October 2017 | By Mary Dempsey
This October, Alexandria resident Jane Crawford will be competing in the World Nations Dragon Boat Championships in Kunming, China. Crawford will be paddling with two different teams for her Senior B (50 plus) age division, an all-women’s team and a mixed team. This will be Crawford’s second time competing in the championships, having attended the 2015 event in Welland, Canada.
Although Crawford has always loved water sports, she found her passion for competitive dragon boat racing as an adult after a period of relative inactivity due to the demands of running her own business.
“I was desperately looking for an outlet to give me a bit more balance in my life,” Crawford said. “I was consumed by running a business I had started.”
Crawford, a two-time breast cancer survivor, first found out about the sport through a friend who was part of GoPink!DC, a Washington-area dragon boat team for women who have either survived breast cancer or are currently undergoing treatment.
“I loved the fact that it was an activity on the water and that I had an immediate connection with this group of women,” Crawford said.
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“She trains for a boat so she needs all-around strength. We hit muscles in all different ways that you wouldn’t be able to in a weight room. I have seen her progress. She’s gotten stronger.” - Evie Gonzalez | Sport&Health Trainer
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GoPink!DC founder Annette Rothermel sees dragon boat racing as a way to provide community support and empowerment to women who have dealt with breast cancer.
“It’s not a passive thing,” Rothermel said. “It’s something positive that you can do for yourself.
We often say we leave the survivor on the dock, and bring the athlete on the boat. It’s a way to move beyond breast cancer.”
Crawford began her dragon boat journey for purely recreational purposes, but the casual pastime would soon launch her down the path towards elite athleticism.
“People talk about doing a couch to 5k program,” Crawford said. “For me it was from desk to elite paddling in a 10-year period. A few years into paddling with GoPink!DC, I started spending time with this other mixed team.”
While attending a competition with the mixed team, Crawford recalled meeting higher-level athletes and being inspired.
“One woman was a cancer survivor,” Crawford said. “She was undergoing chemo, but she was just amazing. I talked to another about what she was doing for her training. I said, ‘I want to be that one day.’ It became a goal of mine to up my game with my fitness.”
Thereafter, Crawford began to push herself in her training both on and out of the water. She began attending group fitness classes at the Sport & Health facility in Old Town to improve her land training.
“It was a couple of years ago that she took one of my classes,” said Evie Gonzalez, one of Crawford’s trainers at Sport & Health “I saw her and I thought, ‘she is a beast!’ She was strong and fit and was killing it.”
By taking Tabata and conditioning classes with Gonzalez, Crawford was able to improve upon her already strong athletic foundation.
“She trains for a boat so she needs all-around strength,” Gonzalez said. “We hit muscles in all different ways that you wouldn’t be able to in a weight room. I have seen her progress. She’s gotten stronger. She’s picking up heavier weights.”
Crawford’s coaches and teammates are unanimous in their remarks that what makes Jane an asset to the team is not only her individual athletic abilities, but also her ability to work collaboratively in a group both in and out of the water.
“As a team member she is highly committed,” Rothermel said. “She puts the team over her own needs and spends a lot of time on team needs like developing our website and maintaining the content there.”
Pat Barker, Crawford’s current Team USA coach, echoed those sentiments, remarking that Crawford’s commitment to improving her performance is only matched by her dedication to her team’s success.
“I’d use up all the positive words of a Thesaurus if I had to describe Jane, but the words ‘positive, driven and focused,’ are ones that come to the forefront,” Barker said. “Jane’s [has a] desire to strive for excellence both on and off the water. She’s been an integral part of our team’s fundraising and design e orts, helping to raise funds to get the team to China. That takes a lot of dedication and focus.”
Some of the challenges Crawford will face in Kunming this October include dealing with altitude changes and readjusting to the rhythm of her fellow Team USA paddlers.
“The China site is at an elevation of 6,000 feet,” Crawford said. “Acclimating to the high altitude over just four days prior to the race competition will pose a challenge for all athletes who have trained at sea level [. . .] One of my personal challenges is to snap in and adapt to the stroke of the boat I am racing in. Easier said than done! For me it takes tremendous mental focus to direct the specific muscle memory needed for any particular boat.”
As a second-time Team USA athlete, Jane feels that she has the confidence and the experience to help her team win gold and is hoping to arrive in Kunming at her “peak performance, injury free.”
“I’m looking at [the competition] differently,” Crawford said. “I have a lot more confidence in myself. I’m able to relax a bit more and enjoy being part of this great [team].”
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