National Capital Area
Women's Paddling Association, Inc.
DC Outrigger

Dave Armstrong, 48, has been coaching for almost 30 years, first bicyclists and triathletes, and in the past 12 years, paddlers. A paddler himself, he did the Moloka`i crossing in 1993. Before that he was part of the U.S. Dragon Boat team that took third place in the Hong Kong International Championships in 1992, and was on the U.S. Swanboat team in Thailand in 1991. He has done the 70-mile General Clinton marathon canoe race six times, four in a C-1. He's taken a third in his OC-1, and in 1995, won in the mixed category.

As he paddled, he couldn't help but notice how few women were involved in these activities. Determined to change that, he helped to found the National Capital Area Women's Paddling Association. Through that group he coached a women's swan boat team that took second in Thailand, a dragon boat team that has traveled to Asia and throughout North America, and marathon canoe paddlers who have won races with just months of experience under their belts.

He borrowed an outrigger in 1995 and has been focusing on bringing more women into that sport for the past two years. While he wishes his team had closer access to ocean water, paddling on the relatively flat Potomac "allows us to fundamentally work on stroke mechanics, running the boat and making changes, " he says. His goal for the Moloka`i: ``That we run a perfect race,'' staying on course and in time throughout. Asked if his team will win, he says "I never predict finishes."

Dave has a Ph.D. in exercise physiology and is the director of Midshipmen Health Studies at the U.S. Naval Academy. His wife no longer paddles with the team, but his 4-year-old daughter has been part of the program since she was 8 months old.

Andres Sandoval came to Washington this year with an impressive outrigger record. He learned to paddle from the pros--Willie Rickenstein, Mindy Clark, JoJo Toepner--after joining Off-Shore Canoe Club because a knee injury had sidelined him in his favorite sport, soccer. That was in 1986 and by 1989, his life was revolving around water. He joined the Navy, became a pilot, and "selected the type of aircraft based on location," he says. That choice landed him in Hawai`i, where he padded for the Honolulu Canoe Club, racing and training both women's and novice men's teams. He's done the Moloka`i twice, and the Catalina Crossing three times, once taking third in a Malia. He's also been among the top three finishers in numerous individual regattas and distance races.

Sandy came to the DC Women's Outrigger crew fortuitously. Looking for a place to moor his one-person canoes, he rented a canoe and was paddling upstream when he passed the Washington Canoe Club. There he spotted the outrigger, ``and I knew I was home,'' he says. Paddling in DC is no different than West Coast paddling, he says. "The boats are the same, the technique is the same, the intensity and dedication required are the same. The only difference is the body of water." Because it's fresh water, "We have to work extra hard, with more intensity than you would in the ocean.''

Moloka`i is a moving experience, he says. "I hope this year's Moloka`i teaches each of the women on the DC team a little more about themselves, about overcoming perceived physical and mental limitations. This race is about teamwork, about helping the other person up, about reaching walls ....and busting through them.''

Team Member Biographies
Kirstin Bortz, 28, grew up in Oakland, California loving the water, but she never heard of outriggers until she came to the East Coast. As a child and teenager, she canoed, rafted, water-skied and swam. She took up whitewater kayaking four years ago and joined the NCAWPA dragon boat team in 1995. Kirstin quickly switched to the outrigger because "it was more dynamic and the races were longer distances,'' she says. To paddle from Molokai` to O`ahu has been a dream for two years. "These boats are made for open ocean and to be in one there would be the ultimate experience,'' she says. "I believe the race will be the most physically and mentally challenging thing I will have ever done.''

Kirstin is an emergency room nurse, a challenge in and of itself but one that has afforded her time to train as she works 12 hour shifts, often through most of the night. She paddles year-round, in snow, rain, or stifling heat and also works out with weights and bikes. She says she has learned to trust her body, trust that she can push herself to go beyond what she thought was her limit and still recover. She crewed on the outrigger in 1996 in Virginia Beach, Virginia; Cape Ann, Massachusetts, and Catalina, California and this year has raced in Virginia Beach and New York.

