Dragon Boat World Athlete: Dragon Boating made me feel ‘Whole’ Again

This Q&A was with Dragon Boat World Athlete, Mark Harding, National Athlete – Great Britain Dragon Boat Team.

Dragon Boat World Athlete Mark Harding

DRAGON BOAT WORLD ATHLETE PROFILE

NAME: Mark Harding
BIRTHPLACE: Wigton, Cumbria, England
AGE: 40yo
TRAINING COMMITMENT: Full-time
POSITION: Paddler
PADDLING SIDE: Both
HEIGHT: 193cm
WEIGHT: 96kg
STATUS: Single

MEDAL RECORD:
Paracanoeing National Championships, Nottinghamshire, England, Bronze – 200m
IDBF World Cup 2014, Fouzhou, China, 10th Place World Ranking,Premiere Open, Standard Boat, 500m
EDBF European Dragon Boat Nations Championships 2014, Czech Republic, Bronze – Premiere Open, Small Boat, 200m
London – Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival 2014, Silver – Premiere, Standard Boat, 200m; Overall Champion


We are honoured to feature Dragon Boat World Athlete, Mark Harding, a once severely injured soldier who served in the HM Forces in the United Kingdom. Mark is the lone person in the Dragon Boat Team Great Britain (Team GB) with physical disability to have competed together with able-bodied crew in the 2014 European Dragon Boat Championships.

Mark has served in the 1st Battalion Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment for sixteen years where he worked mostly as a sniper with the Reconnaissance Platoon for operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, Skopje, Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Dragon Boat World Athlete Mark Harding

“I was shot through the neck in 2010 in Afghanistan.” Mark shared. “On 28th May 2010, I was leading a four-man patrol sent from the platoon base to investigate an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). Things went quickly downhill. My patrol came under sustained small arms fire and three of my team were wounded. Then my life changed forever.”

Soon after he emerged from all the pain and suffering, Mark started to gain strength and then eventually was able to walk again. It was Kamini Jain who introduced him to dragon boating at a training camp at Newport Beach in California. The camp is being ran by Kamini Jain and Richard Parrot. It was from that training camp when Mark’s journey in competing in international dragon boat races began.

Dragon Boat World Athlete Mark Harding

“When I got home from that training camp, I learned that my Mother had passed away and it was at that point when I wanted to make her proud of me so I went down for a time trial at Liverpool. After making it to the Great Britain (GB) Premiere team, the training went through the roof as I was training down at Liverpool and training up at Derwent Water and also doing cross fit and weights session at the gym.”, Mark recalled.

Mark’s first club who helped him get into the sport was Amathus, a dragon boat team based in Liverpool. He currently paddles with Powerhouse Dragons in the North East as his main club. “Allyson, our club coach, has been so helpful to me –- an amazing coach and I am looking forward to getting better with her help as I continue pushing myself to perform my best for Team GB.”

Let’s get to know more about Mark’s inspiring story and the upcoming inaugural training sessions to be conducted by Purple Warriors Dragon Boat Club — a dedicated support team for the men and women who have suffered from injuries while serving the military.


Dragon Boat World Athlete Mark Harding

Q: How are you, Mark? How are the preparations going with you and Team GB for the upcoming European Dragon Boat Championships in Rome this July?

A: Things are going well, thank you — lots of training over in the north east with Powerhouse — water training, strength training and Crossfit, etc. Very busy but good and I just want to be the best I can for my Club Team and Team GB and I constantly keep pushing myself.

Q: After your three-year rest and recovery from injury in 2010, how did you overcome that to find a renewed strength?

A: I can remember being paralysed from the neck down for eight months and after I was told I’d never walk again by two spinal consultants. On that week, times got very dark for me and I was told that two of my friends were killed in Afghanistan. I made a promise to myself to prove the consultants wrong and I did and I just want to keep pushing myself. I really don’t think I’ve done anything that anyone else wouldn’t have done. I just want other injured people to see that if you’ve got a positive mind anything is achievable.

Dragon Boat World Athlete Mark Harding
Image Credit: Malcolm Cochrane Photography

Q: Why Dragon Boat? And what made you choose this particular sport?

A: I crossed over from the Team GB 200m kayak sprint team after a training camp I attended in California ran by Kamini Jain. I found out that the team mentality appealed to me. It reminded me of the army, depending on those around you.

Q: We understand that you and some others are starting a dragon boat team for injured soldiers, can you tell us a bit about it?

A: Purple Warriors was formed in early April 2016 to provide an opportunity for serving and retired members of HM Forces who now have some form of impairment (mental or physical) to use dragon boating as part of their personal road to recovery and rehabilitation, and to help smash preconceptions about impairments. Purple Warriors will race in the UK against able-bodied teams. Purple Warriors also hopes to race against similar military teams in due course.

Q: Purple Warriors will be launched soon and strategically in three different venues in the UK, what are your expectations?

A: We are all ex-military and all have had to adapt and overcome their personal battles to get to where we are today. We have the focus and drive to compete and win against able-bodied teams!

