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Millions have seen dragons and phoenixes
THEIR sport might not feature in this summer’s Olympics, but the Pershore Phoenix dragonboat team has already attracted its fair share of worldwide attention.
Merged from the Pershore Fallen Angels and Severn Warriors, the 30-strong team has paddled the lagoons of Venice and taken part in the Jubilee Thames Flotilla.
They even caught the eye of London Mayor Boris Johnson, who insisted on clambering into their boat for a television interview.
As well as raising the profile of their little-known sport, the team has enjoyed incredible success in competition. In 2008 – their first season – they finished in the top six in the National Standard League.
Pershore Phoenix captain Andy Forrest said the secret to their success was down to the team ‘gelling’ so well together – along with some fresh ideas passed on by their old captain. “The captain before me, Geoff Munson, came in with some exciting changes,” he said.
“It started off as being very social but we wanted to raise the bar – while still having a good time. My son Jamie was the first paddler from the team to be picked for GB under-18s. A lot more people have been taking it seriously.
It raised the profile of the club – to get into the GB team from the second division is very good.”
Originating in China, dragonboat racing was first and foremost a ceremonial and religious ritual.
However, in the 1970s dragonboat racing began to evolve into a team paddling sport that has grown in popularity as it has spread across the world.
It first became popular in Britain in 1980 when a competitive race featured in at the London Chinese Festival on the Thames.
Since then, the British Dragon Boat Racing Association formed to organise competitive racing throughout the country.
For competitive races, boats are ‘dressed’ with a dragon head at the front along with a tail and a drummer making it a colourful and noisy experience.
Andy, coach Dave Cole and club secretary Jonathan Small have all been selected for the GB squad in the European Championships in Nottingham. “It’s a great thrill for us. We’re all really pleased,” said Andy.
“Now we’re getting more people in the team who are taking it seriously and getting fit. New members are joining all the time.”
Team member Pete Rayner said he had lost more than a stone since he joined in September last year.
“It was just off the back of training,” he said. “It’s so entertaining it made me want to take up the sport.”
Pauline Young, aged 59, said: “I went to a ‘have a go’ day. I got in the boat and I’ve loved it ever since. Now I’m a lot fitter and enjoy it. I love the racing. It’s just been fab.”
It has been an exciting year so far for Pershore Pheonix – taking part in the Thames Jubilee pageant this month was a once-in-a-lifetime event – especially when Boris Johnson got in their boat.
Andy said: “We were the first boat the finish the pageant out of the whole lot which was incredible. It was one of those moments to remember forever.”
Some of the team also ventured further afield when they took part in a dragonboat festival in Venice.
Seven members joined up with a team from London to take part – along with more than 1,500 other boats – in the Vogalonga Regatta which saw them bring home a bronze medal.
But as well as taking part in national events they still like to be part of things happening closer to home – such as the Evesham River Festival which is taking place on the weekend of July 6-8.
Andy said: “We are first and foremost a community team and have been well supported in Pershore. We want to put something back into the community.”
The team is holding a charity race on Sunday, September 16, to raise money for Acorns Hospice and is looking for teams of 14-18 people to take part.
The team meets at Pershore Town FC on Wednesdays at 6.30pm and Sundays at 10am.
For more information call Andy on 01905 455448 or visit dragonboating.org.uk.