Pedal-to-paddle: Cross-training for Mind, Body and Heart

The Best Cross-Training
by Barbara L.

It’s a summer Monday afternoon, and I’ve got my eye on the clock as I move through my work and errands.  I don’t want to be late!

At 4:45, I strap my helmet on, clip into my bike pedals, and roll down the driveway.  I’ve got just enough time for the 12-mile ride to the waterfront for dragon boat practice.  It’s getting to be rush hour in our little city, but the traffic is mostly going in the other direction.  And as a kid who learned to ride a bike in Chicago, riding with cars whizzing by doesn’t faze me.  If anything, it gets my adrenaline flowing, and I ride faster.

Up and down hills, around the traffic rotary, across the pedestrian mall, and down the long slope toward the Community Sailing Center.  I arrive to find most of my teammates already there, starting to warmup.  I lock up my bike, switch my bike shoes to water sandals, and join in.


“Yeah, bucking furpees!” we call back and forth to each other.  And pushups.  Twists.  High knees. Jumping jacks.  Anything to get warmed up and ready to paddle.  I stretch my back, shoulders, hips.  I’m warm already!

We troop to the dock to our waiting dragon boat, and spend the next hour happily paddling – paddling hard – under the encouraging, challenging, and watchful eyes of our coaches.  Sometimes we work on distance paddling; sometimes starts and sprints.  Always, we work hard, egging each other on.  There’s plenty of joshing and laughing during the rest periods, but once we hear “paddles up” we’re all business.  Each practice is an opportunity to work on technique, on timing, on that ineffable swing that happens when we are all together in flawless harmony.  There are races to be won!

When we “Let it ride” for the last time and tie up at the dock, we’re all pooped.  We gather butt pads and water bottles and head back to the parking lot for post-practice stretches.  Once that’s done, I switch back into bike shoes, refill my water bottle, and start the twelve-mile ride home.

This ride is slower that the earlier trip.  For one thing, it’s more uphill.  For another, I’ve just finished a demanding paddle!  But the ride home is lovely too.  The traffic is much lighter; the sun is sinking low in the sky, peeking between buildings and trees as I peddle up the hills, around the rotary, back the way I came.  After an hour of paddling hard on the right side of the boat, it’s wonderful to relax into the symmetric spin of a bike, reconnecting legs and torso and arms in a smooth rhythm.

As I pull back into my driveway, not quite an hour after leaving the waterfront, I’m ready for a shower and some dinner.  And bed.  My body has the satisfied tired of a good, long workout that’s utilized every part of me.  My spirit’s refreshed, too, from the camaraderie of the paddle and the solitude of my ride home.

Bike-paddle-bike.  It’s my favorite cross-training – for my body, for my heart, for my head.  And I get to do it all summer long.


Thankful for the not-so-little things…



Where can you watch rainbows form after a summer rain?
Where can you share the wind in your hair as you watch the clouds rolling across the sky?
Where do you experience the most glorious sunsets over the Adirondack mountains?
Where do you work in synchrony with 22 teammates and power a boat through rough lake waters?
Where do you crave a paddle saddle after a few sessions of practice?
Where do you crawl out of the boat tired yet exhilarated because you and your teammates paddled a best time?
How else could you paddle onto the North Beach shore and share a creemee with your team?

At my age to be stronger and fitter than ever is a wonderful feeling. Knowing I am challenged to perform inspires me to work hard. My summer evenings would not be the same without practices on Lake Champlain. It has to be one of the most beautiful venues for paddling in the USA!

~ Annie S.

Paddler Profile: Jeff H.

jeffRacing Class: Premier

Why do you dragon boat?
I love being on the water, and I’m a competitive person. Combining the 2 just makes sense. Dragon boating is a great challenge – physically and mentally. You have to trust your teammates and work together in unison to really excel. I love my team – we’re a diverse group of people that just works really well together. We’re an eclectic mix of young and old, male and female, experienced and inexperienced, but it just works. I love this team and wouldn’t trade it for anything. One of my favorite sounds is the sound of 20 paddles slicing in to the water in unison on a calm day, and feeling the boat shoot forward with every stroke.

What motivates you?
I want to win, and I want to feel the love from my teammates. Knowing that any of them would help in pinch is a great feeling, and I would do the same for them.

