Dragon Boat World Athlete: Flexing Extra Power for A Worthy Cause

This Q&A was with Dragon Boat World Athlete, Christine Pezzulo, National Athlete – Team USA.

Dragon Boat World Athlete Christine Pezzulo

DRAGON BOAT WORLD ATHLETE PROFILE

NAME: Christine Pezzulo
BIRTHPLACE: Inglewood, California, USA
AGE: 49yo
TRAINING COMMITMENT: Full-Time
POSITION: Paddler
PADDLING SIDE: Both; Racing Left
HEIGHT: 170cm
STATUS: Single

MEDAL RECORD:
IDBF World Dragon Boat Racing Championships 2015, Welland, Ontario, Canada, GoldPremiere Women 2000m; 3 SilversPremiere Women 200m, 500m, 1000m


Christine Pezzulo from Team USA, only heard about Dragon Boat in 2008 when a friend invited her to join for training. “When I moved to Portland, a friend of mine from the gym invited me to try dragon boating and then later on I competed for Portland Rose Festival Dragon Boat Race.”, Christine shared. She first joined a corporate team called Dragon Rose and she paddled with them for two seasons.

Christine is currently paddling with Wasabi Paddling Club and it’s been an amazing ‘dragon boating ride’ for her since she first held on a paddle back in 2008. “I took a year off from paddling to train for an Ironman race.” she said. “It’s been seven years of paddling but aside from dragon boat and triathlon racing, I also enjoy hiking, hitting the gym and quality time with my cute dog, Molly.”

Dragon Boat World Athlete Christine Pezzulo
Dragon Boat World Athlete Christine Pezzulo

This amazing Dragon Boat World Athlete also enjoys competing in the World Police and Fire Games. “I have been a firefighter for twenty two years (since ‘94) and I’ve been with Wildland Hot Shot Crew for seven years now.”, Christine said. She’s been very involved with the Firefighter Stair Climb as well, a noble event that was started by a retired Portland Firefighter whose two grandsons have Cystic Fibrosis (CF).

Christine has been the top fundraiser of Firefighter Stair Climb for the last five years and became two-time first place winner which made her one of the top five female climbers in all of seven years. Let’s get to know more about our fellow paddler, Christine, and let’s be inspired by her continuous pursuit in helping raise funds for CF treatment.

Dragon Boat World Athlete Christine Pezzulo
Dragon Boat World Athlete Christine Pezzulo


Q: You’ve been with Team USA for quite a while now and have been fondly dubbed by some teammates as “Mama Hen”, why is this so?

A: I’m not aware that I’ve been called “Mama Hen” but being the oldest in the team, it doesn’t surprise me. 🙂

Q: In the many years of experience in a team sport like dragon boat, how do you define teamwork? What is that crucial thing that makes ‘teamwork’ work?

A: Teamwork is something that I’ve been involved in, in every aspect of my life (Work, play, sports). I define it as two or more people coming together to accomplish a common goal, by applying their individual skills and talents in such a way that it successfully blends with the rest of the team. That one crucial part is for members to leave their ego at the door. You can have a team full of the best athletes in the world, but if they can’t check their egos and blend with humility, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Dragon Boat World Athlete Christine Pezzulo
Dragon Boat World Athlete Christine Pezzulo

Q: You have maintained your Premier status in the team for quite a while now, we want to know how does it really feel like to be paddling for one’s country?

A: It’s a great honor and a pleasure to be representing my country. Each paddler earns their seat and the competition is fierce, so to be on that final roster is a feeling of accomplishment. I take great pride in being chosen as a member of this amazing team.

Dragon Boat World Athlete Christine Pezzulo
Dragon Boat World Athlete Christine Pezzulo

Q: As you stand in the World Championship podium, listening to your National Anthem being played, what goes on in your head?

A: The feeling of standing on the podium and hearing my national anthem is exhilarating! Major goosebumps, tears and the overwhelming feeling of love for my teammates, because we got there together.

Dragon Boat World Athlete Christine Pezzulo

Q: We understand that one of your hobbies is firefighter climbing and you have helped two little boys to raise money for research on cystic fibrosis, can you tell us a bit about it and how was the feeling post-fundraising?

A: I climb in the name of finding a cure for Cystic Fibrosis. My friend and fire brother’s grandsons, who live with CF, have become my extended family. I’ll continue to climb and raise money for this very worthy cause. Carson and Brandon are the boys I climb for. They call me “Auntie Pezz.” The feeling I get helping these boys, and all the others living with CF is very good. I’ve raised several thousands of dollars over the past seven years and I’ve seen great advancements in better treatment; leading to more tomorrows for my boys and many others. The average lifespan for those living with CF used to be on their teens; and with all the advancements in better treatment, people are living into their 40s. I look forward to the number increasing.

