Sports: Former competitive swimmer, soccer, tennis, dragon boat, kick-boxing, self-defense, and a somewhat reluctant runner
Years of paddling: 7? (or 2 officially)
Favourite or notable paddling teams: Victoria Dragon Boat Festival, Penticton Dragon Boat Festival, Hornets
“For my job, the main messaging is connected communities are more resilient. So the more that you know your neighbors, the better that you can respond to and recover from an emergency, regardless of socio-economic status.”
Sarah Hunn has a long and intense history with dragon boating, being a festival organizer both at the Penticton Dragon Boat Festival and various festivals hosted by Fairway Gorge Paddling Club, including the Victoria Dragon Boat Festival. Little did she know that dealing with countless details — and the competing demands from dozens, if not hundreds of people during pressure-filled 18-hour days — would provide an ideal learning experience for her new career during the COVID-19 crisis as the City of Victoria’s Emergency Management Community Liaison.
Q: What do you enjoy most about paddling?
A: I just love getting out on the water and literally leaving everything else behind. There’s no cell phones. And anything could be happening back on land, but you’re out in the open and out on the water. Usually it’s dragon boat paddling, so it’s summer and usually always nice weather. And I love the teamwork. I stopped exercising altogether without having that motivation of a team. I find that the community and the camaraderie is super important. I love that paddling is a team sport where you can’t really single a person out and say, that person is really good and they’re carrying the team.
Q: How would you describe how paddling and the paddling community has affected your life?
A: The paddling community has been super important to me. It started out as just a summer job and then became my life for five years. So for me, when I think of the paddling community, I think of my work community, which was basically like my work family because we were so close.
As a core group of young staff, we were together all the time, on the water, barbecues, hanging out … When I got this new job, leaving the best work team I’ve ever had was really challenging.
Q: How active were you before COVID-19 hit?
A: When COVID really hit, it was about the beginning to middle of March. I have never really paddled outrigger at all, so although I wasn’t paddling over the winter, I was keeping in shape knowing that the dragon boat season was imminently approaching. I was going to join a new team, the Rebel Alliance, which I was so excited about.
And then March 16th was supposed to be the first Monday of practices, and up until two hours before we thought we were going to practice. And then it was cancelled and I was pretty bummed about it.
Q: How did you initially cope with the crisis and what are you doing now?
A: Our coach, Marcus, started posting workouts online and it was awesome to have that kind of community still and we were hoping everything would end in a month or so and we could get back out on the water. But that didn’t happen. And my work life got really stressful, really quickly. So I just did not have the energy to do anything after that. I didn’t exercise at all for months, really.
I know mentally that I need physical activity to feel good and not go crazy. But without having races to work towards and without having a team for motivation, and that combined with an insane work life, it was hard. My mum is turning 65 next year and has somehow roped my entire family, including my roommate, to run a half marathon together to celebrate. Having a goal again and something of a team has been really motivational. Even if running is the worst.
Q: Have you learned anything positive about yourself or your community as a result of the crisis?
A: I love this question because it combines aspects of my work-life in Emergency Management and my work past and all the other spheres of my life right now. For my job, in pre-pandemic times, the main messaging has always been that connected communities are more resilient. So the more that you know your neighbors, the better that you can respond to and recover from an emergency, regardless of socio-economic status or, you know, how much toilet paper or supplies you have. All that stuff doesn’t matter. What matters is the people that you have in your life.
In an earthquake, for example, we just kind of expect everyone to go outside their houses and talk to each other and figure things out. With the pandemic, it’s been the complete opposite. You can’t just all come together, physically, in a group to figure out how you’re going to deal with this. So staying connected has been a challenge and I think people have been coming up with really awesome and ingenious ways of doing that.
I realized in my personal life that the whole paddling community had been absent from my life physically but I’ve hung out with a few friends, and just having that online paddling community has been really nice through WhatsApp, group chat, and seeing what the community has been posting on Facebook.
Q: When it comes to paddling, is there a person, event or team that has a special memory for you?
A: The Penticton Dragon Boat Festival is always going to have a special place in my heart. That’s where I started and it’s always like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I went from a summer student to running these things.’ And then the fact that paddling is still in my life now after all these years.
(One of Sarah’s last paddling events before starting a new job at the City of Victoria was racing on a team at the Penticton Dragon Boat Festival With paddlers from the Okanagan, including her mom, Gillian, and Fairway Gorge.)
Just having everyone there was so, so special. I really view that event as kind of like the culmination of my FGPC family and my Penticton dragon boat family. All together, as one. So special.