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Holly Wylie

Holly Wylie

Dragonboater, outrigger paddler, runner, Nanaimo Paddling Centre operations manager, coach

Years of paddling: 18

Teams: Vancouver Island Paddling, Nusa’Lon, Nanaimo Paddling Centre

“I was thunderstruck. Dragon boat really connected with me because my best friend died of breast cancer. And I thought, I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, in honour of her.”

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The first time Holly Wylie attended a dragon boat regatta, she knew right away that she’d found a new passion in life. It wasn’t that Holly was new to athletics. In fact, she was a former member of the Canadian National track and field team who specialized in sprinting.

But dragon boating? The connection was sudden and powerful, and it involved family and friends.

Q: What do you like most about paddling?

A: The mental game mental game, because it’s so repetitive. It’s getting inside your own head to make yourself … perfect. Or try to become perfect. So it is about getting inside your own head. I love being competitive. And I love what competition does to people, even people who are not competitive. I love to see that, all of a sudden it’s like, oh, look who’s competitive now!

Q: As a former member of the Canadian National Track and Field team, do you find any similarities between paddling and running?

A: The two sports are very much on point with each other. Paddling has kind of the same movement with your body. Power starts from your feet, moves to your hips, and you learn about using your upper body to propel you. It’s very similar.

Q: How has paddling affected your life?

A: It’s impacted my life immensely. It has kept me sane, it keeps me even keeled. I’m a hyperactive person. And I constantly need to be on the go. You meet tons of people and you have tons of things to do, especially with coaching and paddling yourself.

Q: As a coach, what’s it like seeing paddlers develop into better and better athletes, in some cases rising to the national level?

A: For me, it’s the most amazing thing to see, and I have such pride in it, knowing that I had a part in that journey, however small it was. It may have been something that I said, or something that I did, or whatever made them get that ambition. I’m always proud of people who move ahead, even past me.

Q: How active were you before the COVID-19 crisis hit?

A: I was on the water six days a week between coaching and doing my own paddling. And then I was working out four days a week. And I was running quite a bit.

(Ed’s note: Holly and some Nanaimo paddlers also travel to Victoria up to three times a week, depending on the season, for erg classes and paddling sessions with Vancouver Island Paddling.)

I did the Honolulu Marathon last December. And then March hit and I put the brakes on.

That lasted two weeks.

Q: What did you do then?

I took two weeks off and then I figured out ways that I could still continue on because I knew that depression was probably going to start setting in. You’re so active and everything that you can’t just come to a screeching halt. In those two weeks I was already starting to get down in the dumps so I I contacted my trainer. And I convinced him to virtually train me from his house and I worked out in my garage. 

Then I got a small pod of people together to work out on OC1s. We would meet up on the water, never on the dock, so that kept us safe.

Then I turned to my garden to fill in the rest of the time, which was awesome because I finally rescued my yard after five years. Oh, and I continued running three days a week.

Q: What have you learned about yourself or your community as a result of the COVID-19 crisis?

A: COVID taught me to slow down. It taught me to be patient. And it taught me to be in the present. Because before it was like you were on a hamster wheel. And you were going, going, going, and always thinking of the next activity that you had to do. Whereas now it’s taught me to be present in what I’m doing, and not in slowing everything down. You have no choice but to see everything go by and to enjoy life a little bit more.

The emotional part of this has taught me to stop and smell the roses, to stop and hug your friend. You don’t don’t take your friends and the people you know for granted any more.

Q: When it comes to paddling, is there a person or an event that is a special memory for you?

A: The opening ceremonies of my rookie year, my recreational year. I went to the opening ceremonies and I was sitting there on the grass, and although I knew about the breast cancer part of dragon boating, I didn’t really understand the depth of the connection. They explained all of that, and then the history of dragon boating, and the monks did the blessing and everything else.

I was thunderstruck.

It really connected with me because my best friend died of breast cancer. And I thought, I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, in honour of her. Then there was the Chinese part, which also connected because my stepfather is Chinese.

So the two connections came crashing together. And ‘Wow’, that’s when I discovered why I was there. 

I remember it to this day, and it made such an impact on me that I just wanted to do it more and more. I have been dragon boating for 18 years and I don’t plan on quitting anytime soon.

Q: Is there a coach or mentor you’d like to recognize, and why?

A:  My very first recreational coach was Erika Adams, who’s now an RCMP officer in the Lower Mainland. (She’s married now and her name is Erika Ray.)

She saw potential in me. She saw things that I couldn’t see in myself, and she made me see them, in terms of confidence, ability, coming out of my shell, and being okay to be good at it. She really pushed me forward and made me want to do more, letting me know it was okay to succeed and it was okay to be confident

Q: In terms of paddling, what are you most looking forward to when normalcy returns?

I’m looking forward to the competition. I’m looking forward to the people and seeing people that I haven’t seen in a long time.

All proceeds from the 2021 calendar project will support FGPC’s race restart programs.