While Steve and Dave were preparing the boats, and I was meeting with Allison and the organizers to plan the logistics of the day, the rest of the dragon boat paddlers were traveling to the site. There were two large groups of paddlers, the 16 Dragon Beasts (Anne Gallant, Annie Baert, Judy MacDonald, Sue Sliming, Andrea Joy, Jan Oakley, Brian Melanson, Barry Ring, Jack McDonald, Sean Gibson, David Gallant, Tim Schaus, Kirk Poulos, Max Tracy, Bruce Chiasson, Bruce Oakley) and the 16 honored athletes from PEI, none of whom had ever paddled, with the exception of the one training session 12 of them attended the day before. The other 8 seats were to be filled by either Steve and I or the Duke and Duchess, depending on their wishes, the Premier, Robert Ghiz and his wife, Dr. Kate Ellis, and security personnel (2 seats per boat).
The two large groups were being bussed in from the Brackley Beach parking lot. Our Beasts were driving over from Northumberland Lodge (about an hour and a half drive) and Tim Schaus was organizing them on the bus and through the security checkpoints to the main lodge at Dalvey, since he had already been there the day before. The main lodge was reserved for dignitaries, luckily, we were considered dignitaries, and there was a big brunch buffet waiting for them. Having just received the news of cancellation from Allison, I received a text from Tim that three of our people were missing and the bus was waiting. What next?
As I’m walking down to find Steve, an official looking gentlemen in a golf cart, who I recognized from previous meetings and I assume was Allison’s boss and seemed like “the man in charge”, drove up to me. He asked, “in this wind, what is the percentage chance of some kind of incident?” I reply, “if Steve and I are steering, zero.” He smiled and said, “that’s the right answer” and drove away. A couple minutes later Allison called me on my cell and said, “we’re on”. I asked what role the Duke and Duchess would play and she said that we won’t know until the last minute, and that the Royal Guard will let us know when we are waiting on the other side of the lake.
A couple seconds after Allison’s call, Brian Melanson, who knows that I hate uncertainty, texted me and said, “no worries, everyone’s on bus, going to be a great day”.
This was the first time I actually believed that this event was going to happen. I met up with Steve and Dave (and Megan Kress, our good friend who was looking after our equipment throughout the day), we changed into our “smart casual” gear – our Adidas shirts and khaki pants – we looked very sharp, and we sat down to breakfast. About halfway through breakfast, the rest of the Beasts arrived. For the next hour we hung out at the luxurious Dalvey by the Sea Lodge, eating brunch with our fellow “dignitaries”, while Steve and I fielded interview requests. Steve did several, the Toronto Star wanted a couple of athletes to talk to (I sent Max Tracy and Bruce Chiasson), Annie Baert and Jack did an interview, and Mike Haslem talked to many people and did a television interview that was being shown back in his native London, England.
Mike Haslem is the President of the International Dragon Boat Federation. He was in Toronto the previous week conducting an IDBF International Officials course (which Steve was participating in – he passed his exam!) and he approached Steve requesting us to consider him to staff our boats, ensuring IDBF standard, and to officiate the race, acting as starter and judge. We were delighted to accept his offer for participation, and he was a big help. Allison got him security clearance at the last minute, there wasn’t one detail we needed looked after that Allison did not respond to. Mike traveled to Halifax, and eventually Dalvey with Steve and he was on site assisting us throughout the event.
While Steve was in the media tent doing interviews (there were over 150 credentialled media in attendance), I had a rare team meeting. The Beasts have almost no team meetings, my belief is your chance of success in dragon boat is inversely proportional to the number of team meetings you have. But we needed one today. I told everyone exactly what I knew, and what I didn’t know. I told them about the near cancellation, that we still didn’t know what role the Duke and Duchess would play, and I told young Andrew and Luke Gallant (who were there to drum) that should the Duke and Duchess end up drumming, that they were absolutely going to be in the boat and would paddle. I asked the group for help and assistance throughout the day, and told them to be prepared for anything. I had split up our group evenly, and I announced the crews. At the last minute, we switched Bruce Chiasson and Barry Ring, because Bruce and Sean Gibson were in the same boat, and we decided we needed them in separate boats, as they both paddle both sides well and it gives us flexibility just in case. The crew could not have been more receptive and positive.
The Director of Sport for PEI was organizing the PEI athletes – he did a fantastic job. Adam McQuaid of the Boston Bruins was captaining one team and Jared Connaughton, one of top sprinters in Canada and a 2008 Olympian, was captaining the other. We got everyone together and assigned boat position, etc. Tim Schaus was a big help, bringing up several important points I forgot for the PEI athletes (“don’t reach for the dock”, that kind of thing).
Adam McQuaid is an absolutely amazing individual. A recent Stanley Cup winner, who just signed a three year $4.7 million dollar contract with the Bruins, he could not have been more down to earth and accessible. At the Sunday training session you could see him tuning in and focusing as he processed the information. He became a pretty good dragon boat paddler in an hour. But even more impressive was his gift of time. He posed for pictures with everyone, including me. Every athlete wanted a picture. Children wanted his autograph. Media wanted interviews. I noticed two things – the first was his appearance. During the Sunday practice he still had his playoff beard, pretty long hair, sunglasses and a backward ball cap. On Monday he showed up with trim, short hair, no beard, no hat, no shades – showing respect for the event. He looked people in the eye and he had the gift of making everyone feel important. The second thing I noticed was how he took the time to meet and interact with the young Gallant boys, both huge hockey fans, spending more time than he had to and posing for a picture. Adam McQuaid is a class act, believe me.
All of us got changed into our racing gear (National team tops for us - thanks again Chris), got our paddles and life jackets and boarded the bus. The bus ride was much longer than expected, we took a strange route, but we chatted and everyone was relaxed. Jack, a big track fan, sat with Jared Connaughton and talked about world level track and field for 20 minutes.
When we got off the bus, Allison told us that the Royal Guard wanted Steve and I to “mentor” the Duke and Duchess. They would be paraded to our teams, we were to look after them and determine their participation wishes, they would pose for a picture, we would load the boats and race, and then dock on the other side of the lake at the main compound, where media and legions of fans were waiting. Steve was to mentor the Duchess, I was to mentor the Duke.
I asked Allison, “how do I address him”. In case you will bump into the Duke on the street sometime, she replied. “you address him as Your Royal Highness the first several times, and after that you can address him as Sir or Your Royal Highness.
Steve and I lined up our teams in a group, like for a photo they take in Grade school, and we waited for 10 minutes or so. It was still raining lightly but not cold. It was still windy, but nothing that we don’t practice in on Lake Banook at times.
And then we heard someone say, “here they come ”.