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Boat-racing nurse from Verona to show her fire on dragon Team USA

| Thursday, Sept. 13, 2007

Robin Crawford loves her job as a nurse at West Penn Hospital.

But when she's not on the job, her love is dragon boat racing.

Crawford, 48, of Verona, is training to realize the dream of a lifetime. She will represent the United States as a paddler in the 2007 Dragon Boat World Championships in Sydney, Australia, from Sept. 19-23.

"I couldn't believe it," Crawford said. "It's going to be surreal until I get in the boat."

A dragon boat is a canoe-like craft developed in China more than 2,000 years ago. The 40-foot-long boat has an ornamental dragon head at the bow and a dragon tail at the stern.

It's powered by 20 people who paddle together as a drummer sets a cadence. A person standing at the back of the narrow boat steers it.

Crawford got in a boat for the first time in 2001 when she returned to Pittsburgh after living in Colorado for six years.

"I moved back here and all my friends were gone," Crawford said. "I went down to the Point. I started paddling and I haven't gotten out since."

Soon after Crawford joined the Steel City Dragons, a Pittsburgh-based dragon boat racing team.

Crawford was offered a seat on Team USA Senior Women's Boat A after tryouts in March in Portland, Ore., and is the only Pittsburgh-area representative on that team.

Crawford has been practicing for the world championships at the Fox Chapel Yacht Club and works out in her home.

"I'm addicted to it," she said.

Larry Wentzel, 58, Steel City Dragons coach, said he wasn't surprised that Crawford was selected for Team USA.

"She brings to the sport what every coach looks for -- enthusiasm," he said. "She is so passionate about the sport."

Wentzel said Crawford's nickname is "Mighty Mouse," and he predicts success for Team USA.

West Penn Hospital is cheering her on.

"We are proud of Robin's accomplishments and particularly proud to see her setting an example in physical fitness," said CEO Edward M. Klaman. "We wish her the best in bringing back the gold with Team USA."

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