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Paddlers ready to take on the world

Jesse Rice (paddling in the front of boat) qualified for the Canadian National outrigger team in the open men’s category and will be competing in a six-man category in Australia next month. (Courtesy Jesse Rice)

A half-dozen Kahnawa’kehró:non are making literal waves, with their paddles booking places on teams that will be competing for international glory.

Robert Deom, Suzanne Leutheusser, Lynn Rice, Leslie Walker-Rice, and Suzy Goodleaf paddled with the team from the 22Dragons boat club last week, and returned home with two gold medals from the Canadian National Dragon Boat Championships in Regina, Saskatchewan on Wascana Lake.

“We’ve been training for that since last year,” said Deom. 

Goodleaf paddled on four teams.

“All the hard work really paid off and now we have to start working even harder to get ready to compete at the world level,” said Goodleaf.

Deom, Goodleaf, and Leutheusser won a gold medal in the Sr. B mixed division, and the team won gold in the overall performance. 

All of the 22Dragons boat club teams qualified to compete in the next international competition in France 2020. 

This isn’t the first time the 22Dragons earned a gold medal. 

Every two years, the entire crew of 22Dragons competes at the Club Crew Championship. 

“Our club won the Club Crew Championships last year in Szeged, Hungary,” said Walker-Rice. “We won the most points of every club in the world – we got the gold medal to show for it.”

Walker-Rice has been competing internationally for 10 years. 

“I started paddling at Onake, here in Kahnawake,” she said. 

She has also competed in China and Italy. 

Though the sport can take paddlers around the world, trips do not come without hard work.

“Paddling can be really strenuous. People do get injured. They get shoulder injuries, back injuries, plus it’s a huge time commitment,” said Walker-Rice. 

“The commitment of going into the next level was a crazy amount of training,” said Goodleaf.

The team trains a minimum of four hours on the water per week. 

“It’s a big time commitment at the competitive level,” said Deom. “At the community level it’s for fun. But the five of us, we’re all in the competitive level.” 

Robert won two gold medals last week and all five athletes are going to France to compete against the world.

“It’s a lot of pride in my teammates and in our coaches,” said Deom. “It’s an amazing feeling when you go through that whole race and everybody has done everything they were supposed to do. You are throwing everything you have into that race.”

The 22Dragons boat club competed in the Canadian National Dragon Boat Championships last week, and qualified to compete in the world championships in France in 2020. (Courtesy Robert Deom)

Currently, the 22Dragons’ boat club is recruiting members to join its crews. 

Suzy Goodleaf will be competing in a dragon boat world championship race in Thailand in August as well. 

In another boat on another continent, Jesse Kahonwakenra Rice will represent Kahnawake on the Canadian National outrigger team in the open men’s category in Mooloolaba, Australia August 7. 

“Just doing what I love,” said Rice, who also competes at an elite level on a standup paddleboard. “It’s hard work because I work a lot. I’m an ironworker and trying to find time after or before work is pretty crazy… I’m totally humbled by making it to the Canadian National Team. I put a lot of hard work in it.”

Rice has a young family and a full-time job, but still manages to find time to compete in international competitions. The sport of kayaking and canoeing has been a part of his life since he was three years old. 

“It comes from the family,” said the son of Onake founding member Sharon Rice and national team coach Mark “Nipper” Granger.

His passion comes with sacrifices.

The sport is expensive and the intensive training causes Rice to miss out on work a lot. 

“It’s pretty rough without sponsors,” he said. 

Rice hopes in the future to find sponsors and support for his paddling, as he continues to work the high steel in New York and get on the water whenever he can.

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