UTC Reading student becomes a European Dragon Boat Racing Champion
During the summer, UTC Reading student Brett Saunders competed as a member of Team GB in the European Dragon Boat Racing Championships. Brett did extremely well, coming away from the competition with three gold and three bronze medals. Below is his story, from when he began dragon boat racing to the intense competing he took part in this summer.
"Dragon boat racing is one of the fastest growing paddle sports in the UK. There are various teams based around the country that compete in the British Dragon Boat Association (BDA) league. Races are paddled over distances usually between 2000m and 200m with a standard crew of 20 paddles, often mixed crews of men and women and sometimes including juniors (under 18s).
"I began dragon boating for fun with school friends when I was 11. We trained at the Wokingham Canoe Club once a week on a Wednesday evening. Our coach made sessions fun and light-hearted but we started to take shape as a team so he suggested that we entered the odd local race and regatta. We soon discovered that although we were only juniors we were not only winning against other juniors but with a bit of effort we were winning against adult teams too. Unfortunately our coach retired and with no replacement we muddled through for a couple of years by ourselves and with the odd volunteer adult to act as helm. Then we discovered Henley Dragons, a BDA team that were willing to take on myself and my three close friends. They were a mixed adult team so it was strange for us as junior paddlers and them to race together, but it’s worked out well and over the last two years Henley has gone from strength to strength surging up through the BDA League.
"At around the same time as I joined Henley I travelled to Liverpool for the weekend to take part in national trials hoping to gain selection for the Great Britain Under 18 Dragon Boat Racing Squad. Competition was fierce, with timed sessions in various canoes as well as endurance and fitness tests. After waiting for an agonising week to find out if I’d made the grade I received a call from the Head Coach to congratulate me on gaining selection for the GB Team and to let me know I would start training with them immediately, for the World Championships to be held in Niagara, Canada, later that year. I continued to train with my club and to take part in league events as well as general fitness training and O1 canoe training. Once a month I would go on a long weekend of extremely rigorous training with the GB team. It was exhausting and exhilarating and I now fully understand the saying ‘blood , sweat and tears’ as we all had to put out heart and soul into every moment and even then it would never be quite enough for our coach who pushed us to our limits over and over again. In school holiday we were expected to go away on extended training camps of up to 9 days, with 12 hours a day of training. It was really tough at times but by mid-summer we were ready as a team to go to Canada.
"The day after I received my AS result last year I flew out to Canada to take part in the four day World Championships. There were 28 of us in the team as well as Coaches, Mentors and a physios and competing there, with my team mates, was a huge privilege. We fought hard together and I was delighted and proud to bring back two bronze medals. One was for the Open ten man team and one was with a mixed twenty man team.
"After such an amazing accomplishment in Canada it was difficult to accept that the following year I would be too old to qualify for the U18 team and was the end of my GB career. Then my coach got in touch to say that there was enough young talent in the sport to reintroduce an under 24’s Team to the GB squad. I was ecstatic and daunted as the whole cycle started again; intense training, competing, fitness training, trialling, this time with for the Under 24s. Again I travelled to Liverpool to trial and again I received a call from the coach to say that I had gained selection and would be competing in Rome, this time in the European Championships. Training became even more rigorous with the bigger, older crew around me but I’ve loved it (and hated it at times) but I’ve always been proud to be a part of it.
"In late July this year I raced with the Under 24 GB Dragon Boat Racing Team in The European Championships in Rome and won three gold medals and three bronze medals. I had a brilliant experience that I will never forget and I was lucky enough to share it with some of my best friends who were also my team mates, as well as find new friends across the world from other countries teams.
"UTC Reading encouraged me by supporting my commitments to training in any way that they were able and many of my tutors and the staff have taken an interest, so I would like to thank them for helping to smooth the way. I’ve managed to have a short break, gain my A level result and spend a bit of time chilling before I go into my final year at UTC and my dragon boat training resumes. After all next year the World Championships are in China, the home of Dragon Boating!"