Dragon Boat World Athlete Mark Harding
Image Credit: Malcolm Cochrane Photography

Q: What inspired you to do this noble act? For that matter, what keeps you inspired in participating and pursuing excellence in sports?

A: Purple Warriors was the initiative of another GB paddler and former soldier. The idea was his but he asked me to join him to develop the idea into something real and tangible. I have had my own personal challenges but I like to think I have risen to them. Dragon boating made me feel ‘whole’ again and I hope that others will get a similar lift from this great team sport.

Q: There are other ‘brave warriors’ out there who had gone through similar experience, what would you advice them?

A: Keep going, keep your head up, be proud! Always reach further, I was told I would never walk again! I could not, WOULD not accept that! You keep battling! Afghanistan was my war, now my injury is my war! Life is for living; live it to the max.

Dragon Boat World Athlete Mark Harding

Q: “No one fights alone.”, they say of team sports like dragon boat. What’s your definition of teamwork?

A: Teamwork to me is being able to look around and know that, to my left and to my right, I have people I can trust 110%!

Q: Outside the dragon boating world, who is the athlete that you admire most and why?

A: The person I respect the most is John Griffiths. He was my previous coach from GB Team 200m sprint kayaking. An amazing coach who is down to earth and his chill approach helped me manage and come to terms with my injury. He made me see even then when I had a disability, he told me that the only person that was stopping me from doing anything was me; and to this day I can’t thank him enough.


 
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POEM: Into the Dragon’s Lair

Dragonboat

Put faith in the self, faith in your team;
Keep an eye on the aim,
An ear on the roaring silence;
Whence the horn blows, unleash the beast.

Out in the open, away from the dark caves,
Free from the castle, old and bleak.
Then brave the waves,
Defy barriers to reach the peak.

Feel the drum’s beat, feel it move you;
Accept the strength it gives you.
Exploit it as your dragon dashes to kiss–
The end of the seas.

Into its lair–the burrow of victory.

Fasten an undaunted clasp,
On weapon’s shaft.
Reach longer, pull harder;
Gorge on air,
blow it back,
gobble up deeper.

Sing to the wind caressing your hair.
Feast on the water cleansing your eyes.

Breathe fire, exhale fire;
Catch the water—fuller, quicker.

Glide in the moment,
Be one with the elements.
Feel the beat to the core–again.

Shout!
Stretch,
Twist,
Live.
Live for the moment.

For your dragon tells who you are.
The self and the dragon is what you are.

You are the dragon; keep watch of your lair.
Safeguard your colours, hoist your flag in the air.

The water’s your sanctuary, your battleground;
Your passion’s safe ground.

Set the dragon free, set yourself free.
Into freedom’s lair and harbour of victory.

Embed from Getty Images

Photo Credit: Jen Macapagal


 
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On Chasing your Dragon Boat Dreams

This Q&A was with Yeo Chin Hwei, Vice President (High Performance) at Singapore Dragon Boat Association (SDBA).

About his early years in Dragon Boating

Our featured paddler Mr. Yeo Chin Hwei is known to his dragon boat peers as simply–Chin Hwei. He started in the sport of dragon boat with the National University of Singapore’s dragon boat team in 2001.

Later on, he joined Dragon Boat Team Singapore (N-Team) in 2002. With some breaks in between, Chin Hwei became a national athlete up until 2010. He also assumed the role of Captain of N-Team in 2007.

Singapore Dragon Boat Association or the SDBA is the National Sports Authority for the sport of dragon boat in Singapore and one of its missions is to “develop and maintain a world class National Team at both senior and junior levels.” Chin Hwei has been catapulted as one of SDBA’s Management Committee members from 2012 to present.

Currently, he is holding the position of Vice-President for High Performance in the committee. As VP for High-Performance, he is in charge mostly of the N-Team affairs. Recently, he jumpstarted a publicity and recruitment campaign for Dragon Boat Team Singapore. This will highlight the N-Team’s journey to SEA Games 2015.

Let’s Make History

This powerful tagline “Let’s Make History”, endeavours to attract strong and passionate paddlers to join the pool of National Athletes to represent Singapore in the South East Asian Games (SEA Games) in 2015. Next year’s games will be hosted by Singapore, coincidentally, it is also the Garden State’s 50th Anniversary of its independence.

Insofar as dragon boating in Asia is concerned, teams from the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar, are known to be consistently ranking as top teams in both Asia and World Championships. “It is now time for Singapore to shine in the dragon boat arena!“, Chin Hwei asserted.

In next year’s SEA Games, eight dragon boat events for both Men’s and Women’s categories will be featured: 500m and 200m 12 Crew; 500m and 200m 6 Crew.

dragon boat singapore

L-R: Glenn Chan, Terence Ong, Yeo Chin Hwei & Chua Kwee Hong at Guangzhuo Asian Games 2010

In this brief interview with Chin Hwei, he shared his own journey in terms of dragon boating, and indeed, this man’s sheer passion in the sport and for his country is exceptional.

