THERE ARE FAR more glamorous and popular sports in Ireland than women’s Dragon Boat racing, nonetheless, there seems to be a sense of dignity about its participants that isn’t always evident in the behaviour of some more high-profile athletes.
Dragon Boating racing requires immense application, self-sacrifice, persistence and mental strength, while all this endeavour is rarely rewarded handsomely. The sport is often compared to rowing, though there are plenty of differences, including the fact that there are more people in the boat (22 to be exact), two rows of athletes instead of one and a different type of oar that is used.
Emily Smith has been involved in the sport for several years now, both on the administrative side (she is the manager of the Irish national team) and at a competitive level. Her current role as manager does not prevent the Carlow-based athlete from trying out for a spot on the team, nor does it give her any advantages in the “ruthless” paddle machine tests that athletes must undertake to earn a place on the boat for events such as the upcoming European Championships.
And though there is plenty of pain involved and little glory for the most part, it remains an exciting time for Dragon Boat racing. According to the Irish Dragon Boat Association (IDBA), it is the fastest growing team sport in the world, with over 50 million paddlers worldwide, roughly 1,500 of whom compete in Ireland.
Despite its popularity, Dragon Boat racing in its modern format is relatively new. The first-ever World Championships was as recently as 1995, while the IDBA was formed 10 years later before being formally launched in 2010. […]