Gillian makes the cut into the Australian team

Dragon boat paddler Gillian McCallum of Bald Hills, who has been selected to represent Australia.
Dragon boat paddler Gillian McCallum of Bald Hills, who has been selected to represent Australia.

Gillian McCallum only started dragon boat paddling 17 months ago but in August she will be will representing Australia at the 14th International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF) World Nations Championships at Pattaya, Thailand.

Gillian will be part of the senior B (over 50) Auroras team after being selected as one of 32 women from over 100 who tried out for a place in the team.

It was while she was buying a kayak from a member of the Merimbula Water Dragons that Gillian was persuaded to try the sport.

“I had a Saturday paddle at one of the social sessions and didn’t really fall in love with it because it seemed to be practise and nothing else. And then I went to my first regatta in Wagga Wagga and that’s when I really fell in love with it,” Gillian said.

“Once I started competing I really liked it and my fitness started to improve quite quickly and that became a driving force,” she said.

“It’s a sport for all ages; it’s good because it’s a non-impact sport and you can go as hard as you are able.”

You know how people say it takes a village to raise a child, I think it takes a team to make an Aurora.

Gillian McCallum, Australian representive dragon boat paddler

In April 2018 the Australian Dragon Boat Federation put out a call for paddlers interested in testing for the Auroras, Australia's national dragon boating team. The Auroras are one of Australia's few sporting elite that get to compete in mixed crews right up to the very top level. There are also national teams right through from juniors (12 and over) to senior C (60 and over).

Prospective Auroras were told that they would be tested in October 2018.

The benchmarks for senior B women were:

Bench press 60 per cent of your body weight

50 one arm raises with 18kg kettlebell in a minute (each arm)

90 sit ups in two minutes

Five pull ups

Beep test to level seven

“I didn’t think I’d get through because I could do the 16kg kettlebell within the time but not the 18kg and also I couldn’t do the pull ups. We were videoed; it was nerve wracking,” Gillian admitted.

Two weeks later Gillian was invited to go to a selection camp in Sydney for on water testing.

Using TK1 single person outriggers prospective Auroras raced against each other over a set course. The next day there were trials in dragon boats as team officials looked at technique and videoed the teams.

Over 100 people attended the first selection from which 80 were invited to Sydney; from there 32 women and 16 men were selected just for the Auroras senior B team.

It was early in December when Gillian heard that she had been selected for the Australian team. Now she has a 10 week conditioning program to work on all the benchmarks.

“I’ve got to try and hit every one of them now including 2000m on the rower in under eight minutes. It’s about strength and endurance,” Gillian said.

For a small country team Merimbula Water Dragons have been very successful, not only at regattas but in also producing Auroras – there have been five members (not including Gillian) who have represented Australia overseas and returned with medals.

Gillian said the club was very supportive. 

“You know how people say it takes a village to raise a child, I think it takes a team to make an Aurora,” she said.”

The World Championships will be held August 20-25 at Pattaya, Thailand.

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