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


NAME: Mark Harding
BIRTHPLACE: Wigton, Cumbria, England
AGE: 40yo
HEIGHT: 193cm
WEIGHT: 96kg
STATUS: Single

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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15 Motivational Tools from Incredible Dragon Boat Captains

This appears to be yet another random “List Post” from List Blogs that we often encounter online, say, from BuzzFeed or Lifehack. Well, apparently, it is! Only this time, it contains real experiences and genuine wisdom shared by Dragon Boat Captains who I admire and respect in my dragon boating life in Singapore.

In anticipation of the upcoming Singapore Dragon Boat Festival, I have asked Team Captains from various dragon boat teams based in Singapore and each of them has shared their method or style of leadership. While these amazingly inspiring captains have different styles in leading, inspiring and motivating their teams, at the end of the day, it’s really all about the camaraderie, unity, fitness, enjoyment and the love of the sport.

dragon boat singapore

1. Leadership style has to be authentic

One Team Captain said, “I think it’s very important in dragon boat, as in other sports that the Captain leads from the front. This means that he/she needs to be one of the top paddlers (not necessarily the absolute top time trialist, but definitely one of the top group), and have been paddling for long enough to have the experience, technique and know how to lead the others.”

2. Set an excellent example

He continued: “They need to be willing to put in the hours required, ideally being at every session so that they become the main stay or pillar around which the rest of the team can be built. They need to be mindful of others and the team dynamic and to encourage others through talk and action. They should know the individuals within the team and always work to encourage and push them to improve.

3. The Captain’s role

The role is very different to a coach or team manager. The coach manages technique and strategy, the manager the logistics. The Captain needs to inspire those around him to train harder, push harder, to never give up and to always chase victory.“, he ended with this (but asked not-to-be-named).

I am a big fan of this team’s passion, unity and strength! (All my loudest virtual cheers to its Captain and members!)

dragon boat singapore

4. Be united

Formerly called, Okinawa Dragonboat Club, headed by Ex-Captains Kei Iwamoto and Noriko Yoshimura, the all-new Japan Dragons is now blessed with the leadership of Shingo Ogi. New name, new captain; same united team.

He said that changing the name was his first job. “Everybody knows previous name is Okinawa Dragonboat Club but Okinawa is only one of the prefectures in Japan.” He wants to carry his country’s name to be able to attract many Japanese paddlers to join the team. (Of course other nationalities are welcome as well).

5. Goal setting

The challenge of getting more new members has not prevented the team to continue on and train to be strong and united and as Team Captain, he believes in setting goals for the team and its members.

6. One for all, all for one

Team sports means: One of all, all for one.” The team targets to join the SDBA-AustCham 10K challenge and is also preparing for the 200m sprint races in November 2014. As Team Captain, he thrives to be impartial and wants to hear every member’s opinion on the training program and what are the areas to be improved. They organise BBQ Parties, Game Nights and other social activities. “Get more training to gain more stamina.” Less (words) is indeed more for Captain Ogi San!

dragon boat singapore

7. Passion is contagious

“Emails and words alone may work in offices, but not on the water and definitely not on race day.” – Tharin Walker

Ex-Captain of the American Team (2008, 2009, 2010, and 2012), Tharin shared: “Leadership by example is a common phrase, but it’s extremely meaningful in Singapore dragon boat clubs. In jobs or military service, there are factors like pay and promotion. In our teams, these factors simply don’t exist. If the leadership of a team wants members to put their time, their energy and their hearts into the more or less year-round season we have here, then they must set the example they want club members to emulate.

8. Learning cross-cultural leadership

As a former captain of my own team, Tharin has been an inspiration to me. Together with Wayne, Chris and John, Tharin has mentored me in so many ways during my term as Chairman of the International Dragon Boat Community (IDBC) Singapore. It was where I’ve witnessed his style of leading and representing the American Dragons Singapore, a team which is also composed of different nationalities. The ever fierce Captain Francisca Ferreira de Almeida took over in 2013.

dragon boat singapore

Our next featured Dragon Boat Captain is the Iron Lady and current President of the Filipino Dragons (Singapore) or FDS. Former FDS Women’s Captain, Michelle Nadal Balagot is known in the community as Mickee, she has been with the team since 2008. When the team was just starting, she assumed several roles including Membership Committee Head. Currently, Mickee is working closely with FDS Team Captains, Jaz Quevada and Jen Macapagal, and Assistant Captains Michael Bacareza and Marian Seva.

