What began as a small-town team just struggling to fill seats for local festival competitions has become a gold-winning regional team for the women’s Island City Women’s Club Dragon Boat Team based in Minocqua.
The team competed in the Premier Division at the 2019 American Dragon Boat Association (ADBA) Regional Championships at Lake Andrea, Kenosha, on July 13, with the group of women fighting for the finish at first in four out of four races (2,200m and 2,500m).
This top honor won the team a berth to compete at the International Dragon Boat Foundation (IDBF) Club Crew World Championships which will be held in Aix Les Bains, France in 2020, noted proud team member and paddler Linda Wrobel of Woodruff.
Dragon boating — defined as a human-powered watercraft originating from the Pearl River Delta region of China’s southern Guangdong Province which includes aspects of religious and festival celebrations and competition — began in Minocqua in 2015 with Coach Mike Mondrall, of both Florida and the Minocqua areas.
Intensely passionate about the sport with a number of years behind him of racing and coaching in dragon boating, Mondrall organized a small exploratory team.
In short, the team took in just a short number of years.
“My goal for the Island City Women’s Club Team is to create the best women’s team in the Midwest and one of the best women’s teams in the country,” he noted. “I want our program to expand and grow into a multi-boat program. We have tremendous sponsors and an amazing core group of women.”
With only a handful of ladies at the start, the Island City’s first competition was in August 2015. While they did not place, interest for them was sparked and interest quickly picked up.
An annual event at Torpy Park was set for its inaugural in 2016 — a method of outreach to recruit more boaters and draw in interest.
Sure enough, the colorful boat and unique sport hailed even more attention and word spread by mouth via the paddlers. Even more eager members signed up.
By the time 2017 arrived, the team had nearly doubled and in 2018, Mondrall said the team had so many new faces that’s when it all really “took off.”
All year sport
From the first ice break to the first ice cover, the Island City Dragon Boat team is out paddling, usually on Lake Minocqua. The group aims for practices three times per week during the main competition portion of the season, but each member continues training and cross-training all year long.
For some members, that means hitting the gym or skiing cross country or downhill, hiking, snowshoeing or going out on the water kayaking or canoeing. Others practice rowing, endurance or athletic training.
Last November was the team’s first big competition in Florida. With Mondrall, this was their first out-of-state competition at the Lake Hernando Florida Dragon Boat Festival, which consisted of over 70 dragon boat entries.
Excitement was high as the Island City team participated in the “Club Premier” women’s 10-paddler division. After they took first place in the first two heats, they went on to dominate the final race, taking first and the gold medal.
The coach had more goals, yet: To grasp a berth to the 2020 World Club Crew Championships.
“We did that in Pleasant Prairie on July 13, 2019,” Wrobel happily confirmed.
Going for the gold at regionals
This was the first regional competition the Island City Dragon Boat appeared in. They were allowed 24 on the roster. A boat has 22 — 20 paddlers, one steerer and one drummer/caller.
“We are very proud of ourselves as individuals, each other, and the team as a whole,” Wrobel said. “I love the fact that we are a group of multi-generational women. It has been so fun to get to know other women in the community who I would not have met if not for this team.
“Mike is a great coach,” Wrobel continued. “Without him, without his vision for the team, we never would have made it. It was an amazing experience … Mike required off-season strength and cardio training, stresses discipline and focus on technique during practices, develops a race plan and stresses if we follow the race plan we will have success. With all of that, we have fun and laughs along the way.”
The Island City Dragon Boat team won four out of four races for points — including one race by just .1 second — to win the Gold in the ADBA Regional Championship for Women’s Premiere Club Team.
Mary Dunphy, Minocqua, joined about three years ago. “I tried out, and I truly loved it,” she recalled.
Amanda Martinovich, Mincoqua, a stroke person, sets the rate during the race for the rest of the team to follow.
“If she goes up, we all go up. If she’s in, we all go in. It helps get as much power as possible,” Dunphy said of Martinovich.
“This is mMartinovich, who was introduced to the team by Dalia Clausen, former captain and current team coordinator. “She said, ‘Come to one practice, and you’ll see for yourself.’ As a team, I love it.”
Team member Gretchen Istudor, Lake Tomahawk, said the regionals were, “… exciting and a lot of pressure.” In her second year on the team, she noted for her, the best part is, “Being part of a team of women, the thrill of it.”
Joannie Morgan, Arbor Vitae, and team steer person, has the job of getting all the women to work together during local and large competitions. This is her third summer on the Island City Dragon Boat team.
“It’s a great athletic challenge,” Morgan said. “Becoming friends with all these other women, it really opens up your world. We’ve done things we’ve never done before.”
Teammate Bryn Lottig relayed, “Island City Dragon Boat Club has had its ups and downs over the last three years, but yesterday was truly magical. It felt a little bit like the stuff sensationalized sports movies are made of. The Island City women trained hard but we earned that gold not just because we wanted it — but because each of us gave the team everything we had.”
“What’s most fun, is this is a small community,” Dunphy said. “Woodruff, Minocqua, Rhinelander. We don’t have a lot of population, yet we beat Chicago.”
“An all women’s team is pretty special,” Martinovich said.
Clausen said she was taken into dragon boating as she loves to be on the water — be it surfing or paddling or canoeing.
“The dynamic of getting people in a boat despite their age, where they are from, what size they are, it’s really exciting to get everyone working together,” she observed.
The event was an incredible race experience, Morgan added. “With different races and different teams from all over the world was great. It’s such a diverse crowd. Now to travel overseas … it’s really exciting.”
Rae Grosman, Minocqua, who is steerer and in charge of driving the boat during the race, keeping it in a straight line and following the race plan, enjoys the focus the sport takes.
“I wanted to give 110%,” Grosman stated. “(Regionals) were exhilarating, they were intense. We felt tight — we followed the race plan and everybody in the boat was on the exact plan. We were all one.”
Trainer and paddler Sandi Koski of Minocqua said being a member of three years on the team is, “Intensely fun and a good connection. I love the female camaraderie … I’m always impressed with our work ethic.”
For Koski, regionals were, “Serious, it wasn’t a festival. It was a competition.”
As for the coach, Mondrall is part of Central Florida’s Southern Heat Dragon Boat team, considered to be the best senior team in the country. He competed with the over 60 teams at the World Championships in China in October 2017, competed at the 2018 World Club Crew Championships in Hungary and will enter competition again on the U.S. Senior C team at the 2019 World Championships in Thailand.
“Our primary focus is to work harder and to train harder,” Clausen said. “We to dedicate more and more.”
The Island City Boat team is always looking for new recruits, welcoming anyone who is interested and might just want to try it out. No special skills are needed, just a life jacket and the motivation to succeed and dedicate themselves, members noted.
“There’s room on the team for everyone who wants to compete,” Wrobel noted.
Those who take part are typically well-rounded athletes, team members said.
“We are a race team,”Morgan said. “It’s not just leisure. We want dedicated women.”
As champs in their division, the Island City Dragon Boat team is on to the Club Crew World Championship held in Aix Les Bains, France in 2020.
“France will be our most serious race yet,” Grosman said.
Furthermore, teammate Morgan recently made the U.S. Senior B Team and will be competing in the 14th IDBF World Dragon Boat Racing Championships in Pattaya-Rayong, Thailand in August for Team USA.
The Minocqua Dragon Boat Team next completes on home turf in Minocqua in August.
To find out more, or how to join, one can visit https://www.meetup.com/The-Island-City-Dragon-Boat-Club/. They also are on Facebook.