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James McDonald

James Mcdonald

Sports: Dragon Boat, Outrigger, Strength Training, former football player.

Years of paddling: 7

Favourite or notable paddling teams: Hornets, Civil Serpents

“You see people who have struggled with all sorts of physical ailments, and yet they’re still able to come out and paddle with a positive attitude on a continual basis.”

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Q: What do you enjoy most about paddling?

A: The people are fantastic; there are very few ‘bad attitude’ paddlers. The exercise is great for someone who’s had a lot of physical ‘boo-boos’ over the years. It’s also a sport where there’s unlimited room for improvement. You might think you really know your stuff. And then you realize, ‘Oh, no, wait a sec. There’s another way of doing that which might be slightly better.’ Especially in the last couple of years with Andrea Plevin. That was an eye-opening experience.

Q: How would you describe how paddling and the paddling community has affected your life?

A: There are an overwhelming number of inspirational people involved in the sport. You see people who have struggled with all sorts of physical ailments, and yet they’re still able to come out and paddle with a positive attitude on a continual basis. And by physical disadvantages, I mean everything from someone with arthritis through to someone who is blind, cancer survivors…And we’re having fun achieving something. I mean, you might not always win a medal, but you still have fun in the sport.

(James spoke of the thrill of competing at the Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival some years ago, but then falling down two-and-a-half flights of stairs at a construction site where he was working.)

I think we took gold in the second-highest division in Nanaimo. I was super stoked. Two days later back at work I fell in an open stairwell and just broke the heck out of myself. It almost took off my arm,  it split my ribs open and tore anchor points for two ribs front and back. 

Anyhow, it was actually outrigger of all things that slowly allowed my shoulder to rehab. So here we are five years later, the shoulder complains every now and again, but it’s nothing like what it was where I couldn’t lift my arm above my shoulder.

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

A: We had taken some downtime due to injuries, my wife and kids and I, because we had repeatedly hurt ourselves in the gym trying to achieve too much. But we were going to the gym a couple of times a week, and we were doing outrigger paddling for dragon boaters through the winter and hiking. 

Q: How did you initially cope with the crisis and what are you doing now?

A: At first we were in utter disbelief. Shocked. Like, this could be a sh*tstorm.

But then the Extraordinary Access Program opened up and my work was such at that time that I was really able to take advantage of it.

Talk about amazing experiences for paddling! I was constantly booking into the 8 a.m. OC1 Paddling session. There was one 14-day stretch there where I think I got out 11 times in a row for paddling, with literally no one in the entire harbor or gorge. It was like, ‘I’m the only person here in the entire harbor system. There’s not a boat. There’s not a plane. There’s no ferries. There’s nothing.’

Q: Have you learned anything positive about yourself as a result of the crisis?

A: I’ve learned that I have more in the tank than what I ever thought. It’s rare for me to totally bag out in a race now. Although doing a 1,500-metre time trial, followed by a 500-metre time trial in the same practice was a bit much a few weeks ago.

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

(James listed numerous coaches at Vancouver Island Paddling and Fairway Gorge, but focused on Andrea Plevin, the former head coach of FGPC’s Intermediate Outrigger Program.)

A: What’s memorable about her? Her form, her focus, her way of trying to nudge the team to be a little bit better in all sorts of little areas. And she is one of those people who was not going to ask you to do something that she wasn’t willing to do herself. She came up with the paddling program for the Hornets for the extracurricular workout program with six or seven extra workouts. And she’s like, ‘Well, I know, it’s a lot of workouts, but if you have a hard time fitting it in, well, remember per week I’m doing 12.’ 

Q: When this crisis passes, in terms of paddling, what are you looking forward to the most when normalcy returns?

A: I’m looking forward to growth and improvement, personal growth and team blend. We’ve all been working so hard, it’ll be interesting to see how blend works again and if we can all get down into one steady rhythm. Because when was the last time anyone from FGPC paddled in a dragon boat? It’s been like a year now.

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