Over the years, many a Sudburian who has entered the former Sudbury Dragonboat Festival have been content to simply enjoy the experience on one or two occasions, never to get caught up too deeply in the competitive aspect of the races, far more likely to poke fun at their crew's inability to maintain any semblance of paddling rhythm.
Melanie Cartier was not one of these Sudburians.
"When the people who were in front of me stopped paddling in the middle of the race, I knew that was not the type of boat that I needed to be in," noted the 46 year old local woman who returned from the 2022 Club Crew World Championships in Sarasota this summer with a bevy of medals, her participation with the powerful True North Paddling Club (Toronto) marking her first ever trip to this international regatta.
Introduced to a local media-sponsored team via her brother for her first foray into the world of dragon boating (2003), Cartier would last just one year in the community team bracket, quickly making the move to Sudbury Phoenix, then Team Chiro and finally to Toronto, where she paddled from 2010 to 2014 before returning home for a four year stint, one that predated a second go-around with a GTA-based team.
A competitive swimmer in her youth, Cartier clung to the similarities as she found an athelic outlet that allowed her to ultra-focus on a specific task, shedding completely any stress from career and life.
"I've always loved being outside and on the water," she said. "Because I loved swimming so much, this was the next best thing - and swimmer skills are transferable. The notions of moving water with your hands and your feet when you are a swimmer are basically the same as moving the water with a paddle when you are in a boat."
Even the carry-over from swim stroke to paddling stroke wasn't completely apples to oranges.
"The movements are different, but the actual core body muscles that are being used are very similar," Cartier suggested. "I actually researched that."
Like others who have made their way south in recent years, Cartier would have been more than happy to paddle locally, as long as her competitive drive aligned itself nicely with the remaining Sudbury crew members - something that is anything but a given, in part due to the total volume of training (in boat and out) to compete at events like the Worlds.
"The issue is that we need 22 people to commit to practices if you are going to be successful in a race," she said. "For whatever reason, getting 22 people in a boat (locally) is not as easy as it once was."
Locally, Cartier has enjoyed being on both sides of the coaching equation, having worked closely with Julie Alleyn when she first started - "she was the person that I looked up to the most when I was first paddling" - and eventually serving as a coach with the Fearless entry that entered the Sudbury Festival with regularity.
Given her drive, it might be easy to assume that Cartier struggled during the two year pause of Covid - though this wasn't at all the case.
"Honestly, I was happy to do all of the dry land training and get stronger," she said. "We were doing Zoom workouts three or four times a week as a group and everyone had a home gym. The team stayed together really well in that way."
In Florida back in July, their hard work paid off.
The True North Paddling Club entries swept to victory in each of the 200m, 500m and 2000m disciplines, posting an impressive 14-second win in the later with Cartier part of an all-women's team.
Having experienced all of the variations, entering this particular division (Women's Senior A) was not about to become a deal breaker for the local woman.
"When you get a really good group of people together, everyone is very supportive and you are all in it together," said Cartier. "We all push each other, whether we are male or female."
Though the world-wide gathering is still recovering from the ripple effects of the pandemic, the bracket in which Cartier and company enlisted also included entries from Czechia, Hungary, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, Germany, Trinidad and Tobago, as well as other Canadian teams.
With the 2024 Club Crew Worlds slated for Ravenna, Italy, Cartier is already eyeing the end goal that motivates her currently workouts. "I have my own outrigger canoe and practice locally on my own."
Seldom, however, with anyone who is about to stop paddling, mid-race.