Three Shelburne residents are in Welland, Ontario, getting ready to compete in the International Dragon Boat Federation World Championship. Kim Dittus, Linda Retchin and Tag Carpenter are three of the sixteen members of Dragonheart Vermont who will be representing the United States against teams from 25 other countries.
Breast cancer survivor Dittus is an oncologist and assistant professor at UVM Medical Center. One of her patients urged her to try the sport in 2011. Dittus learned that the emphasis on surviving cancer was just a small part of the sport and began to enjoy the racing and camaraderie. “I hesitated because I’m surrounded by cancer at work and I didn’t want to be surrounded in my spare time,” she said.
The World Championship is held biannually and involves more than 4,000 athletes and a strict regimen of drug-testing. Dittus, Retchin and Carpenter all tried out for the team and then attended training camp in Arizona. Try-outs started last September. Aspiring racers were also asked to submit videos of their dragon boat technique. “I haven’t had to try out for anything since cheerleading,” Dittus said.
Dittus will be racing on the women’s Senior B team for those between the ages of 50 and 60. She described dragon boat racing as a very technical sport. “It’s more like golf than running, and I’m more of a runner,” she said. “It takes time to develop the technique.”
John “Tag” Carpenter, Director of Partner Relations at TELigence Partners, started dragon boat racing a year ago, but he immediately took to the sport. As luck would have it, Carpenter, a former runner, skier and cyclist, had decided it was time to work on his upper body and found paddling to be a perfect way to do that.
Within three weeks of being introduced to the sport, Carpenter was invited to race in Montreal and followed that up with the Club Championship in Italy. Upon his return, he began the process of trying out for the national team. Carpenter will be on the Senior C team for men 60 years and older. “It’s been really fun,” he said. “I’ve met a whole bunch of new guys from all over the U.S. who are about my age and we are thrilled to be back in the competitive throes. It’s been a long time since I raced anything.”
The third competitor from Shelburne, dental hygienist Linda Retchin, has been paddling for five years and has already been to two world championships. The difference is this time she will be representing her country, not just her club. Retchin will compete on the mixed Senior C team for those 60 years of age and over. One of her fellow paddlers has only been involved in the sport for one and one-half years while another has been on the water for twenty-five years. The team averages two children and three grandchildren each, with paddlers from states as diverse as Colorado, Iowa, New York, California and Florida.
Retchin visited Florida three times for training and has already been to Welland twice. “I just want to pull my weight,” she said. “It was a challenge to see if I could make the grade and make a team where nobody knew me. Two women from my local team didn’t make it and that’s when I knew I had to really reach deep inside.”