Dragon Boat World Athlete Christine Pezzulo
Dragon Boat World Athlete Christine Pezzulo
Dragon Boat World Athlete Christine Pezzulo

Q: You have been a great value in the dragon boat community because of the noble acts you’ve done, on the other hand, how did dragon boat affect you as a person?

A: Dragon boating fulfills me with the competitive edge and camaraderie. The sense of community is huge for me and some of my closest friends come from dragon boating. Training together, competing together and celebrating together is priceless. The fulfillment I get both on and off the water brings great joy to my life.

Q: Finally, who is the athlete that you admire most and why?

A: I admire any athlete who works their ass off and maintains a humble attitude, regardless of the sport or their experience.

Dragon Boat World Athlete Christine Pezzulo

 
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Dragon Boat World Athlete: What Dragon Boat Taught Me About Life

This Q&A was with Dragon Boat World Athlete, Alice Tran, National Athlete – Team USA.

Dragon Boat World Athlete Alice Tran

DRAGON BOAT WORLD ATHLETE PROFILE

NAME: Alice Tran
BIRTHPLACE: Boston, Massachusetts
AGE: 34yo
TRAINING COMMITMENT: Part-Time
POSITION: Paddler; Team USA U18 Assistant Coach
PADDLING SIDE: Left and Right
HEIGHT: 165cm
WEIGHT: 63.5kg
STATUS: Single

MEDAL RECORD: 
IDBF World Dragon Boat Racing Championships 2011, 1 Bronze, 2 Silvers – Premier Women, Standard Boat, 500m, 1000m, 2000m
IDBF World Dragon Boat Racing Championships 2013, 2 Bronzes – Premier Women, Standard Boat, 500m, 2000m
IDBF World Dragon Boat Racing Championships 2013, 1 Gold, 1 Silver – Premier Mixed, Standard Boat, 1000m, 2000m
IDBF 1st World Cup 2014, Silver – Premier Men & Women, Small Boat Pursuit Race, 1000m
IDBF World Dragon Boat Racing Championships 2015, 1 Gold, 3 Silvers – Premier Women, Standard Boat, 2000m, 200m, 500m, 1000m
IDBF World Dragon Boat Racing Championships 2015, 2 Silvers – Premier Mixed, Standard Boat, 1000m, 2000m

Dragon Boat World Athlete Alice Tran
Dragon Boat World Athlete Alice Tran


Dragon Boat World Athlete, Alice Tran, grew up knowing about the sport but that little girl didn’t know she would be partaking in it someday and become a World Champion. “I knew about dragon boat ever since I was a little kid.” she said. “I grew up in Boston and the Boston Dragon Boat festival is one of the first and oldest Dragon Boat races in North America. My parents used to take us to the Charles River to watch the races and experience the festivities.”

Recruitment

Like most of us paddlers, we get introduced to dragon boat by paddler friends—very very convincing paddler friends. Alice was recruited by Raymond Lem, a friend and co-worker of hers. Her first try at dragon boating was with M.A.D., a dragon boat team in New York. She went for that ‘mad’ practice with her sister who used to paddle with Boston YMCA. She shared: “My sister moved back to Boston. I stayed and got addicted to the team work and competition of the sport.”

Dragon Boat World Athlete Alice Tran

National Team Tryouts

Coaches are gifted to see, smell and feel their athletes’ talent, spirit and potential. Keith Tsui, Alice’s coach at M.A.D., got it right when he asked her to try out for the national team. “I was hesitant as it was only my second year of paddling and had just switched paddling side.”, she said. Alice trained hard for it and she got a call from Coach Bob McNamara congratulating her for making it to Team USA. Alice recalled: “That was the longest two weeks ever but indeed worth the wait and all the hard work paid off. I’ve been trying out for every World Championship since.”

Knowledge Transfer

On her 8th year of paddling, with multiple IDBF World Nations medals on her neck, Alice left Catch22 Dragon Boat NYC to venture on giving back to the (dragon boat) community. “After five years, I left Catch22 at the end of 2015 to pursue something entirely different.”, she said. “Catch22 will always be my legacy. I was there from the beginning and watched the team grow but at that point I felt like I needed to do something for the community and that was to transfer my skills to the next generation and develop new strong paddlers.”

