By Michilea Patterson, The Mercury
POTTSTOWN >> Pottstown is becoming the regional destination for dragon boat training due to a local fitness organization and its conditioning opportunities.
Dragon boating is a team paddling sport that originated in China. During the wintertime when the water is too cold to paddle on, teams will take their training indoors with rowing machines also known as ergs. Erg is short for ergometer, a device that measures energy or work. The Pottstown Athletic Club recently opened an indoor paddling erg room which has 10 rowing machines with paddle attachments. The room is available for dragon boat teams throughout the area to use as part of their training.
“This is tremendous,” said Bob Mina, president of the Philadelphia Dragon Boat Association, after just completing a team practice in the erg room for the first time.
Mina said members of the team didn’t get a lot of opportunity to use a paddling erg room before Pottstown opened one. Once a year, the members would visit New York City for an indoor erg regatta and that would be all.
“So having a room like this where we can do this every weekend is an absolute gift,” he said.
Mina said there really isn’t much of a substitute for an indoor paddling machine when it comes to wintertime dragon boat training. He said the erg room will really help the team get ready until they can start practicing on the water in the spring. He said it’s the best tool available for the winter short of building an indoor paddling pool. Mina explained that there used to be such a pool in Bryn Mawr but it was closed when the gym came under new ownership.
Rob Matthews, owner of the Pottstown Athletic Club and local CrossFit, said there are plans in place to bring an indoor paddling pool to the borough. He’s currently working on getting funding and gaining supporters for the project.
“Between the CrossFit facility, the paddle pool and the erg room; we’d like to make this the regional dragon boat center.”
While the paddle pool is still in the fundraising stage, the erg room was completed with funding help from the Pottstown Area Health and Wellness Foundation. Matthews said after Pottstown got involved with the dragon boat competitive scene, he saw that it was also necessary to have an indoor practice room. He said the indoor paddling erg room was made possible through efforts of the foundation as well as the Philadelphia Dragon Boat Association, Tango Media Management and the Pottstown Athletic Club.
Matthews said the room is great for “team cohesion” and that the rowing machines are connected to software that allows teams to track their pace on a monitor. He said the software is even compatible with smartphones so teams can download the results to view later.
Ken Wong, chairman of the Philadelphia Dragon Boat Association, said the team is using both the erg room and the CrossFit facility to prepare for this year’s upcoming competitions. The association will have their own Independence Dragon Boat Regatta in June where they expect 100 teams to compete.
“Rob Matthews of the CrossFit Pottstown gym has been kind enough to partner with us and allow us to come and train here under his guidance and his coaching,” Wong said.
Before members of the Philadelphia team headed to the paddling erg room, they had a strength and conditioning workout at CrossFit. Wong said this year’s dragon boat world championships will be in China so they are doing all they can to prepare athletes.
“In China, the best competition in the world will be there and we really have to come with our A game,” he said.
Mina said the CrossFit training in Pottstown will definitely help the team prepare for the competitive season. He said the body is what paddles the boat which is why it’s import to do strength conditioning. He said CrossFit exercises will help the team become stronger paddlers.
“This right here is like a winter weapon. This is how you get ready to hit the water hard in the spring,” Mina said.
Andrea Hill, a member of Pottstown’s all-women dragon boat team, started practicing with the Philadelphia association this year. Pottstown teams and the Philadelphia association often partner with one another to train athletes.
“The camaraderie is really awesome,” Hill said speaking of the Philadelphia team.
She said everyone encourages each other but at the same time there’s a really competitive atmosphere. Hill said it’s fantastic that a well-known team such as the Philadelphia association is using Pottstown as part of their training. She said Pottstown is a small town so it’s great that it can partner with prestigious teams in the area.
“All these people have gone to world championships, the Olympics and things like that so the fact that Pottstown can draw in these teams and these paddlers is really great for the town. It’s good exposure,” Hill said.
Colleen McNamara is the coach for the Philadelphia Dragon Boat Association’s all-women team and has won several medals at world championships. She said Pottstown really helps to fill a void in the wintertime when dragon boat teams can’t practice on the water.
“It’s a great resource. Not everyone has access to a paddling erg,” McNamara said.
Katie Peck, a member of the Philadelphia association, has been to four world championships. She started dragon boating about 10 years ago and joined the Philadelphia Dragon Boat Association youth team at age 14.
She was born in China then was adopted and came to the United States. Peck said she started paddling because of her roots in China.
“It was kind of a way for me to connect with my culture a little bit,” she said.
Peck is very excited about the possibility of being able to compete in a China world dragon boat championship for the first time. She said the Pottstown paddling erg room will help her train for the goal and that it’s the only place of its kind in the surrounding area.
The Pottstown erg room is available for dragon boat teams to reserve on an hourly basis. Teams can also get customized strength training through the CrossFit facility. For pricing information, contact Rob Matthews at 484-302-6188 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.