Alnwick/Haldimand Township Woman Brings Home Five Gold Medals from World Dragon Boat Championships

In Editor Choice, Local, Sports

Arriving home in Alnwick/Haldimand Township from the International Dragon Boat Festival on Monday, August 21, 2023 Valerie Coatham had a good reason her suitcase was a bit heavier that it was when she left – she was carrying five gold medals.

Sixty-two-year-old Coatham arrived home on Monday afternoon with her husband and a number of friends and family members waiting at the end of her driveway, east of Cobourg.

Banners and Canadian flags adorned the driveway and when Coatham pulled in, Queen’s “We Are The Champions” was playing.

Coatham was still on a high from 23-hour journey home from Thailand where the 16th annual International Dragon Boat World Championships were held from August 7-13.

A total of 21 countries took part in the competition with 2,987 athletes and coaches taking part.

Out of all the counties taking part, Canada came out on top with 52 gold medals, 36 silver medals and 13 bronze.

“It was an amazing journey that started in September last year,” said Coatham speaking to Today’s Northumberland.

It was in September, 2022, Coatham decided to try out for Team Canada’s Dragon Boat team at the Senior C level which is 60-years-old and older. Then it was going to camps and training with people watching her, taking videos and then the selection process.

Once she found out in May of 2023, then the hard work began, training harder than ever before – but even Coatham couldn’t imagine coming home with five gold medals.

“It was a awesome experience. Amazing team mates and just so proud to represent Canada standing on the podium hearing O’Canada – five times.”

Coatham started dragon boating in 2005 when a friend invited her to join with the Cobourg Dragon Boat Club during a practise in the harbour.

After an hour of practise, her arms were in pain, but she kept going back because she got to love the sport.

During those years she said it was very fun competing in festivals, but in 2014 she joined a highly competitive club in Belleville.

But trying out for the Canadian national team was a “new challenge” says Coatham.

After applying to Team Canada applicants have to go to testing at regional centres and the team was selected in May.

The World Championships in Thailand consisted of three days of practising and eight days of racing.

Coatham and her women’s team consisting of 20 paddlers, a steersperson and a drummer received gold medals for the 1,000 metre, 2,000 metre, 500 metre sprint, 200 metre sprint and the final gold came on a mixed team

The first gold medal came for the 1,000 metre race.

“It was an amazing race. We were actually a couple of seconds ahead of the second place team.”

Days after the event, Coatham said it’s still hard to put into words.

“I can’t put words to it. It’s just such a proud moment.”

Looking around at the competitors, Coatham said it was very tough competition with teams from around the globe.

“And to see our boat come across the finish line and to stand on the podium was so amazing.”

With the World Championships being held in Thailand there weren’t a lot of Canadian flags in the stands, but other competitors from Team Canada would come watch and cheer other team members on during their races.

Coatham says she’s likely in the best shape she’s been in her entire life, the wins certainly didn’t come easy.

“The best part was O’Canada. Standing there and hearing that and having all your other team mates cheering.”

Arriving home after a long 23-hour journey, it was such a joy to see the neighbours and family members at the end of her driveway with banners cheering her as she pulled in.

“I was so tired after 23-hours of traveling, but to come home to that was just really amazing.”

After taking a well deserved rest for a few days, Coatham said her sites are set on Germany two-years from now when the next World Dragon Boat Championships will take place.

Pete Fisher
Author: Pete Fisher

Has been a photojournalist for over 30-years and have been honoured to win numerous awards for photography and writing over the years. Best selling author for the book Highway of Heroes - True Patriot Love

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