Dragon Boat World Athlete Alice Tran
Dragon Boat World Athlete Alice Tran

Juniors Program @ DCH Racing

DCH Racing New York has a very large juniors program and when Alice had gotten to know DCH, she instantly knew that this was the team she needed to be part of. “They welcomed me with open arms and I have found my new family, too.” she remarked. “I’m looking forward to learning from my new DCH Coach, Randy Ng.”

Life outside of Dragon Boat

Trying out for the National Team also introduced Alice to outrigger canoeing; so when she’s not on a dragon boat she’d be out in the water with her OC1. She loves travelling and so her being in the National Team has fulfilled that–compete and explore. “My favourite part of travelling is exploring other cultures. I try to look for things that locals do.” she said. “I love being outdoors. This is why I love paddling so much. It gives me the opportunity to travel to the most remote locations. I’ve never even heard of Hódmezővásárhely, Hungary until I went to race there. I still can’t pronounce it.”

Dragon Boat World Athlete Alice Tran


Q: In the span of your dragon boating career, was there a time when you had to take a sabbatical leave either from studies or work for the purpose of becoming a full-time athlete?

A: Unfortunately, paddling is a very expensive hobby/sport. In order for me to be the athlete that I am, I need to work. I have a full-time job as an IT project manager. I have to time manage really well in order to train hard. You’ll find me at the gym during lunch time and out on the water after work.

Q: Aside from the training techniques and knowledge you gained from your coaches, do you develop your own personal strategies and resources in keeping up with your teammates in the National Team? 

A: To be honest, Facebook is the best way to keep up with my teammates on the National Team. We are scattered all over the country and have our own lives. We do have things that we rag on each other about. In Welland, Canada, we were driving back to the hotel and we saw a chicken cross the road. I screamed out, “OMG, there really is a chicken crossing the road!” Now, you’ll see chickens plastered all over my page. We do randomly text each other to see how we are all doing and if we will be trying out again. We post our paddling sessions and workouts to motivate and encourage each other.

Dragon Boat World Athlete Alice Tran
Dragon Boat World Athlete Alice Tran

Q: Speaking of National Team, when the race/training season is off, do you ladies hold a fun-forget-the-training-let’s-party-party? We’re curious to know how the Team USA Women’s crew party?

A: We talked about a reunion at some point but because we all have busy lives it’s really difficult to organise. When we are together there’s a lot of jokes, laughs, and dancing!

Q: How do you obtain satisfaction in the sport in terms of the Coach’s leadership and your personal athletic performance?

A: A trusted relationship between a paddler and coach will make me a better paddler. Being a better paddler and being able to achieve your goals is the ultimate satisfaction. Honestly though, the people that surround me on each team I’ve been on and all the friends I have met around the world is the kind of satisfaction I have obtained in the sport. Nothing can replace that.

Dragon Boat World Athlete Alice Tran
Dragon Boat World Athlete Alice Tran

Q: Having competed in several World Championships, at what point can you say that you have reached everything in your dragon boating life?

A: I already have two gold medals from World Championships. I think that’s every paddler’s dream. I’m definitely satisfied but there’s always a part of you that itches for more. If you’re young and still able, just keep doing it, right? The fact that I’m working with juniors now, it is opening a new chapter in dragon boating for me. So have I really reached everything? Or is it just the beginning?

Photo Credits: Fernando Huh, Ed Nguyen Photography, WIFC

 
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Dragon Boat World Athlete: Pursuing A World Championship Dream – How Important is Social Support for Athletes?

This Q&A was with Dragon Boat World Athlete, Tek Li, National Athlete – Team USA.

Dragon Boat World Athlete Tek Li

DRAGON BOAT WORLD ATHLETE PROFILE

NAME: Terence Li
BIRTHPLACE: San Francisco, California, USA
AGE: 25yo
TRAINING COMMITMENT: Full-time
POSITION: Paddler
PADDLING SIDE: Both, but prefer Right side
HEIGHT: 175cm
WEIGHT: 72kg
STATUS: Never married

MEDAL RECORD:
IDBF World Dragon Boat Racing Championships – SilverU23, 2011, Tampa
IDBF World Dragon Boat Racing Championships – SilverU24, 2015, Welland


Dragon Boat World Athlete, Tek Li, is the eldest of three. His parents both immigrated to the United States from southern China. He is fluent in Cantonese and Mandarin. “I’m kind of a neat freak except when work gets busy”, he shared with us.

