Canberra’s Dragons survive the croc-infested Ord

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Dianne from Dragons Abreast (Canberra’s breast cancer surviving dragon boat team) has sent in a report of their epic Ord River Marathon dragon boat run.

THE Ord what can I say, been there, done that, got the t-shirt and the beer coaster-does not really do justice to the whole experience, because from when we started training, until now has been quite a journey. This all started last year when I received the information from Patsy about the Ord. Around the same time we completed our first 2km race and when I asked for expressions of interest, to do 27.5 times that distance down rapids and through crocodile infested waters, I nearly fell off my chair when I received so many replies and they were all positive.

Between Deb and Narelle a training plan was devised and can I say in hindsight it was a damn good one, because all of those that started ,finished and there were no injuries except for blisters. We started doing endurance paddles on Tuesday mornings; we paddled without stopping and practicing at the same time to swap sides while the boat was in motion. Tricky at times especially when the person in front of you lands on your lap(on several occasions). We built up to the 55km by doing practice marathons of various lengths, and finally the full monty, 55kms.

We became experts in hydration, nutrition, the prevention of heat stroke and blister management.

We learnt that it is best to apply bandaids on sensitive areas before you paddle, that bucket hats make good buckets when you want to pour water over your head, and that Deb has no concept of the quickest way between two points is a straight line. I have never zigzagged so much in my life.

So we were prepared for the Ord- and by this time last week we had all arrived in Kununurra and were acclimatising ourselves to the conditions-hot. Some travelled by 4 wheel drive to get there, others flew in and still others did the greyhound bus route which was an interesting journey from Darwin to Kununurra, 800+ km and 12 hours but we were never bored.

Kununurra has a beautiful setting on the Ord River, with amazing rock formations. We started the day of the Marathon at 4.45am and were driven to the wall of the dam where they fed us breakfast and then they took us to the boats where we would start the event-it is not a race. We set out at 8am to do the first leg of 21kms., there were 6 other boats, I think we were the only all female crew, other crews were from Dubbo, Victoria, Coffs Harbour, Sydney, Wagga, Adelaide, and there were composite teams made up of paddlers from everywhere. There was also the green team, as we called them, the Ord River Dragons. Just to fill you in on these people, who are led by Bruce (who is so laid back he is nearly horizontal), and who ran a truly exceptional event with great humour. They paddle 25 kms. every Saturday morning, I would really like to see them paddle in the nationals. The idea was that they would lead the way and we would all follow them in single file.

The first leg was 21 kms. and with the help of the fast flowing current and the mini rapids, it was the easiest leg of the event. In fact when they told us to stop and to come in, we argued because we wanted to finish the 21kms. We didn’t really believe we had gone that far already-we were so fast.

They fed us really tasty sandwiches, muffins, fruit and juice and provided the toilets(it was one of our concerns before the event). Now this may not seem so remarkable but there is no way to get to this stop except by water, there is no road in or out and they had set up tables and shade for us.

The next leg was 11kms. and even though we were seeing some wildlife- dingoes, pelicans and wallabies, there was no sign of the ominous black snout of the crocodile and I did look really hard.

I was disappointed by this until I found out about the poor man in Kakadu who was taken out of a boat by a crocodile and thought not seeing a crocodile was not so bad.

We decided on this leg that we would be musical and we sang our way through our repertoire of songs, Beatles, Television show theme songs and even got involved with doing some rounds like row, row your boat etc.(or in our case paddle) Every so often we were visited by a boat who supplied us with water. The scenery was amazing and I imagine a geologist would have been in seventh heaven. Once again we had a break, another spot with no way to get there except by boat. I must acknowledge our support crew here who travelled on the Triple J boat, it was difficult getting in and out of the boats because there was no sandy beach to pull them up on. With the help of Mark, Edmund, Xing and Peter, we managed the transfer safely. Robyn was a great support on the shore.

The next leg was 15km and has been universally voted as the hardest leg of the whole marathon. By this time the river had widened and the current was not playing any part in our forward progress, the wind was blowing and we were paddling into it. We had exhausted our supply of songs, even though we did join in and sang a duo with another boat that joined us for awhile. At this point I was really glad for all the training, as we just kept on paddling and made it to lunch.

Then we started the last leg-8 kms. with the help of a sugar hit from the lolly bag, we became energised. We could see some of the other crews who by this time had only 4 people paddling.

Now we come to the part “of this is not a race”. At a certain point, when I had just been told by our sweep, who tells termilogical inexactitudes- i.e she lies – that we had 30 minutes to go, we noticed that the green team had stopped and they were waiting for all the boats, we all lined up, a photo of the whole group was taken and then we all paddled together in one straight line to the shore.

So we have done the Ord River marathon, it was an amazing experience with a fantastic group of women. We had great fun, and we have all become experts on how to prevent blisters. For me the enormity of what we achieved has only just hit.

Great work ladies it was a pleasure and joyfully painful to paddle with you all.

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