A Donegal Town woman is taking a silver medal home from Ottawa where she was competing in the World Club Crew Ice Dragon Boat Festival.

Deborah Bonner from Donegal Dragons was one of two Irish women who travelled to Canada to take part. They did so as part of a Montreal team called RBC Comets.

Ms Bonner is more used to dragon boating on the waters of Donegal Bay, so taking part in the ice version was a huge leap. But this woman is no stranger to being a trailblazer, having brought the sport of dragon boating to Donegal. She herself started with a Dublin club called the Plurabelle Paddlers, and Fiona Slevin from that club also travelled to Ottawa.

The 10-seater dragon boats were specially adapted for the ice, with special features such as a brake for the steersperson at the back.

Taking place on Friday and Saturday, the Irish ladies were participating in 200m races in the women’s category. 

The first race was at 8.00am, so the pair had a very early start, gathering before sunrise at 7.00am.

Ms Bonner said: “The temperature had dropped to -12˚C overnight and there was quite a strong and chilly breeze.

“We did a time of 1:11 In our first race. Our second race at 11.40am went really well and we won it by more than a boat length in a time of 1:06. This meant we were through to the semi-final.

At 3.00pm we lined up against six other women's teams. We managed to do 1:03 and qualified for the final.”

In the meantime, the first ever breast cancer survivor race in an International club crew competition was scheduled for 5.00pm.  Both being breast cancer survivors, the two Irish competitors were given places on these boats at the insistence of a local Ottawa team.

Ms Bonner said: “It was a very exciting and hard fought race. Fiona was on the winning boat. My boat came second. The organisers then gave commemorative plaques to the participating clubs.”

After that, it was back to the main racing schedule. By that time it was dark so the race course was illuminated by low level lighting at 10 metre intervals.

The Final

The Women's A final was at 7.00pm. One of the biggest challenges was not so much the race itself but the 500m walk on ice to the boat marshalling.

The boats lined up on the start line ahead of the final

“As we made our way warily to the start line the sky was black and the moon was shining down on us,” said Ms Bonner. “It was a really close race. I could sense boats close on both sides of us. Despite the cold, there was a lot of very vocal support from the sidelines. It was hard to know who had won, but we felt we could have made it to the top three.

“The results came in, we had done 59.7 seconds. The fastest boat got 59.3. We had come second.”

These two silver medals will be the first ice dragon boat medals to be brought to Ireland. Who knows, given the huge support shown by the entire Irish dragon boat community for these two brave ladies, there might be more Irish participants taking to the ice in the future.

Fire and ice - the specially adapted dragon boats have a cool blue and white colour scheme

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