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Vanessa Bowman, a North Reading resident, competed in her first dragon boating race in 2015. Less than two years later, the 47-year-old will be racing in the dragon boating World Championship in Kunming, China, this October. If you’ve never heard of dragon boating, it is, simply put, a boat of 20 paddlers, a drummer, and a steers person paddling to cross the finish faster than their competition. It’s a team sport in its purest form that encompasses the elements of power, speed, synchronization, and endurance (California Dragon Boat Association).

A London native, Bowman has been athletic all her life; rugby, netball, running, and sailing (while she was living in California) are all in her repertoire. She discovered dragon boating using, a social media site for events, to find a team event on the water, and uncovered a passion.


Photo by Rachel Belino


Bowman started training for the dragon boating championship at Fitness Within in Reading last November shortly after she moved to the North Shore. Fitness Within is described by Robin Krane, marketing director and co-owner of the gym, as a “personal training studio specializing in one-on-one training, small group training, and boot camps,” and by trainer Aaron Kaeble as “pretty dope.”

Studio director and owner Domenic Prisco explains how Fitness Within “creates a unique experience for everyone. Programs are designed daily by each of the trainers, so they’re not cookie-cutter.” Clients can work with more than one trainer, and get a different workout with each one. “We can take people from all walks of life – body building, dragon boating, prediabetic folks looking to lose weight – whatever their goals are, they’re confident that with us, they’ll get from point A to point B,” says Prisco. The studio puts focus less on body weight and muscle mass, and more on the client’s health as a whole.

Bowman has an intensive training schedule: in addition to her Tuesday and Sunday training at Fitness Within with Kaeble, she regularly dragon boats and outrigger canoes on the Charles River. Outriggers are a type of Polynesian canoe [think Moana] with lateral support floats. “They’re good for training because you can do it alone,” says Bowman.

October 18 through 23 of this year, Bowman will be competing on the Dianchi Lake in Kunming alongside dragon boating teams from almost every country in the world. The dragon boating world championships take place every two years, in Canada two years ago and in Hungary two years before. Bowman will be competing on the Senior A team.

The process of making Team USA began a year ago, in August of last year, when dragon boaters who have decided to compete have their first test on a rowing machine and submit their numbers. They completed a second test two months later, then Bowman went to DC last October for the first camp, where she was tested on strength and rowing requirements and videotaped for technique to see “how well you blend with the boat, if you can stay in time with everyone else, your stroke, and your body positioning,” says Bowman. After similar camps in Philadelphia and in Florida over the next few months, the Team USA list was finally announced.

Bowman is interested in trying out for Team USA’s premium team for future championships, and she’s also excited to watch Boston’s dragon boating scene grow. It’s a sport that’s bigger in the Asian community, but that has grown in popularity in Boston in the past several years. When asked where she sees herself going after the championship in October, Bowman says, with a laugh, “to bed!”