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Grandragons' History

FCCC Seniors Dragon Boat program

In the summer of 1997, a few seniors at the False Creek Community Center (FCCC) were playing bingo inside, when a young dragon boat paddler teased them, suggesting they should be outside exercising in the rain instead. Betty MacDonald, whose husband and daughter were on dragon boat teams, heard about the taunt and approached FCCC officials about running a dragon boat class for seniors. It was agreed to try it with the co-operation of the False Creek Racing Canoe Club (FCRCC) providing a boat and a coach; the FCCC Seniors Dragon Boat program was off and running.

Classes were small at first and Betty put a lot of energy into recruiting and keeping the program going, calling on everyone she knew. Her husband, Ron MacDonald, volunteered as a steersperson, eventually becoming a coach. The seniors’ Dragon Boat classes at FCCC remain a popular class to this day.

False Creek Grandragons Seniors Dragon Boat Racing Team

Early in 1998, paddlers in the FCCC program formalized their group, meeting to select a Team Captain (Betty) and a name “Grandragons”, proposed by Peggy Cameron, was accepted as the perfect name as all the members then were grandparents.

Their coach, Melanie Whittal, encouraged the Grandragons to enter a race at the Alcan Dragon Boat festival in June. The goal was to appear in the festival and paddle the whole 650 yards of the race course. They practiced one day a week in preparation for their public appearance as the first Canadian Mixed Seniors Dragon Boat race team.

Festival organizers were excited at having the new “seniors” team participate in a demonstration race. The Grandragons were one of the first specialty teams to race at the festival and were asked to be part of the opening ceremony that year. An American team from San Francisco also took part in the opening ceremonies and afterwards invited the Grandragons to participate in their Foster City Dragon Boat Festival in the fall.

There were twenty two people in the FCCC Grandragons group and neither Melanie nor Betty wanted to cut anyone from the race, so Melanie asked the race officials if all twenty two paddlers could participate. It was agreed, and the Grandragons were not only the first seniors team to paddle in the Alcan Dragon Boat festival, they were also the first, and probably last, team to paddle with more than twenty paddlers.

During the Alcan race, the announcer talked up the Grandragons and their participation in the Community Cup. At the finish, a race official following the team boats called over his loud speaker, "You guys did great! You were all paddling together, but, you will have to paddle much faster!” The Grandragons’ time was 4 minutes 20 seconds but the reception by the crowd of family and friends after the race was like the arrival of the Beatles. It was a euphoric event, as only a first occurrence can be.

To prepare for the festival in Foster City, the Grandragons took on an association with the FCRCC and began their existence as a formal racing team. Ron took over coaching in place of Melanie when she left to pursue other opportunities. The Grandragons were welcomed in San Francisco with open arms and treated like royalty all weekend. In their best race at Foster City, the team shaved one full minute from their race time, over the same distance as the Vancouver festival. An honorary Gold Medal was awarded to Betty at the Closing Ceremonies for bringing the first Canadian Seniors Dragon Boat team to participate at the Foster City festival.

On their return to Vancouver, the Grandragons met to decide whether to return to the FCCC or to continue with the FCRCC which meant looking for more competitive experiences. In the end it was decided to go forward as a racing club with the FCRCC while also supporting the FCCC to ensure continuation of the seniors Dragon Boat classes.

The Grandragons convinced the officials of the Alcan Dragon Boat Festival to have a Seniors Cup in the June 1999 Festival, provided there would be more participating teams. This happened just as the seniors at the Dogwood Community Center in Coquitlam were getting steamed up to form a team, encouraged by Betty and Kate Zubick from the FCRCC’s Women’s team. On June 20th 1999, the first Seniors Cup race was held at the Alcan Dragon Boat Festival on False Creek. Four teams participated, the Grandragons, Dogwood Nothin’ Dragon #1 and #2 plus the Silver Strokes from UBC. Dogwood Nothin’ Dragon #2 were the first winners of the Seniors Cup with a time of 2:43:13 and the Grandragons came in second place, just under two seconds behind.

Today, the Grandragons continue to attend approximately ten regattas/festivals per year, at local and away venues and have been successful in both seniors and open divisions. The team practices twice a week from February to November, encouraged by coaches whose mandate is to help each member paddle to the best of their ability.

Six members from the FCRCC Grandragons first year in 1998 still paddle with the team: Peggy Cameron, June Clary, Doug Gowe, Ron MacDonald, Theresa Mulhern and Alice Pury. Betty is involved and paddles with a specialty MS Team. A group of early Grandragons branched off to form the “Eh Team” and “Dogwood Nothin’ Dragon” continues to sport two teams. Ron is still coaching and teaching the FCCC Seniors’ Dragon Boat classes.

We can’t help getting older, but we don’t have to get old!

May 2011