Growing up in Laos gave Enoy Chanlyvong every opportunity he needed to fall in love with dragon boat racing. But it never stuck.
Each year, he watched others from the village he lived in cut down a tree and carve a dragon boat out of it.
His family made their way to the United States when he was 8 years old, but it wasn’t until he was about 35 that he found a passion for dragon boating.
“Some friends were trying to race the (Atlanta Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival held at Lake Lanier) … and they didn’t have a good team,” said Chanlyvong, 44, a Dacula resident. “He was trying to build his team again and gave me and my brother a call, and ever since then, me and my brother are still at it.”
Now, Chanlyvong will be paddling with Team USA in the International Canoe Federation World Dragon Boat Championship coming Sept. 12-16 to the Lake Lanier Olympic Park.
Chanlyvong usually races for and coaches the Mekong Dragons, a dragon boat team in the Atlanta area founded in 2007. He tried to qualify for the U.S. team for the world championship in Poland in 2014 but missed the cut. When he heard the 2018 competition was just an hour drive from his home in Dacula, he knew he’d have to try again.
He registered with the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club just four months ago and started training right away with the coaches there.
“It’s very stressful and hard on your body,” Chanlyvong said. “You’re leaning to one side. You’re stacking your shoulders. You have to have some kind of physical ability to keep that form.”
He said he didn’t have that kind of physical ability in 2014, but when he started training in 2018, it finally came. He’s been traveling from Dacula twice each week just to get on the water and train with the team.
“If you want it, you’ve got to make time for it,” Chanlyvong said. “I really, really wanted to prove to myself that all this time dedicated to it, ‘Why can’t you get on this USA team?’ And I really set my goals high and I’m glad I made it.”
He’s in the gym almost every day working out different groups of muscles that will help him paddle more efficiently. He’s also been running more than ever, trying to build up his cardio.
“I’m just trying to imitate on land the kind of stress in the boat,” Chanlyvong said. “Four years ago, I was cramping up because my cardio wasn’t up to par. I was cramping all the time. I mean, I had the stroke, but I couldn't maintain.”
Now that the Dragon Boat World Championship is just days away, Chanlyvong said he’s ready to start. He’ll be racing in the master division, and may race in the senior division, too.“It’s here, and I really have dedicated myself to it,” Chanlyvong said. “Four years ago, I didn’t practice with (Team USA coach Jim O’Dell). I just practiced with Mekong once every week. But what I did with Jim was dedicate more time in the water to get on the team and luckily it worked.”
World Dragon Boat Championships schedule
Team arrivals and practice: Sept. 9-11
Opening ceremonies: 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 12, Lake Lanier Olympic Park, 3105 Clarks Bridge Road, Gainesville
Racing events: Sept. 13-16
Closing ceremonies: 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 16, the Smithgall Arts Center Lawn, 331 Spring St., Gainesville
How much: Parking at Lanier Olympic Park will be $10, racing events and opening ceremonies are free, closing ceremonies are $20 per person
More info: lanierdragonboat2018.com