By: Jean Johnson for Back 1
As Chinese people have known for 2,000 years, helping row a 1,760 pound wooden dragon boat is no small feat. But what began as a rain ceremony on southern China’s river banks has changed over the centuries. Today teams of dragon boat enthusiasts from around the globe regularly get together to match their prowess against one another. It’s like crew racing except the craft is no where near as fleet – and considerably more colorful as Portland, Ore., residents who are treated to annual dragon boat races know.
|Set Yourself up to Succeed|
If you’re shy of a sport and want to cultivate your skills for one, think in terms of what you could do as you are in your current condition.
Whether you identify bicycling, swimming, tennis, hiking, skiing, boating or gardening, being able to get started can provide the motivation necessary to take up a formal fitness program.
Know that in addition to adding years to life, maintaining sound physical fitness makes the quality of life soar. “There’s no question about it,” said Dan Duvall, fitness trainer in Portland, Ore. “People get a whole lot happier when they shape up.”
It was in 1988 that Portlanders and their sister city in China, Kaohsiung, selected dragon boat racing as their annual cultural event. Now each June during Portland’s Rose Festival celebration, dragon boat teams compete in the elaborately carved, brilliantly painted boats beset with huge, formidable dragon head prows complete with fiercely barred, shining teeth and wild, bulging eyes.
The heavy dragon boats are well suited to Portland’s choppy Willamette River, and members of Portland’s fit community are naturals at the oars. The Pacific Rim event is an especially successful one that this past year drew 100 local, national and international teams.
Keeping the Back Fit for the Sport
It’s a mature crowd that tends to row. The catch, of course, is staying fit enough to do the heaving work. Dragon boat racing takes a strong back able to stand all the twisting and torque rowing entails, so at the age of 61, a Portland woman who has been racing for several years decided that if she didn’t want to injure her body, she’d better mosey on over to the nearest fitness club.
Enter Dan Duvall, fitness and martial arts trainer at Nelson’s Nautilus who’s been in the business since 1979 and has a fourth degree black belt in jujitsu.
“When we started working with our dragon boat racer, we approached her training much like we do with all our clients,” said Duvall, a gentle giant of a man who pads around the workout mats in sparkling white gym shoes, eyes shaded under a khaki baseball hat.
“When people go into the gym, they identify what they want to accomplish. That way they can start setting smaller goals they can meet along the way to achieving their final result. Without that it’s easy to get scattered and not focused on your training.”
Duvall explains that in the case of the dragon boat racer, he designed a series of workouts that mimicked the motions she puts her body through when she is at the oars out on the river.
“We started her on the seated rowing machine where she could practice her goal of rowing 1,500 meters in 4 minutes and 20 seconds. That’s aerobic training that she does on her own.
“Then we put her through some core strength exercises to strengthen her abs and lower back,” said Duvall, noting that core strength work is central to all his clients’ programs. “Finally using various attachments in the weight room, we came up with exercises to strengthen her back muscles. Lower back and upper – especially her lats since they do a lot of the work.”
Duvall steps up to one machine and attaches a stout piece of blue rope. Trunk rotation is also important in rowing, he observes, thus, he uses what he calls the wood chopper.
Holding the rope and getting into stance similar to what a person might use swinging an axe he pulls on the rope and swings his arms across his body. “That motion develops good trunk rotation which is one thing she needs when she’s rowing. The body takes a lot of torque in that sport.”
Sport. Ah yes. That’s why our dragon boat racer goes through all of this. She has a goal.
Yes, indeed, says Duvall.
“Basically what we did for her was identify her goal. We have a chart where we mark down the exercises that she does. Keeping a running track record enables her to see her progress,” said Duvall. “The lesson to learn from this is that she didn’t come in expecting miracles. She came in with one goal in mind. Something she was passionate about. No one had to convince her.”
As a result, Duvall says, our heroine took it slow and stayed committed to her workout. In fact, the reason we can’t interview her for this article is because she’s off on a two-week kayaking trip. Not a bad payoff for taking care of one’s back – a vacation on a pristine river where foaming rapids provide challenge during the day and iridescent evening light is nothing short of sublime.