Franklin Park couple takes flight with dragon boats
By Dona S. Dreeland
Published: Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
With a simple invitation, Jim Robertson of Franklin Park got hooked on the sport of dragon boat racing.
In 2005, Judy, his wife and a social worker, fell in love with this team-building activity as part of her work with Communities in Action for Peace. The University of Pittsburgh-related organization offers programs that aim to promote healthy communities by reducing violence.
“I said to Jim, ‘Come on down,'” she said. “Now, we're addicted.”
The Robertsons' new sport has kept them fit, and this summer, it gave them the opportunity to take part in the International Dragon Boat Federation's World Dragon Boat Championship in Szeged, Hungary. They both qualified for the Senior C team for members older than 60.
“We loved Hungary,” Judy, 72, said. “The people were nice, and the food was good. It was a lovely venue.”
Paddlers Natalie Thomas and Natacha De Genna, who trained with them, won silver medals with their age group's team. The Robertsons' team earned three bronze medals. The 44 paddlers for the American team came from all parts of the country to compete with others from Australia and Canada — two powerhouses — plus China and many others.
“This is the second-largest participatory sport in the world,” Jim said. “Soccer is first. It's a big sport in China. That says it.”
A dragon boat uses 18 to 20 people to propel the watercraft, a helmsman to maneuver the boat and a drummer to set the rhythm for the paddlers. The sport depends on coordinated movements inside each of the dragon-shaped vessels.
Locally, the Robertsons race as part of The Pittsburgh Paddlefish.
During the racing season, which lasts from March through November, the couple, who have been married for 48 years, work out three times a week in 90-minute sessions from the Three Rivers Rowing Association boathouse in Millvale.
Because the paddling strokes are the same, they use an outrigger canoe for practice. In the winter, the husband and wife lift weights and do aerobics. Jim also coaches in the Paddlers for Peace Youth Dragon Boat League and gets his team ready for nationwide competitions.
“You paddle through your abs,” said Jim, 73, adding that his preparations for the world championship enabled him to lose 30 pounds.
Dragon boating participants don't have to be big and muscular, he explained. Small paddlers put less weight in the boat.
The competition depends on all the same skills that dragon boating students first learn. “They work together,” said Jim, “and learn that if they don't paddle together, you don't win.”
The Paddlers for Peace group begins its activities in May, and paddlers, ages 12 through 18, come in all shapes and sizes.
“They may be afraid of the water, but when they start going fast, they like that,” Judy said.
Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Absenteeism of North Hills School Board member causes concern
- Hampton woman, Aspinwall man team to help small businesses succeed
- Annual North Hills Interfaith Gathering to celebrate different traditions
- West View schedules neighborhood cleanup day for April 26
- Student activity fee at Pine-Richland could be raised
- Shaler OKs green overlay district to promote riverfront
- Franklin Park man presents program that examines seedier side of Hollywood
- Hampton, Pine, Richland named Banner Communities
- Vincentian Academy looks at expansion plans
- Photo Gallery: Cherry Blossom Festival at North Hills Art Center
- Pine-Richland officials look to improve curriculum consistency