James Daniel, an ACT based junior Dragon Boat paddler and multiple world medalist, recently returned home from his first Dragon Boat World Championships in Divonne-les-Bains, France. We sat down with James for a quick interview...
Sports ACT: Welcome James! What convinced you to first try Dragon Boat racing?
James: I was introduced into Dragon Boating by my parents when they brought me to a DBACT regatta, I was only 13 years old but the club my parents paddled for at the time were very inclusive and let me hop in the back of the boat and train with them every Sunday.
Sports ACT: It must be crazy with so many people in the same boat... can you describe what's it like for a non-paddler?
James: Paddling for the first time can be a little scary I admit but people get used to it really quickly. Your first session will include the feeling of always being out of time with everyone else and splashing the person in front of you but the clubs in this sport often treat their members as a family and you can really sense that vibe when your in the boat.
Sports ACT: Which club do you belong to in Canberra and why that club?
James: I paddle for the Komodo Paddle Club because my mum and dad both paddled for that club, I was accepted pretty quickly having met a lot of the people there before I started getting on the water.
Sports ACT: How often do you train each week and whats involved?
James:The Komodo Paddle Club trains three times a week during the season, each session usually goes for an hour and we cover all kinds of skills and techniques throughout the season. At the start of each season we usually do some basic stuff for the newbies but as the season passes we start working a lot harder with endurance and strength drills.
Sports ACT: Describe a typical training session on water leading up to the World Championships?
James: During the off season the Australian junior Auroras also train three times a week however the training sessions go for an hour and a half and consist of much more high intensity drills compared to the Komodo sessions.
In the Australia team we were training as if the world championships were happening tomorrow, however the training eased off a little before we flew off to Europe to protect us against injury at the last moment.
Sports ACT: What sort of workouts do you perform in the gym? Any favourite exercises? Most hated exercise and why?
James: The Australian team had a whole A4 page full of exercises for us to do in our own time on top of training on the water, a lot of the workouts were upper body strength and body weight work. These include chin-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, beep tests, burpees, deadlifts, and bench-press just to name a few.
Sports ACT: What did you hate most about the training, and what did you enjoy the most?
James: All of the training for the Australia team is conducted during winter which is kind of brutal in Canberra, especially out on the water, However during these sessions I developed so much as a paddler and got to paddle alongside some of the best paddlers in Australia.
Sports ACT: What coaches, paddlers or other people have been great influences in your career and why?
James: My mum played a big role in my career, being with me in the gym helping me train to be the best I can definitely paid off. Sally Gates the ACT Junior Auroras coach played a huge role in my development on the water alongside all the other ACT paddlers.
Sports ACT: Do you keep training in the off season? Are there any other sports you enjoy?
James: Technically whilst your in the Australia team there is no off season because once the world championships are over your straight back into the mainstream club season. If you plan on continuing to paddle for Australia it isn’t mandatory but they encourage you to continue training and pushing yourself during the normal season. I am currently playing Gridiron with the UC Firebirds Junior squad.
Sports ACT: How do you deal with keeping up with your tough training requirements and school?
James: The immense training you do does occasionally clash with school work requirements but the coaches have always prioritised the athletes study requirements before those of their own.
Sports ACT: How about that cold weather in Canberra then? What's going through your mind when you are out on water in the middle of a freezing Canberra winter?
James: When I’m out on the water feeling like my fingers are going to fall off all I really wanted to do is go home and take a long hot shower but after a while you really do get used to it and just push through it all.
Sports ACT: I hear your mother and father are also Australian and World Champions in Dragon Boat racing. Did that make it any easier for you in the sport?
James: My mother and father's past commitments to the sport did set the bar quite high for me personally and they definitely gave me plenty of helpful advice for both on and off of the water which some of the other paddlers didn’t have.
Sports ACT: Do you think that there other future world champions in the family?
Sports ACT: Lol! Your younger brother may still prove you wrong ;) France must have been beautiful to visit: what was your favourite part and why?
James: France and Switzerland were beautiful. Our hotel was surrounded by fields and everywhere you looked were old rustic churches and farmland, framed nicely by the French and Swiss Alps. The warm summer weather was a pleasant change compared to the sub-zero temperatures back in Canberra.
Sports ACT: What would you say to any aspiring junior athlete looking to join the sport?
James: Dragon Boating is a very competitive sport and it does require time and effort to reach Australian representative standards, but don’t let that fool you, the people you meet make the journey all the more enjoyable.
Sports ACT: What results did you come home with from the World Championship?
James: My crew and I won 2 World Championship silver medals, and a World Championship bronze medal.
Sports ACT: Do you plan on continuing to compete at the international level now that you have had a taste of success?
James: Although my time in the Australian Junior Dragon Boating team were some of the best days of my life I am about to start year 12 and have decided to go full time in my studies.
Sports ACT: After achieving so much at a young age, where to next? Whats in your future?
James: There’s no doubt in my mind that once I’m done with my schooling I will make a return to Dragon Boating and hopefully have the honour of representing Australia once again.
Sports ACT: What was it like travelling away with the Auroras Under 18 squad to a new country?
James: Travelling to Europe in itself is probably one of the most memorable experiences I will ever have but being able to do it alongside all of my friends who have stuck with me through thick and thin only made it all the more enjoyable.