From front to back, Stratford Dragon Boat Club juniors Aralyn Smith, Marleena Coull and Brenna Higgs, along with Natalie Dodd (not pictured), all qualified for Team Canada and will compete at the worlds next month in Thailand. Cory Smith/The Beacon Herald
Four members of the Stratford Dragon Boat Club’s junior team will represent their country next month at the world championships in Pattaya-Rayong, Thailand. Marleena Coull, Natalie Dodd, Aralyn Smith and Brenna Higgs all made the U18 team, but Dodd, Smith and Higgs can also compete with the U16 squad from Aug. 20-25.Coull is the only one of the four with Team Canada experience. She was the youngest paddler on the U16 team in 2015 and picked up three gold and three silver medals.
Natalie Dodd is one of four Stratford Dragon Boat Club juniors headed to the worlds next month in Thailand. Submitted photo
“It was definitely a wake-up call for what’s going to come for the rest of your life,” she said. “It was the experience of a lifetime, I had so much fun.”The 17-year-old from Embro didn’t make the national team in 2017, which “put a dent” in her self-esteem, but she figured she had a good chance at U18 this time around after making a strong impression in a yearlong series of tryouts.“It’s made me a better team member and how to work with other people because you don’t always get along with everyone,” she said. “I’m definitely ready for the amount of races we have to do (six per day), and it’s always go, go, go. You don’t get much downtime.”Stratford’s Higgs, 16, is “a little nervous” for her international debut. “I’m not prepared so much for how many races we’ll have. We went to Pan Ams in March and I kind of got a feel for how many races, but I know it will be a lot more over a longer period.”Higgs will rely on her technique and similar experiences to navigate the unknown. “When I go to the boat I normally breathe deep and just let it through and take everything in and make sure I’m paddling together and make sure I’m sticking with the team,” she said. “I’m hoping my technique is what they want it to be, because I know a few things I have to work on. Hopefully by the time we get there I will do well and my technique will be fine.”Smith, 12, is in the same boat as Coull was four years ago as the youngest person on the U16 team. “It’s very nerve-racking that I’m with a bunch of older people doing what they’re doing,” she said. “I’m so nervous and it doesn’t feel real yet.”The Embro local didn’t expect to make the national team on her first try, but her power in the boat and performance on the ergometer – a paddling simulator – caught Team Canada’s attention. “I was kind of just going for the learning experience, and then when I got the email it was like, ‘Wow.’” Dodd, a 13-year-old from Embro, will also make her Team Canada debut.There is a barbecue fundraiser this Sunday at Zehr’s from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. To follow the 14th International Dragon Boat Federation World Dragon Boat Racing Championships visit dragonboat.sport/world. firstname.lastname@example.org