How did you get into the sport?
A friend and co-worker was talking about the sport to a few of us at work a few years ago. I remember seeing the boats on Lake Champlain, and thought “that would be fun – how can I join?” I ended up going to an early season BBQ – it poured so we couldn’t get on the water, but everyone was very welcoming. Once I got in the boat, I was hooked. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but it was so much fun.

What would you say to others considering trying or joining Malia?
See above – we are an incredible mixture of motivated, fun loving people. Everyone is welcoming, and willing to help out. We also have a great end of season party each year.

Who are you?
I’m married, and have been in Burlington since 1999. We live in Colchester, and I’m a Business Analyst for a rather large IT company in downtown Burlington – you can’t miss the large, painted silos on Pine Street. I snow board in the winter (when there’s snow) and paddle in the summer. My wife and I also chase our rambunctious two year old around all the time – she’s the team mascot, and maybe a future paddler. When we’re at home, I love to fire up my smoker (year round), and relax with my family.

Accept the challenges so that you can feel the exhilaration of victory.
~ General George Patton

A (paddler’s) case for strength training

It’s All Connected

I’ve always been an endurance sports kind of girl – biking, running, nordic skiing, hiking.  And while I’ve occasionally made New Years Resolutions about going to the gym, they’ve never really stuck.   “Weights just aren’t my thing,” I said.

That was before I started dragon boat paddling.

It was clear right from the start that our coaches expected us to do strength training beyond the paddling practices.  So I was diligent (well, fairly diligent) about doing core exercises a couple of times a week during that summer.  Then, as my paddling form improved, I began to realize how much each paddler’s strength matters to how well the boat moves forward.  I started working out at the gym during the fall and winter months, when we couldn’t paddle on the water, to get ready for the coming paddling season.

Weight training still wasn’t my thing.  But every time I started to falter, I’d think about my teammates.  How we all had to work together to paddle well.  How we love to do well at races.  How I’d be letting them down if I didn’t get stronger.  And so I’d add another rep.  I’d finish the workout.  I’d come back again a couples days later, to do it all again.  I got stronger.  And I liked it!

Now going to the gym is part of my weekly routine, all year round.  I’m a better paddler every summer.  And those endurance sports I love – especially nordic skiing (though this season there’s a frustrating lack of snow!) – have benefited too: I ski faster, stronger, and longer than ever before.  It’s all connected – the satisfaction and smiles of a good paddle mirrors the smile on my face as I skate-ski up a wintry mountain trail.

Thank you Malia!  For the paddling, of course – and also for helping me become a better athlete, all around.

Thanks to Barb L. for this guest post. As coaches, it’s always great to hear affirmations like this from our athletes. Keep up the good work!

Paddler Profile: Denise G.

deniseRacing Class: Premier/Senior A

Why do you dragon boat?
It’s fun…in a twisted kick your ass way with the best teammates and coaches! It’s TEAM oriented. I do it for the challenge of a new sport, staying healthy & athletic. But mostly…  for the camaraderie of a team and coaches… who wouldn’t want to be a part of it?

What motivates you?
The challenge of learning something new and getting better at it.

How did you get into the sport?
By accident. I was on a community team for a fundraising event and got hooked.

What would you say to others considering trying or joining Malia?
If you like the water, want to remain active, enjoy a challenge, want to learn from the top coaches in the sport and want to develop killer arms…you should give it a try!

Who are you?
Me? A 40-something athlete defeating the lure of the couch;  a Forensic Chemist (seriously, it’s nothing like CSI!) and; … I am … the “photo sniper!”

Paddler Profile: KToy

ktoyRacing Class:
Premier/Senior A

Why do you dragon boat?
I love dragon boating.  It is the epitome of a team sport as much as it is an individual sport.  My performance is the result of my team.  It is intense and incredibly exciting.

What motivates you?
Not at all brown-nosing… :)  In all seriousness, my coaches motivate and inspire me.  They are incredibly accomplished in this sport and work out along with us.  They wouldn’t ask us to do anything they wouldn’t or haven’t done.  Really?  Does it get any better than that?

