Ryerson team joins universal sport

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By Suzanne Ma

Sandun Weerasinghe wants to share the excitement of the dragon boat experience with his fellow Ryerson students.

“True, dragon boat has roots in Asian culture, but it’s a universal sport. People come to support each other and they do it through the sport,” he says.

The Ryerson Rampage is the first official dragon boat team at Ryerson. Last year, Weerasinghe, a fourth-year aerospace engineering student and coach of the team, decided it was time the school was represented at the annual Toronto International Dragon Boat Race Festival.

Weerasinghe, 21, says he fell in love with the sport in high school and has been paddling ever since. “It was something really interesting and different from anything I’d ever seen. Dragon boat is all about bringing people together and having fun.”

Like most of the 20 paddlers on the team, Szymon Buhajczuk, also a fourth-year aerospace engineering student, says he had never tried dragon boat racing before joining the team last spring. While pool practices were fun and a good workout, it was in May, once practices on the water began, that Buhajczuk’s dragon boat experience was heightened.

“It felt good to be out on the water. There’s something exciting about working with 20 other people and propelling ourselves with our own strength.”

But it’s about more than just physical strength.

“It’s not just a sport, it’s a culture, a tradition,” says Blake Hara, assistant festival race manager for the Toronto festival at Centre Island. “It’s appealing because it’s so different. It’s so colourfull and full of culture and camaraderie. This is what Canada’s all about.”

Hara, 29, has been involved in dragon boat racing since the sport came to Canada in 1990. This year, the festival celebrated its 15th anniversary and Hara says the event grows each year.

For paddlers like Buhajczuk, there is no doubt dragon boat racing will be a part of his summer plans. He says it is hard to put into words why he’s hooked on the sport.

“When I’m racing all I think is: ‘push harder.’ I keep telling myself, ‘we’re almost at the finish line, just keep pushing.’ Sure, we’re screaming and grunting and it’s painful, but the feeling of accomplishment when you’re done, when you cross the finish line, it’s awesome.”

Ultimately, Buhajczuk says Ryerson students need to experience the sport for themselves.

“Once you get into a boat and out onto the water, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.”

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