Eagles make it an even dozen

'Stoked' young Pemberton paddlers capture 12th straight Alcan Junior crown

Pemberton's Laoyam Eagles captured their 12th straight Junior A championship at the Rio Tinto Alcan Dragon Boat Festival on Saturday and Sunday (June 19 and 20) in Vancouver. The event drew 140 teams - 27 of those in the Junior division - with a crowd of 50,000 spectators per day lining the shores of False Creek.

The Eagles powered their way through the eight-team, 500-metre Competitive A final in a sparkling time of one minute, 57.15 seconds, easily outdistancing their rivals from Eric Hamber Senior Secondary, who placed second in 2:01.56. The Laoyam Falcons finished sixth at 2:08.65.

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"It had to be one of our best races ever. We were so pumped up. We just blasted through it," Eagles Nathaniel Protter, 17, said.

"It was awesome to see the Falcons in the A final. It's a lot better to be sixth in the A final than first in the B final."

To put things in perspective, the student population at Pemberton Secondary is around 200. Some of the larger Vancouver schools enrol 1,200 to 1,500 students.

"We won by a boat length. Pretty amazing 12 years in a row. I can't believe we did it. Amazing. Lots of energy," said Trinady Sulyk, 18.

"A lot of us put so much into it. I'm so stoked and happy to succeed again. We worked so hard. It's a nice way to show our coach Hugh Fisher and to thank him for all his help. We couldn't be there without him."

Fisher, a 1984 Canadian Olympic champion kayaker, has been at the swing oar of the Eagles and Falcons for 14 years. Although it's difficult to compare teams and times from one year to the next, Fisher has been duly impressed by this year's contingent.

"They are an exceptional crew. The Eagles had one of the fastest times of any crew - including adults - all weekend. They were faster than the adult mixed winners," Fisher said.

"The Falcons were two hundredths of second out of fifth place and finished in the same second as the fourth-place finishers. It was one of their best results ever and very impressive for such a young team."

The Eagles are primarily composed of Grade 11 and 12 students. This year, several Grade 8 and 9 students joined them. One of those athletes, Dayna Goochey, advanced to the Eagles in just her first year in the program.

"We had a very competitive team, very strong and really driven," Goochey, 14, said.

"We were yelling support to one another - calling out our series - to keep our focus and do the strongest strokes possible. We had a really good start and a strong finish."

Meantime, the senior Bald Eagles women's team placed second in both the 500-metre sprint and the 2,000-meter Guts and Glory race behind a world championship team from the False Creek Racing Canoe Club. The Bald Eagles finished the Competitive A sprint at 2:06.65 with the False Creek team at 2:03.68.

"We were almost dead even with them in our first heat on Saturday. In the final we were a quarter boat length back at the midway point," Fisher said.

"We were six seconds back last year, three seconds this year, another year and we should be nose to nose with them."

The Bald Eagles adult mixed team placed seventh in its Competitive A final, which was dominated by teams preparing for the world championships. The Bald Eagles finished at 2:08.84 with another team from False Creek winning at 1:57.58.

They also finished fourth out of 16 teams in the 2,000-metre Guts and Glory showdown in a time of 10:37.60. The Kai Ikaika Paddling Club from Portland, Ore., won the race in 9:52.17.

The Bald Eagles men's team reached the Competitive A final, placing seventh in a time of 2:08.03. Another Kai Ikaika Paddling Club team won the division at 1:58.67.

Paddle strokes: The National Dragon Boat Championships will be part of the Whistler Dragon Boat Festival July 2 to 4 on Alta Lake the Eagles need one more team to register so they can form a Junior division at the Nationals the Eagles and Falcons are managed by PSS teacher Karen Tomlinson Sulyk is off to Thompson Rivers University to pursue a degree in nursing. Her mom Cathy paddles for the Bald Eagles and her younger sister Tiarra for the Falcons Protter will attend the University of Victoria to study political science. His younger sister Pascha paddled in the Falcons boat Goochey will be one of 12 Pemberton athletes at the B.C. Summer Games July 22-25 at Langley.

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