Caroline Brosius, 30, began her paddling career at age 4 on the Columbia River in a kayak that her dad had made. A champion rower, she switched to flatwater sprint kayaks in 1992 and within a year had gold and bronze medals from the U.S. Sprint National Championships and the U.S. Sports Festival. Last year she took a gold, four silver and a bronze medal at the Canoe/Kayak Sprint National Championships, was the Middle States Divisional Senior Sprint Champion and Champion of the International Sprint Knockout in the four-women kayak. She was 13th in the U.S. K-1 women's Olympic Trials.

Looking to expand her paddling repertoire, she trained this winter for the 70-mile General Clinton Regatta, taking second in a women's C-2 marathon canoe. Intrigued by the women doing outrigger and variety of races--including Moloka`i, she joined the DC Outrigger crew in May. Caroline earns her keep as a computer draftsperson for a Virginia engineering firm, and when not working or paddling likes to rid motorcycles, play with her dog, and rock climb.

Anne Cook, 28, came to the outrigger team with a dry wit and a desire to meet new people after she moved to the Washington D.C. area for her job. She jokingly says she practices her stroke daily by digging ditches for her job, which is laying pipe as a utilities specialist for the U.S. Air Force. She chose this career because she loves to be outdoors and to do physical labor, but the team offers her this and more. "The athleticism and drive of the women I met the first night really impressed me, " she recalls of her first night paddling almost a year ago. "To go to Moloka`i, to go through such and incredible test, with such a great group of people is way beyond anything I had envisioned when I first came down to check out the team. But I want to go because I have confidence that if I am ever to do something like this, this is the crew to do it with!"

A native of Phoenix, Arizona, Anne enjoys road trips and Ben and Jerry's ice cream, and says she has two cats that think she's abandoned them because she's been so busy training. Her training regimen: "I prepare by whining, when I am not whining, I try to drink lots of water, paddle, eat, paddle, work, paddle, sleep."

Peggy Coulombe, 39, first stepped into a canoe 3 years ago, and as part of the NCAWPA dragon boat team "loved the team aspects and the competition." She switched to outrigger because it represented a bigger, more intense challenge and raced in the Catalina Crossing in 1996. "The ocean and I have a long history," she says. "There's a respect for something so big, deep, and old. It presents a challenge and a connection to the earth." She views the upcoming competition in Hawai`i as both a physical and mental challenge, one that is both frightening and exhilarating.

For this race, she began training this winter, working out with weights and running until the weather warmed enough for her to start paddling. This spring she took 3rd in a 12-mile marathon race and since then has been in an outrigger four to six times a week. She works full-time as a biologist, and would write short stories and poetry, cook, take pictures, hike or read, except that paddling takes up all her free time.

This intense training has had its rewards, however, she notes. "I have gained a group of close friends--people I would not have met otherwise. We come from all walks of life, training, backgrounds, experience, and education, and we are all equal here. It's made me grow immensely.''

Jan Dreisbach, 37 , (alternate) began paddling one chilly October night in a dragon boat, four years ago. When NCAWPA was able to borrow an outrigger for the summer, she gladly switched over grateful ``to be freed from the butt blisters brought on by dragon boating.'' A longtime swimmer and, for the past two years a marathon canoe racer, she sees the race in Hawai`i "as the ultimate test of our training, both individually and as a team.''

Jan manages software development and brings in new business for her company, Hughes Information Technology, and has recently become certified as a personal trainer, working part-time at a local health club. Asked what's she's had to give up to train for this race, she says "free time, late nights, and men.''

Ruth O'Connell, 35, knew she wanted to paddle canoes competitively ever since college, when in a novice canoe class, she always wanted to beat her classmates in the various canoe maneuvering exercises. She joined NCAWPA in 1994 and paddled the dragon boat for two years, traveling to Hong Kong, Singapore, and Vancouver. Tired of paddling just on one side (paddlers sit two abreast and never switch sides once seated in the boat) and eager to try out a new sport, she was one of the first in the group to get hooked on the outrigger. She likes being part of a smaller team--10 in an outrigger versus 20 in a dragon boat-- and is pleased to be a part of this sport as it begins to explode on the East Coast.

