By the time most teenagers are wiping the sleep out of their eyes, Aidan and Shamus Menard have paddled for an hour on False Creek.
By all accounts, the 17-year-old twins and Kitsilano secondary students are extraordinary paddlers, competing in both dragon boat and flatwater canoe racing. While maintaining above average grades at school, they train up to seven days a week for two hours a day with either their Eric Hamber secondary dragon boat team or their flatwater coaches at False Creek Racing Canoe Club on Granville Island. If they have any extra time they go out on the water just for fun.
But the boys weren’t always so dedicated and athletic, says their father. Christian Menard said a few years ago his sons, whom he describes as inseparable, were heading down a path that worried their parents.
“Just the usual stuff. Looking for something to belong to and hanging around with some kind of bad kids who, we were told, the police were watching... There was no indication our kids were getting in trouble, but they were headed down that road,” he said.
Getting involved with dragon boating set them on a more positive path, Menard said.
The boys started with the West End Community Centre dragon boat team but soon transferred to the more competitive Eric Hamber team. Now, Menard said, they are focused on fitness and nutrition and hanging out with other people who have the same focus.
For Aidan, the rush he gets out on the water has been irresistible.
“I like that you can feel the water and the pressure against your blade and how the power of each stroke can propel you forward,” he said.
Their Eric Hamber dragon boat coach, Judy Chan, has nothing but praise for the soft-spoken boys.
“They have fit in like a glove and actually have become, I would say, respected leaders of the team. They have great sportsmanship and are committed to improving their paddling and wanting to be competitive,” she said.
In August their team won gold in the Junior Open division at the Canadian National Dragon Boat Championships in Victoria and qualified to compete in the 2014 Club Crew World Championships in Ravenna, Italy next year.
Shamus said his daily inspiration comes from his dragon boat coaches.
“They do both dragon boat and they do canoeing … so they prove that it is possible to do very well in many fields,” he said.
Both boys are dedicated to C1, C2 and C4 flatwater sprint canoeing and were in their first regatta, the Pacific Cup, in Maple Ridge in September. They placed in the top four in each of their 200 and 500 metre races and look forward to more competitions in the coming spring. Their first love remains with the sport they started with. Shamus has set representing Canada internationally in dragon boating as his ultimate goal while dragon boating is Aidan’s favourite water sport.
“There is more of a team spirit to it and you get to encourage your teammates and you get the feeling of working together and of success as one,” he said.
Whichever sport they wind up pursuing, Shamus is confident about the power paddling can have. “I hope more people do water sports because it can change their lives,” he said.
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