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Colchester woman drums way to world championships

Malia Mayhem drummer Lisa Campion, of Colchester, sits at the front of the boat during races. It’s her responsibility to keep the team motivated and in sync. (Photo by Denise Gregory)

As a dragon boat drummer, Colchester resident Lisa Campion is prone to pressure.

“You’re almost the heart and soul; you’re the culture,” Campion said. “You’re fostering the winning mentality throughout the race. So even when you can see on your teammates faces that they’re tired and they’re losing steam, you’re the one saying ‘You’ve got this. Let’s go, pick it up.’”

That’s exactly what teammate Lynn Coddington expects the women are in for as they train for the world championships in Hungary next July.

At 68, Coddington, of Essex, is keenly fit, motivated and team-oriented. But that wasn’t always the case.

Growing up before the days of Title IX — the 1972 law that mandates gender equity in school sports — organized athletics weren’t available. Yet now, she’s headed to the world championships with three other Essex women.

All it took was taking a chance 10 years ago and picking up a paddle with Burlington-based Malia Paddling and Racing Club, she said. The over-40 team is encouraging people to do the same now to fill out their roster before the big race.

“Not only is it good exercise, but you’re out on the gorgeous [Lake Champlain] and looking at the Adirondacks, it’s beautiful. I can’t think of a single negative thing. Unless it’s raining,” she joked. “Then maybe it gets a little cold.”

Plus, she said, paddlers are in sync with one another both in and out of the water.

“They’re like sisters,” Coddington said.

The team, Malia Mayhem, consists of 30 or so women who train 11 months out of the year. It’s a big commitment but a worthy one, Coddington said. Twenty of them paddle at once.

The Malia Mayhem team finished second in their 40-plus division at the U.S. Dragon Boat Federation’s National Championships in West Windsor, N.J. late last month. (Photo by Denise Gregory)

“That’s a big thing, learning to be a unit as opposed to being 20 people,” she said.

While some women like Coddington start from scratch, others, like long distance runner Donna Amiot of Essex, come in with a well-developed fitness level and still gain five pounds of muscle in eight weeks.

Besides their own will to learn and improve, the paddlers attribute much of their success to experts Liisa Reimann and Gisela Veve. The two coaches, who founded Malia in 2012, are former world champions and Team USA paddlers and coaches.

Their acute instruction, the paddlers say, is one of the most beneficial aspects of the watersport, which is raced in 200m to 2km distances. Late last month in New Jersey, when the team qualified for worlds with a silver medal at nationals, only two hundredths of a second fell between them and their opponent. That’s just how intense these races can get.

Campion said she is responsible for maintaining that intensity.

Paddlers complete up to three workouts per week on their own. During summer months, they’re on the water two days a week, too. In the winter, they endure weekly circuit training and travel to an indoor training pool in Montreal every three weeks.

For the past seven years, Coddington has sat next to the same woman. The pair sits at the front of the boat, acting as pacers. Never did Coddington think this newfound responsibility would land her in Hungary or Hong Kong, where Malia made a previous appearance at worlds.

“The adrenaline and the excitement of it — just to see hundreds of thousands of people, all there to just paddle,” Coddington said. “The whole city is decorated for you; it’s pretty amazing.”

Any woman 40 or older, too, can experience the camaraderie, she said.

“If you’re looking for a team experience that has inclusiveness, real team spirit and a physical challenge, game on,” Amiot said.

Coddington, however, had another challenge to contend with at first.

“I’m a wee bit afraid of the water,” she said, laughing.

But with the shoreline in sight during all races, the fear isn’t too difficult to quell.

Anyone interested in joining the crew should contact Coach Reimann at liisa@maliaracing.com. Additional age groups for men and women are also available.