Got a favorite quote?
KTOY!!  NO WIMPY PUSH-UPS!!  I WANT YOUR BOOBS ON THE GROUND!!!”  (Gisela).  Also, Herb Brooks: “When you pull on that jersey, you represent yourself and your teammates. And the name on the front is a hell of a lot more important than the one on the back!  Get that through your head!”

How did you get into the sport?
My start was with the local event on community teams.  One practice and two races wasn’t enough for me.  One of my very best friends who lives in MN, essentially TOLD me to join Malia as she has known Liisa and Gisela for a very long time.  One of the best decisions ever made.

What would you say to others considering trying or joining Malia?
My Malia is not only my team, but my family.  The bond we have in the boat in support of each other, also exists on dry land.  I love these people as if I’ve known them my entire life.  My children love my Malia too… does it get any better than that?!

Who are you?
I prefer seat 2.  I paddle on the left even though I’m right handed.  I am a bit of a clown and flash my skort at all opportunities.  Out of the boat, I’m a mom of two wacky awesome little girls who can’t wait to be old enough to get in a dragon boat and have a paddle of their own.  I can’t stand socks, lima beans or caraway seeds.  But I love (LOOOOVE) bacon and really big ships.

8 reasons to get into a dragon boat this year

1. Your current fitness regimen just doesn’t cut the mustard
Maybe you’re a cross-fitter who needs more than the inside of a smelly gym from time to time. Or perhaps you’re sick of running on the treadmill and not actually getting anywhere. Maybe you just need something to train FOR. Dragon boat will give your gym sessions purpose as well as relief. Plus the strength and speed gains you make in the gym will not only make you a better paddler, but also inspire you to challenge yourself in many new ways.

2. Great scenery
There are so many amazing waterways to paddle on. Granted, when your coach is running a drill or you’re in a race, taking stock of the scenery is a bad idea. But to be able to train and race on the water, in beautiful and varied surroundings, is pretty freaking awesome. Just ask our friend Clayton. As someone who’s relocated for work a number of times, he’s paddled in the Swiss Alps, on Vermont’s Lake Champlain, and is now enjoying the views in Singapore.

3. Travel
You don’t have to change jobs or countries to get the best out of dragon boat. Instead, you can see the world through competition. We’ve been fortunate enough to have competed in Hong Kong, Italy, Hungary, the US, Puerto Rico, Canada, Australia–to name a few. As the fastest growing team water sport in the world, there are new competitions in amazing locations every year.

4. Bling
Yes personal successes are great, but who doesn’t like medals and trophies? If you want to compete, you can earn some pretty great rewards.

A joyful Malia crew after winning the Summer Splash in Montreal, June 2015

5. You don’t have to start at age 5 to become great
This is nothing like, say, gymnastics, where the athletes start out young and are “retired” (or injured beyond repair) by their teens or twenties. You can start dragon boat at any age, and at any fitness level. How far you go with it is entirely up to you (see #8 below). There are racing classes for under 16s and over 60s and everyone in between. Do you really need any more reasons to give it a go?

6. Old injuries are bumming you out
Maybe you used to run marathons or ski moguls, but now your knees are shot. Or you’ve had too many concussions from your favorite contact sport. Whatever the issue, chances are dragon boat can give you a new lease on fitness and competition (maybe even if you’re in rehab!).

7. Team play and camraderie
Dragon boaters are a close-knit lot. Think about it – 22 people marooned together in close quarters out on the water for 60 or 90 minutes at a time…you get to know each other very well very fast :) You end up gaining a whole new family – heck you can even BRING your family. We have quite a few mother-daughter and husband-and-wife paddlers on our crew. How great is that?1380098_10202300415737217_1370270291_n

8. You could qualify for Team USA and go to the Olympics
Yes, really. Our club has contributed national paddlers AND coaches to Team USA to a number of World Nations Championships. Some of them didn’t even start dragon boating ’til their 40s and 50s! And with recent movement to make dragon boat an Olympic sport, you could even become an Olympian.11866475_798609730253343_1387222227174505235_n

SO, there you have it. Go find a dragon boat crew in your community and just try it out. What do you have to lose? Especially if you’re in the Burlington, VT area, your first two sessions are absolutely free.  We have both winter and summer options – just check out our schedule.