As for racing in Hawai`i, "I am anxious to test our team's tenacity and adaptive skill to cope with unfamiliar race conditions,'' she says. She expects the race to be extreme and particularly challenging physically because of the big water, hot temperatures, and distance. To prepare, Ruth spent the winter training in a marathon canoe, logging 100 hours in a boat in time for a 70-mile marathon race Memorial Day Weekend.

Ruth is a contract negotiator for the U.S. Navy, and likes to do genealogy research, work in her garden and paint--when she has time. Asked what she's given up for this race--enough time with her husband, she says.

Karen Ostlie, 36, spends her days working with chronically mentally ill adults and in her free time has been quite involved in grassroots politics, the D.C. Statehood movement in particular. A social worker, she finds that paddling helps relieve the stress of the job and provides a challenge unlike any she's experienced before. She joined the outrigger crew because "it looked like fun to be out on the river, and I wanted a different way of working out,'' she says. A native of St. Paul, Minnesota, Karen had skied competitively in college, but hadn't paddled much before, except for a week on the Minnesota Boundary Waters. Training for the Moloka`i has already given her a "great sense of accomplishment.'' .

Liz Pennisi, 42, picked up a paddle for the first time eight years ago. A whitewater kayaker, she tried out for the first NCAWPA team in 1992 because she wanted to see Thailand. Next the lure of Hong Kong, Singapore, Vancouver kept her active with the dragon boat crew. Now the promise of Hawaii and a chance to paddle in the open ocean has drawn her to outrigger. In the past three years, Liz has medaled as a masters flatwater sprint kayaker both in the Middle States Championships, and the Canadian Canoe/Kayak Championships. She stroked the DC Outrigger crew to second place in the 1997 New York Outrigger Liberty Cup and first jumped into an outrigger last year as a last minute substitute in a 21-mile race in Cape Ann, Massachusetts.

She says she paddles to keep from getting too fat and because she loves to spend time on the water, particular around sunset. A native of Long Island, Liz grew up body surfing in the ocean and looks forward to riding the swells between Moloka`i and O`ahu. To support her paddling habit, she works full-time as a science writer but secretly wishes she were a travel writer instead.

Ilka Sampler, 31, is the team's newest paddler, having joined in June with just some whitewater rafting and recreational canoeing in her paddling portfolio. But she's come a long way, and in September competed in the 3-day, 90-mile Adirondack Canoe Classic. Ilka came to the team because she wanted to acquire a variety of outdoor skills. She stayed because she very much enjoys training and competing "with an interesting and diverse group of women who share a lover of the river and racing,'' she says.

Ilka is no stranger to challenging competition, however. She has done various multi-sport competitions and triathlons. In addition, she's a project engineer working with the U.S. Navy Seals, who make "great workout partners." She is currently training for the 1998 Eco Challenge and the 1998 Raid Gauloises in Ecuador. She does competitive running, rock climbing, hand gliding, hiking, swimming and biking. "I enjoy life and live it to its max,'' she says.

Cheryl Zook, 28, jumped into a dragon boat one Saturday almost four years ago, barely able to swim and never having handled a paddle before. What seemed like a whim then has since turned into an obsession, she says. She helped paddle that dragon boat to victories in both Asia and North America, then "jumped" in a two-person marathon canoe in 1995 and with just a few months training took first in the mixed C-2 division in the 70-mile General Clinton marathon canoe race. The following year, she and a woman partner took first in the C-2 women's division. Outrigger seemed like a natural progression for her--and a safer, more stable craft for winter paddling.

Cheryl thinks the race in Hawai`i will be "crazy, scary, exhilarating, intense and painful,'' but she wants to do it "because I fear it, and for the competition--to be able to race with so many other women." She takes pride in breaking society's stereotypes of women. Her chosen profession is as a free-lance theater technician, where she handles sound or lights, stage managment and pyrotechnics. In her spare time she helps builds houses for the homeless.

