Dragon Boat racing taking department duo to China

Nikki White and Rebecca (Bec) de Vries never imagined a passion for keeping fit would lead to an international Dragon Boat competition in China.

The two friends, both Department of Human Services staff, are part of Canberra team – The Ice Dragons – and have been invited to race in the annual Chinese Dragon Boat Festival in June this year.

Over 3 weeks the Ice Dragons will compete in events in 4 cities across China, beginning in Beijing and finishing in Fuhan City, and after the festival they will do some sightseeing in Macau and Hong Kong.

“It’s really quite extraordinary and incredibly exciting,” Nikki said.

“As rookie team members we never expected to be involved at this level so early.”

The two got into dragon boat racing after Bec relocated from Brisbane to Canberra in late 2014 and they were looking for something to do together.

“We’ve been friends for many years, and when Bec arrived in Canberra we were looking for another sport to keep us busy,” Nikki said.

“We discovered dragon boats about 12 months ago, and began training with the Canberra Ice Dragons and found we were quite good at it.”

Bec’s equestrian background and Nikki’s amateur boxing experience meant they had strong upper bodies and endurance to stay the distance.

“It gives us the power to plough through the water and keep going,” Bec said.

“You don’t start this sport to get fit, you need to already have some level of fitness or you won’t survive.”

Dragon boat racing is one of the world’s oldest sports and China is its home.

Each boat has a 20 person crew plus a sweep steering the boat and a drummer up front setting the pace.

Nikki and Bec sit at the back of the boat as sprinters, providing the power when the drummer demands extra speed.

They train 3 days a week on Lake Burley Griffin and maintain their fitness between training by riding their bikes, running, hiking and the occasional mountain climb.

“Strangely there’s a lot of similarities between the sport, our Ice Dragon team and our day jobs,” Nikki said.

“It’s very inclusive, with a really good team environment where the more experienced people help the less experienced members.

“There are good coaches and leaders who know their stuff and are happy to pass that on.

“Another work parallel is the thought you need to put in. You can commit a lot of energy and effort, but if you haven’t got the right technique you just slow the team down. You have to think about what you are doing.”

The Ice Dragons enviable record of success at regional and national events led to the invitation to tour China during the annual Dragon Boat Festival.

“It’s a huge deal with hundreds of thousands of spectators and national television coverage with more than a million viewers,” Bec said.

“As well as racing, we’ll be participating in a number of cultural exchange events.

“One of the highlights will be joining a traditional 100 person Dragon Boat crew. That is going to be amazing!”