Q: Would you share to us the context of becoming Captain of N-Team and then one of the Vice Presidents of SDBA? Tell us your leadership style?

A: “Honestly speaking, I never see myself as a leader. I am actually someone who doesn’t like to talk. To a certain extent I am an introvert. How I was pushed into the captain role or MC (Management Committee) is always due to circumstances and coincidence. In 2007, we practically have to rebuild the team after the exit of many paddlers in 2006. Being the most senior of the team at that time, I automatically became the captain. For role in the MC, it was due to an introduction by a current MC member who pulled me into the committee. Given a choice, I would not want to be a leader but when the situation requires you to contribute and since I still have my dream and passion, I think I just go with the heart.”

Q: Any distinct style on your approach as a leader?

A: “As a leader I am not a motivator. I don’t believe in saying too much. I believe in leading by example and making more sacrifices than the rest because if you want others to follow your dream and passion, you need to show them how it is done. Action speaks louder than words.”

Q: If you are to give some advice to aspiring National Athletes, what would it be? What do you hope for them?

A: “I believe in sharing your dream and passion. My dream in dragon boating has not changed since I joined the sport. I have the utmost respect for the Southeast Asian teams. They inspired me not just by their will to succeed and their humility. I want to show that we Singaporeans can do it too. I have retired as an athlete, failing to accomplish my dream but I hope one day I can see Singapore dragon boat to be able to challenge my most respected competitors.”

If there is such a thing as a Dragon Boat Merit badge, Chin Hwei’s race jersey will have loads of it. More power to him and his big dreams for the N-Team!

dbteamsg

CALL FOR NATIONAL ATHLETES: The Dragon Boat Team Singapore is now recruiting “New Bloods!” If you have what it takes to be in the N-Team and you have dreams of representing Singapore in the SEA Games 2015, email info@dbteamsg.sg or visit http://dbteamsg.sg for more information and to signify your interest.

Twitter: @dbteamsg
Instagram: @dbteamsg

*This interview has been edited and condensed

 

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Keeping it real in Boracay

Boracay Island in Malay, Aklan, in the Philippines is famous all over the world for its powdery white and ultra fine sands and its crystal clear waters. The holiday island paradise has also been, for a number of times, voted as one of the TOP 10 World’s Best Beaches by Travel + Leisure (an international travel magazine and guide).

Dragon boat

Last April, I had the opportunity to visit Boracay once again because of the annual dragon boat race being held there. I got to see many old friends and former team mates from my dragon boat team back in Manila. It was also a mini family reunion for us as some of my brothers, cousins, nephews and nieces came to spend their vacation at the same time, and of course, to watch and support me and my team.

Stats

According to the Department of Tourism, their records show that from January to April of this year, more than half a million tourists have visited the island. Even during the time of the races, I noticed that majority of foreign visitors, including race participants, were from Korea, China, Taiwan, USA, Australia, Hong Kong, Canada, Germany and Singapore.

#LaBoracay

Many used the hashtag LaBoracay (#LaBoracay) in social media for the Labour Day weekend. While it made to populate trend for Boracay, the netizens used the mentioned hashtag for several purposes like: holiday breaks, beach parties, and other competitions held in the island for the period of 1st-4th May. The hashtag became so successful and popular that it is still being used, even as I write, but now it’s for the purpose of calling for shore clean-ups and to remind people (locals and foreigners) to help preserve the beauty and cleanliness of Boracay.

This call to “clean-after-your-mess” in Boracay should be practiced everywhere in the world. People should keep and preserve the beauty of nature; be it in one’s own country or otherwise. Such campaign will only succeed when people will continue to genuinely pay respect for nature (and for the planet) wherever they may be.

So, having a REAL holiday also means CARING for the place you’re vacationing, or, as some would call, staycation-ing.

FEATURE:

Real Coffee & Tea Café

Owned by the very congenial Ms. Lee Rosaia and daughter Nadine, “Real Coffee & Tea Café” turned 17 this year. This Boracay star and pioneer was formerly located in one of the alleys in Station 1, but have now moved to Station 2 (above Seaworld dive shop).

As they claim, “We have moved to Station 2 but our Calamansi Muffins are still the same.” I can surely attest to this claim because when I had it last month, that’s only when I remembered that I already had it several years back, and, yes it tasted the same. You can now have your Real Coffee for dine in or takeaway, just like what me and my brother Edmund did.

Eat here.

Real Coffee Boracay Real Coffee Boracay

Takeaway.

Real Coffee Boracay Real Coffee Boracay

You may pre-order your Calamansi Muffins (320Php for a box of 6) at least one day before you pick them up.  That means you can now bring and share the fresh box (or boxes) of Boracay REALness to your loved ones.

Other popular Real Coffee & Tea Café goodies: Muffins – Peanut Butter Brownies, Banana Walnut, Carrot and Raisin, Ultimate Muffin; Cookies – Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter, Oatmeal Raisin.

Photos by @iammsmunda