Ryerson paddlers competing at George Brown on Jan. 24. PHOTO: Dylan Freeman-Grist

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By Ben Waldman

They train as a team at least three times a week. Their days are defined by post-workout fatigue and muscle aches. This is a part of who they are. Ryerson’s Dragon Boat Club has been around since 2002 and it’s about time everybody got acquainted with them.

“We’re not looking for natural athletes,” the club states on its website. “Just ordinary people who want to do extraordinary things.”

On Jan. 24, the Ryerson team attended the third-annual Ontario University Indoor Dragon Boat Championships at George Brown College’s new waterfront campus, competing against students from several schools across Canada.

“We want to test how far we can go,” said Loc Ho, 27, the group’s supervisor. “In my first year, we could barely field a team. Now we have over 100 members.”

With the water outside frozen, the event utilized devices which attempt to replicate outdoor paddling conditions – a computerized oar on a stationary machine to measure the distance traveled.

According to Ho, who graduated from Ryerson with a degree in industrial engineering, dragon boat racing is the fastest-growing water sport in Canada, largely due to its inclusive nature. “Anyone can do it,” he said.

Jason Chan is a rookie paddler who lists himself at five-foot-four and 110 pounds. Though athletically capable, Chan is often overlooked because of his stature or supposed lack thereof. When he learned about the club’s existence, Chan jumped at the opportunity to become a member.

“I’ve become stronger emotionally and physically,” he said. “This club is different. We’re more like a family than anything else.”

What sets this sport apart from others is the support and spirit present at all times – even between opposing teams. That’s exactly what happened toward the end of Chan’s first race, a 250-metre heat. Each of the seven other racers finished relatively quickly, but Chan lagged behind.

“Come on, Jason,” a competitor from George Brown screamed. “You got this man!”

Soon, everyone was shouting, encouraging Chan to finish the race.

“It just feels amazing,” Chan said of the supportive nature of the sport. “I think I did pretty well today, too.”

Ryerson collected a handful of medals, although dragon boat racing is more about personal and collective growth than the recognition endemic to other sports.

Peter Mozuratis, a 25-year-old paddler from Guelph, says that while the stationary machines test power and technique, the water is where the heart of the sport’s team-focused ideals lie.

“Perfect synchronicity. I move, you move,” said Mozuratis. “That’s what it’s all about, man.”

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