FOUR Border and North East paddlers fly out for China on the weekend to represent Australia in the sport they love.
The quartet will compete in the 13th World Dragon Boat Racing Championships, which start in Kunming on Wednesday.
Warriors trio Lisa Smallbone, Graeme Nugent and Ray Olsson and Brave Hearts’ Nerida Millward are among nearly 200 members of the Auroras national team.
All new to the international level, they came through a trial process that took more than a year.
Smallbone, of Chiltern, said the Auroras’ renowned team spirit encouraged her to seek selection.
“It’s the opportunity to compete on the international stage, represent your country and compete at the highest level in dragon boating, so that was really attractive,” she said.
“It’s also raising the profile of dragon boating in the regional areas, on the Border.
“Most of the clubs in the national team are usually from the metropolitan areas or the coast.”
Wangaratta’s Nugent and Olsson, of Wodonga, decided to try out together while Albury’s Millward – Brave Hearts’ first national representative – gave it a go “not ever thinking I’d get in”.
Since being chosen, the paddlers have been completing a training program that includes individual work and squad camps.
“We’ve been on the water five days a week probably and in the gym,” Olsson said.
Warriors president Don Gargan said the benefits of the elite coaching went beyond the Auroras.
“A lot of that knowledge has come back to the club and other paddlers, which has been fantastic,” he said.
“The club in five years has gone from beginners to where we’ve got these guys and Australian champions in a couple of events.”
Millward, Nugent and Olsson are in the senior C squad while Smallbone is in senior B.
Former Warriors member Jarrod Whitwell, now based in Melbourne, will compete in the premiers division.
After Tuesday’s opening ceremony, the five-day world championships will include mixed, open and women’s events over 200 metres, 500m, 1000m and 2000m.
Crews from Canada, Britain and the host nation are expected to be strong, but the Auroras have been training well.
“We’ll be very competitive, we’re not going for a holiday,” Smallbone said.
All four paddlers are excited by the chance to experience the top standard of dragon boating.
“It’s the ultimate team sport, everyone’s got to work perfectly together,” Nugent said.
“If you don’t work together, the boat just doesn’t run.”