With dragon boat racing's premier event coming to Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota July 18-24, the world will be watching.
But what has been happening in the days leading up to the 2022 International Dragon Boat Federation Club Crew World Championships when no one was watching?
"We have been putting in blood, sweat and tears," said Lakewood Ranch's Carol Tucker, who paddles for NBP's Survivors in Sync. "We prep each morning, taking Advil and putting Icy-Hot on our joints and Band-Aids on our blisters. We are out here Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. We are doing Cross-Fit. We are doing stretches.
"We are doing everything we can to be the best we can at worlds. People should come out and watch us. We would love to have that support."
Tucker knows what it takes.
She competed with Survivors In Sync at the 2018 International Breast Cancer Paddlers' Commission Dragon Boat Festival in Florence, Italy, a close analogue to the Club Crew World Championships but only for breast cancer survivor teams. Tucker said she felt on top of the world while at the event — the memories still send chills through her body, she said — but she also remembers being overwhelmed by all the competition.
Survivors In Sync finished fourth out of 125 teams in Florence and Tucker wants a higher finish this time, now that the world is coming to Sarasota.
This will be the 13th iteration of the biennial world championships, but the first since 2018. There was no event in 2020 out of COVID-19 concerns. This will also be the first time the championships, which were held for the first time in 1996, will be held in North America.
The Sarasota-Bradenton area will be represented by three clubs — the NBP Dragons community team, the Survivors in Sync breast cancer survivors team and the NBP Warriors all-cancer survivors team.
The three teams received a taste of high-level competition during October's 2021 IBDF Club Crew Nationals, also held at the park. Survivors in Sync won its division while the NBP Dragons finished second. The NBP Warriors were the only all-cancer team to compete at nationals.
Lakewood Ranch's Dan Ewing started his dragon boat journey a year ago with the NBP Dragons without any knowledge of the sport. Ewing said he comes from a triathlon background, and when looking for triathlons in the area, friends began telling him to try dragon boat racing instead.
"They said, 'Look, this is a completely unique, completely different thing,'" Ewing said. "If you're not in sync with every other person on the boat, you're never going to get the sport. It's also a ton of upper body work. That all intrigued me. They told me I would either get 'bitten by the dragon' or I would not, and after my first practice, I was bitten. But it is even harder than it looks."
It's true that dragon boat competitions come down to team chemistry, but paddlers at Nathan Benderson Park do as much individual practicing in outrigger canoes as they do in the dragon boats themselves in order to build everyone's upper-body strength. The mix of individual work and team work appeals to Ewing, who has put his all into his training. It is a sport that serves the mind, the body and the spirit, Ewing said. While still relatively new to the sport, Ewing said he is excited to witness the world's elite paddlers take the water and see how he measures up to them.
Lakewood Ranch's Cherie Landriau is not new to dragon boat racing. She joined the NBP paddling program six years ago, and for five years she has held a specific dream in her head. Landriau, who paddles with the NBP Dragons, said she stood at the park's Finish Tower at the 2017 Southeastern Regional Dragon Boat Association Championships and watched as various clubs qualified for the 2017 Nationals in Mercer Lake, New Jersey. Some of those paddlers would go on to complete at the 2018 Club Crew Worlds in Szeged, Hungary. Landraiu said she made a promise to herself watching those paddlers that she would qualify for Worlds herself one day.
Five years later, her dream is about to come true.
"Competing in this event means a lot to me," Landriau said. "I am finally reaching my goal after lots of training camps and lots of fun times with my teammates. It is amazing how this team has grown and become like my family."
Admission to the event is free for spectators. The event is also looking for volunteers. Interested parties can visit 2022ccwc.com for more information.
Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.