National Capital Area Women's Paddling Association
The National Capital Area Women's Paddling Association (NCAWPA) was formed to promote paddling locally, nationally and internationally, with the focus on encouraging women . This non-profit, tax-exempt 501-c3 organization, consists of amateur women athletes, focused and dedicated to paddle sports. Its current roster included about 100 members, many of whom first picked up a paddle when they joined NCAWPA. They compete in dragon boat races, marathon canoe competitions, flatwater spring kayak and canoe regattas, and, most recently, outrigger races. They practice on the Potomac River out of the Washington Canoe Club on Washington D.C.'s Georgetown waterfront, and as such are part of that club's century-old tradition of training Olympic athletes.

NCAWPA was first conceived in 1992, when a group of Baltimore and Washington, D.C. women represented the United States at the International Swan Boat Competition in Bangkok, Thailand, under the direction of Dave Armstrong, an exercise physiologist and Swan Boat race,. They took second in that race, the first ever to allow women competitors. Then in 1993, they began racing dragon boats; in 1995 flatwater kayaks and marathon canoes; in 1995, outrigger canoes.

Outrigger: Using a borrowed Malea, NCAWPA outrigger crew got started in the summer of 1995. Outriggers are 43-foot long, 400-pound canoes that seat six paddlers, one behind another, including a steerer. In some races, up to four more paddlers will switch in and out of the boat from the water at regular intervals. Races vary in length, but tend to be 15 miles or longer.

In the team's first race, the 1996 Braeburn Challenger in Cape Ann, Massachusetts, they were the only women's team among six outrigger crews. Also in 1996, they took first in the Virginia Beach/Sandbridge OC-6 (women's) and 12th in the Catalina Island Crossing in California. In 1997, NCAWPA fielded two women's teams for local East Coast Races. They took first and second in the Virginia Beach/Sandbridge OC-6, and second and fifth in the New York Liberty Cup. Also in 1997, NCAWPA purchased a Force-5 outrigger and a trailer.

Dragon Boat: Dragon boats and swan boats are 40-foot (equivalent to a school bus) traditional wood canoes weighing close to 4,000 pounds. They are propelled by a crew of 20 paddlers plus a steerer. Paddlers sit two abreast in the boat on a narrow board, paddling in precise synchronization at a cadence of up to 100 strokes per minute and never switching sides along a 640-meter course.

In five years the dragon ladies have placed 9 times in both women's and open competition, national and internationally. Nationally they have won the women's divisions in the International Hong Kong Dragon Boat Races (1994 -1997), the Portland Dragon Boat Festival (1995), the U.S. dragon boat championship in Iowa (1996), and competed favorably in mixed races in Pennsylvania (1995) and New York (1993). The team went on to compete internationally, taking sixth place at the International Hong Kong Dragon Boat Races (1994), second and fourth in the Singapore Dragon Boat Festival (1994), and third in the Vancouver Dragon Boat Festival (1995).

Marathon Canoe: Marathon canoes are lightweight racing canoes with one or two paddlers. Races range from 12 to 120 miles long. Individual NCAWPA paddlers have raced marathon boats since 1992. Starting in 1995, NCAWPA has increased its presence at the 70 mile General Clinton race in New York and in the Marathon Canoe nationals. Cheryl Zook has won the Clinton in her race category in 1995 and 1996, and took second in 1997. About a dozen women are now regularly racing marathon boats.

Flatwater Sprint Kayak/Canoe: The Washington Canoe Club has traditionally fielded very strong flatwater sprint kayak and canoe teams, nationally and internationally. Several NCAWPA paddlers are kayakers, and have medaled both in the United States and in Canada in 1-, 2-, and 4-person kayaks.

*Hele On

Last Modified: Sunday 10/05/97 0039 HST
Copyright 1997, NCAWPA Inc.
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