9. There’s time to rest and there’s time to party

WORD: “Get your well-deserved rest. It’s an early start tomorrow and we want everyone to be fresh and strong! Thinking of partying and drinking alcohol tonight? Think twice… you are important to the team. Don’t be a mess, be at your best!” Lino Arboleda Jr., Founding Team Captain of FDS, also reminds the members of this, especially when the team is preparing for big races.

10. Inspire and Transform

When asked about her style of leadership, she remarked: “I have a strong belief in the fact that as captains, we should first serve as role models to the team by being visible during trainings and manifesting discipline as an athlete. Although we are a club, it has been established that competitiveness comes alive each time we go for a race.

11. Keeping the Momentum Up

Having said that, we try to keep the momentum up by always giving a reminder to the team that we are one in going for the win and that we will have to work hard for it. It is always inspiring to look back on how the team started. We always have to recognize the fact that winning does not happen overnight, it is something a team should work hard for and that we have to accept and embrace every challenge that comes along our way because through that, we achieve excellence. Lastly, more than our arms and core… we do paddle with our HEARTS.”, Mickee ended.

dragon boat singapore

Our next Dragon Boat Captain is Marcin Czaplicki of the Spanish Armada. He is the successor of former Captain Unai Rodriguez. Marcin has been actively representing his team, along with Enzo Acerbi, in the IDBC Singapore.

12. Paddle as One

As Captain, Marcin said, “I tell them (team) that dragon boat is different from all other team sports. It is a sport where twenty two individuals have to become as one individual.

13. Sportsmanship = Victory

Marcin believes that the core (team officers) has to put everything that they can for the members. However, all the strokes that bring the team to victory are from all the paddlers. “In the end, the team’s victory is what you make of the training and the attitude before, during and after the races.

dragon boat singapore

One of my favourite teams in Singapore is the Dragon Riders. They are a close-knit bunch of happy individuals. Through IDBC, I met three of their secret weapons: Ka Lin, Connie and Yimin. Ka Lin Ng has been the Team Manager for the past two years after her stint as Women’s Captain. The Dragon Riders has three captains, they are: Senior Captain, Men’s Captain and Women’s Captain.

14. Open Communication

The Dragon Riders Captains wanted to share to us that, “We always aim to do our best for the team above the individual. We lead by example, show genuine care, concern and respect for one another, maintain open and personal one on one communication with all members to build an all-inclusive team and encourage all to win collectively.

15. Reaching Out

Ka Lin remarked: “Having a good working committee to provide/listen up for feedback, reaching out to members and managing team operations are the keys to maintaining team comfort.

dragon boat singapore

I would like to thank you, the reader, dragon boater or supporter, for taking time to read (and hopefully share) this post. The Dragon Boat Team Captains featured here were kind enough to share to us their own methods of leading and inspiring their teams.

Nonetheless, no matter what fashion they wield in order to encourage and inspire, be it during trainings or races, I guess more than keeping fit, being inspired and getting motivated; being in the dragon boat world helps strengthen our sense of cooperation and build good character, too. We learn more of the value of patience, practice and persistence.

Salute to our Dragon Boat Captains! Salute to us, and this big family of dragon boaters in Singapore.

All the best in the forthcoming #SDBF2014!


Photo Credits: Kelvin Pao (Spanish Armada); Samuel Kolehmainen (Gaelic Dragons)
Blog Masthead Design: Jay Valentine (Filipino Dragons)

Community Reminder: All activities in the reservoir are to be carried out only during daylight hours from 7am to 7pm.
Community Announcement: Please support our very own Dragon Boat Team Singapore on their journey to the SEA Games 2015! Recruitment is on, so register your interest HERE.

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Writing isn’t about these…

Stephen King

Writing isn’t about making money,
getting famous,
getting dates,
getting laid,
or making friends.

In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.

Stephen King’s “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft”

Written in 2000, this book is part autobiography, part writing advice. Another motivating line from it goes like this: “You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.”

Image Credit: nofilmschool.com