Along the calm waters of the Inner Harbour, 26 paddlers in a dragon boat push off the dock to begin their practice session.
“Paddles up!” yells coach Corey Teramura.
The paddlers obey, holding their wooden paddles up vertically high above their heads.
“Go, two, three, four, five, six, up, up, up, five, six, seven, eight, up, legs,” yells Teramura. “Reach, long, long, long.”
The dragon boat picks up speed, gliding seamlessly as each paddler drives their paddle faster and faster into the water.
The only sounds coming from the splashing of the water against the boat, the heavy breathing of each paddler in unison with their strokes, and the loud bang of Teramura’s hand against the side of the boat to the beat of his voice.
The 26-person team is Outta Sight, and unlike many of the dragon boat teams that practice along the Inner Harbour, half the team is visually impaired or blind.
“We use our body . . . we’re connected in a different way,” says Teramura. “These guys have all these other cues that they’re feeling — the sound, the motion of the boat, how it moves, the splash, and you can feel when you’re out by just a little bit.”
The team started three years ago with Cindy Wasney, who is legally blind and originally competed with regular-sighted dragon boaters.
“I enjoyed being out on the water so much, it was a great experience. I got so much out of it and I thought there were other people who were visually impaired or blind who might enjoy it as much as I did,” says Wasney, noting that in its first year, the team had five visually impaired paddlers.
Each paddler has a volunteer handler who helps them their equipment and getting into the boats. But from there on, it’s all about feeling the rhythm of the boat.
“Once we’re all in the boat, everyone is on par with everyone else,” says Wasney.
Erin Lacharity 35, is the stroke seat and is responsible for setting the timing and pace of the boat. She is completely blind.
“I feel like I’m the heart of the boat,” says Lacharity, who is participating in her second season with the team. “I just feel very inspired when I’m doing it. When we’re paddling a long piece like that and it’s long and steady, it’s just so calming to hear the boom boom of the drum, like a heartbeat.”
For Kevin Hourigan, who is also visually impaired, the team offers him a chance to try something he has never been a part of – a team.
“It’s not something I’ve done all my life,” says Hourigan. “When I was a kid, trying out for basketball and football, I always flubbed out because I couldn’t see. Now, you don’t have to be able to see to be good at the sport,” he said.
The team recently picked up a silver medal during the annual Fairway Gorge Super Sprints 250 metre race and will continue to train for the Nanaimo Dragon Boat race in July, and Gorge Fest and the Victoria Dragon Boat Festival in August.