“I can see myself being one of those 80-year-old grandmother paddlers”: an interview with SFU Shockwave co-captain Caroline Therrien

Therrien talks about co-leading the SFU dragon boat team this season

Kitty Cheung / The Peak

By: Kitty Cheung

Year: Second-year

Major: English major, communication minor

Hometown: Burnaby, BC

Favourite post-practice meal: Commercial Sushi for the “Holy Trinity of vegetarian sushi” — mango, yam, and avocado

Caroline Therrien is the co-captain of the SFU dragon boat team, better known as SFU Shockwave. Having joined the team in her second semester at SFU, Therrien earned the title of “Most Improved Paddler” for the 2018 season. Stepping into this leadership role as co-captain has been quite the challenge for Therrien, who has inspired her teammates with sheer grit and dedication. Currently trying out for the U24 National Team, the Canadian team for youth under age 24, Therrien shows steadfast determination in her athleticism.

Therrien opens up to The Peak about her paddling, experiences with SFU Shockwave, and work-life balance.

The Peak: Can you give us a brief backgrounder on your paddling experience, how you got into dragon boating, why you chose to join the team, etcetera?

Caroline Therrien: I played soccer for 15 years. And I was terrible at it. I wasn’t very good at it. And so, when I aged out of my soccer league, I was like, “I should probably stay active, join another sport, but maybe something that’s alternative to soccer and anything with any sort of ball, anything you throw or move.”

So I was going to join the rowing club and I went to their table during Clubs Days. And they really intimidated me. Then I came to the dragon boat table and was like “Oh, this seems a bit better.”

But I didn’t join because I couldn’t make it to the first practice, so then I joined in January Clubs Days. I had a mission. I had a friend that I had met in my English class, like, “Let’s go to Clubs Days” and I was like, “Okay, come with me. I need to find the dragon boat table. I need to join this club.” That was my 2018 New Year’s resolution.

P: Can you tell us about your future goals within paddling? What are you trying to accomplish with this sport?

CT: I’m only in it to have fun, really. I always want to make sure I have fun. Right now, I’m trying out for the U24 National Team [. . .] But overall, I mean, I can see myself being one of those 80-year-old grandmother paddlers that are like “woo!” in 60 years.

P: What keeps you motivated in your paddling?

CT: I always try to set mini-goals, so then, once you accomplish that one task, you can move on — always having something to work towards at every practice and always improving in that sense. Just setting really small goals, [for example] today I want to make sure there’s no white water when I catch.

P: You’ve taken on quite the leadership role this season being team co-captain. How did you feel when you earned this role?

CT: I was so excited. I didn’t apply for that role. I applied to be the director of administration, and when I got the email from the admin team of last year [. . .] I saw that email and I literally laid down in my living room and I YouTube-searched rain sounds and I [thought], “Holy shit.” I was so excited [. . .] And when I saw the rest of the admin team structure, I was like “Oh my God, I can’t wait to do this with this person. They’re going to do such a good job.”

P: How have you been balancing this responsibility with school and work commitments?

CT: Honestly, it’s a lot [. . .] A lot of time management, which I’m okay at – I’ve had to improve. Just balancing things, and when you take the bus, I always have to use it for readings now instead of just listening to music. Just doing stuff when you really don’t want to, not being easy on yourself, just being very strict with how you manage your time and how you plan your day. Or else I just won’t do anything, I’ll just sit on my couch and go and watch YouTube videos.

P: Who is someone who inspires you as a paddler?

CT: I would say everyone on the team. When I look at the work that other people put in, I don’t want to slack off because they’re putting in the effort, why shouldn’t I? Also, it’s such a small community, like you get to know people from other teams and I look at them and I look at how strong they are. Like when you’re on the water and you see other boats going past, and [think] that’s a fast team, I want to be that fast.

P: What advice would you give to future or beginner paddlers?

CT: Don’t be intimidated. It’s a sport that people join a lot later on in life [than] things like soccer, where you’d join when you’re like, five years old. As long as you put in a solid effort, you can go really far with this sport. As long as you’re committed, you can improve really quickly. It’s a lot of fun.

P: What has been a highlight of your time with the team so far?

CT: When we went to Concord [the Concord Pacific Dragon Boat Festival], and after we raced the final race, we weren’t sure how we placed, and then our last year’s captain ran over to us and was like “We came in first!” And everyone freaked out. Everyone was so happy. Everyone was hugging each other and screaming and cheering. Honestly, that was a nice moment [. . .]

And also, we went to San Francisco for the [Northern California International Dragon Boat Festival] in September and so we went international as a team and that was really fun to explore the States [. . .] to see the California teams and just see how the dragon boat community is in a different country.

P: What are your expectations for the team this season?

CT: I just want us to keep improving. I also want people to keep coming out to practices and I want people to feel like this is a team that they think it’s worth to put in the time and effort for, because I do, so it’s nice when everyone else does as well, which is what we’re seeing [. . .] But mostly, I just want people to be committed. I want people to have a good time; I want people to enjoy being on the water.

P: Who is the funniest person on the team?

CT: Katie joined the team this year. She’s hilarious. She sits behind me a lot of the time and she’s so funny. I don’t know if he counts but our coach Earl, I don’t know if he’s funny but when you just hear his laugh. He has a super distinctive laugh [. . .]

When practices get really cold, you need someone to lighten the mood. Like when it’s raining and you don’t really want to be there, you have to keep it lighthearted. While we’re paddling, we’ll joke about how it feels like we’re escaping from prison [. . .] like Alcatraz. Like when the wind is in your face, just going as fast as you can into the rain and into the wind, it feels very dramatic. That’s an ongoing joke between [the team].

Athlete’s Corner

I think [dragon boating is] a great sport because, since it’s so tight-knit, if you want to take a leadership role, you are definitely capable of doing that. You get to make so many new friends, and challenge yourself mentally and physically.

Sometimes, I think about what my life would be if I hadn’t joined this team [. . .] my life would be totally different, I know it wouldn’t be this good. I think it would suck a little bit more [chuckles]. I’ve changed so much in the past year, some of it because of the team, some of it not, but regardless I think it’s helped me make so many positive changes. I’m very happy that this team exists, and I love this team with all of my heart. It’s like my little baby; I just want to watch it grow.

SFU Shockwave holds practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6pm, as well as Sundays at 11am at Creekside Community Centre in Vancouver. If you would like to join, email sfushockwave@gmail.com or visit the SFU Shockwave Facebook page.

Note: Responses have been edited for clarity and length.