Eighty members of the 2012 U.S. National Dragon Boat Team will be in Manayunk this weekend for an intensive training camp on the water.
The team, which consists of members selected from a pool of 1,200 athletes from all over the country, is training for the International Canoe Federation Dragon Boat World Championships held next month in Milan, Italy.
Mike Blundetto, coaching and training chairman of Dragon Boat USA, says he chose the location because of the large boating community in the area.
“As head coach, I named Manayunk,” said Blundetto, a Drexel University graduate. “It’s a great town with a great sports atmosphere. I’ve been paddling Dragon Boats on the Schuylkill River for 28 years.”
Blundetto, who now lives in Glenn Mills, Pa., will coach the team through this weekend’s training camp, which kicks off at the Manayunk Brewery and Restaurant on Friday and runs through Sunday.
“The purpose of coming into Manayunk is to do race day scenarios,” said Blundetto. “We’ll be out at 6 a.m. on the water all weekend, doing team building exercises. We’re having a BBQ too. An important element of putting a team like this together is building it on and off the water.”
Training a national team
As head coach, Blundetto oversees all of the training in the league throughout the country and Puerto Rico. He corresponds with coaches through emails, phone conversations and a unique sports video analysis app called “Coach’s Eye.”
“With the app, I can get video footage of a team on the water, draw on the screen what I’m seeing and send it back to them – all in real time,” explained Blundetto, “they can literally be on the boat and get my response.”
He also utilizes a computerized paddle that assesses a person’s output of paddle strokes. The device connects to his computer through a USB port so that he can download the data.
“We concentrate on speed,” said Blundetto, “and how many strokes a minute. There’s a technology behind it.”
The search for a junior team
This year, Dragon Boat USA is launching a junior dragon boat team that will consist of teens between the ages of 15 and 18. The team will train in Manayunk to compete in the 2013 ICF World Club Crew Championships to be held in the Ukraine.
“It’s all under the umbrella of Manayunk,” said Blundetto.
So far the group has reached out to youth in the Philadelphia area from Roxborough High School, North Light Community Center and Imhotep Charter High School.
He says he enjoys working with youth and has five children of his own, four of whom will be competing in Milan.
Anyone interested in particpating is encouraged to attend a press conference on Friday at 4:30 p.m. at the Manayunk Brewery and Restaurant, located at 4120 Main Street. At the event, prospective participants will be able to check out the dragon boats first-hand and row down the Schuylkill River with professional athletes.
“We’re going to get them into the boats for the first time on Friday,” said Blundetto, “we want to introduce them to the sport.”
He says the plan is to train a junior team of about 25 youths throughout the fall and then pick up training again in the spring.
“I prefer that they have not paddled before, but either way, I’m not concerned about skill level,” said Blundetto, “this is about an opportunity for these kids and Manayunk has great resources.”