Tek started to paddle when he was in his second year of high school in 2005. Standing tall at 5’2” (157cm) and weighing 110lbs (50kg), he joined the Mission High School Dragon Boat Team. Since that time, he’s been paddling and likewise honing his leadership and technical skills in the sport. While he progressed as an experienced paddler he also gained the respect of his peers.

Already on his second year as Membership Director at California Dragon Boat Association (CDBA), a role which requires a substantial amount of time and dedication, he’s become more confident and accomplished in carrying out the task. The CDBA has over 1,000 members and is under the Pacific Dragon Boat Association of the West Coast (PDBA USA).

As a seasoned paddler, he was able to help reboot Stanford University’s Dragon Boat Team and then he eventually landed himself a place on his current team, the San Francisco Dragon Warriors. To date, it’s been 11 fun years of dragon boating for him.

Dragon Boat World Athlete Tek Li


Q: Hi Tek, first of all, thank you for providing us with this interview. It’s really a pleasure to be interviewing you. How did you feel at first, when we approached you for this feature?

A: Thanks for the opportunity. I was really surprised that you asked me, I feel like a celebrity. I Just shope that what I’ll share can be inspiring, thought-provoking, or just simply entertaining for your readers.

Q: We want to know how does it ‘really’ feel like to be paddling for one’s country?

A: To me, representing the country is a big deal. Honestly, it’s really scary because I never feel like I’m good enough. When I’m out there during the competition, I suppress that voice of doubt, keeping calm nerves and trying to perform my best. There’s just a lot of pressure.

Q: When your team lands a World Championships podium finish and you’re standing there, elated and victorious with your team mates, what goes on in your head?

A: It’s really a tearjerking moment, to see the training that we’ve put in turn into something. The fact that dragon boating is a team sport makes it all the more special. I am just one piece of the puzzle, but together we did it. When I’m up there, I’m grateful for my teammates for all the team efforts.

Dragon Boat World Athlete Tek Li

Q: Let us move along to something less emotional. 🙂 We understand that trainings, especially in preparation for Worlds, take months and months to prepare and are extremely physically demanding, how do you condition yourself to achieving that long-range goal?

A: It takes a huge amount of dedication, work, and determination to get to and maintain an elite level of fitness. In order to condition myself, I really need someone else to push me. I stay active and train with a home team to get pushed. As disciplined as I want to believe that I am, having a coach and teammates pushing alongside me get me the best results. In addition to being physically fit, there’s a huge mental aspect to conditioning, too. I look for coaches and teammates who would (within reason) challenge me to my limit, to get me to want to fail, and to transcend that mental barrier.

Q: In your USA National Team journey, was there a time where you failed to make it to an international race that you really wanted to be a part of?

A: I wish I could have participated in the IDBF World Dragon Boat Championships 2013 in Hungary. I had travel conflicts and the education program I was in occupied a significant amount of time. Hence, I have not dedicated enough time for training.

Q: How did you cope with the disappointment?

A: I was disappointed. I knew that I didn’t have enough time so I reassessed the amount of time I had. There wasn’t a realistic way for me to happily and sanely complete my education program and train to the elite level. I just told myself that someone equally capable and strong will hopefully earn that spot.

Dragon Boat World Athlete Tek Li

Q: Once the training and preparation starts, how do you manage your time between trainings and your social life? Do you still have one? 🙂

A: Eh. Yes and no. Once training starts, I can’t go out partying every weekend. I spend a lot more time on the water and in the gym instead of out and about. Balance is important though. I’ve been able to coincide rest days with hanging out with friends. I’ve also tried to build in more time to spend with my parents. Also, practices with Dragon Warriors… that’s my social life!

Q: In your opinion, how important is social support for an athlete? For that matter, who are your best supporters?

A: Social support is critical for an athlete. I want people to be proud of me and to be proud of the effort I put forth. I compete because I enjoy training hard, but I wouldn’t be able to get to the world stage if not for my family who instilled the work ethic in me. I would not have made it if my coaches and teammates were not there to push me. My best supporters are my mentors and friends. They share my journey and my ambitions louder and farther than I would ever be able to.

Dragon Boat World Athlete Tek Li

Q: At what point can you say that you have reached everything in dragon boating?

A: Once dragon boating is in the Olympics and I can participate in it, I would have reached everything in dragon boating.

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

A: I really admire Eric Guerrero, a freestyle wrestler. I met him when I went to an Oklahoma State University wrestling camp during the same year that I joined dragon boat. He is a hard worker, disciplined, humble, and approachable. He reached an elite level, but then also gave back to the community as a coach.


Photos by Scott M, Debbie S, Shoulong L, Anthony Gallaccio
 
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