pursue a more competitive experience. That pursuit led them to Canada where “dragon boat racing is huge,” noted Ms. Reimann. “Once we saw the scene in Canada, we were completely bitten by the bug.” The Vermonters were invited to join 22 Dragons, a club based in Montreal, and then were recruited for the Montreal Elite Senior Women, a team comprised of women over 40.
Their weekly routine would humble even the most dedicated athlete. “We train six days a week and go to Montreal twice a week in the summer,” explained Ms. Veve, adding that their workouts include heavy weights and the rowing machine, with significant time spent in an indoor rowing training facility in the winter. “When I started all this, I couldn’t even run a quarter mile,” smiled Ms. Veve, “but now Liisa and I enter half-marathons, and we do the VT City Marathon each year.”
Additionally, both women work professionally: Ms. Veve is in property management, while Ms. Reimann, a published writer and architectural historian, teaches, coaches, and does web technology work for UVM while maintaining her own historic preservation consultant company.
They laughed when asked how they do it, with Ms. Veve adding, “We spend more time with each other than with our families. We changed our lives completely for this.” And yet both emphasized the immeasurable difference the support of their families has made: Ms. Veve is married with three grown children, and Ms. Reimann has two adolescent daughters.
Through the grueling training and the balance between professional work and family, the two have remained true friends. “Our teammates call Liisa and me ‘the twins,’” laughed Ms. Veve. “We couldn’t be any more different physically, but mentally we’re in the same place.”
That place is “a fire I can’t explain,” noted Ms. Reimann, one that has transformed them physically and mentally.
“At our age to be able to join a sport at this elite level, earn the respect of our teammates and others, see our bodies change, and compete internationally is amazing,” reflected Ms. Veve. “The sport is amazing.”
To follow the dragon boat journey of these two Vermonters, please visit their blog at www.hungrydragons.blogspot.com.
SOURCE: Susie Merrick, Contributor