Last month Port Alberni hosted the Sproat Lake Ladies Dragon Boat Regatta, a very successful event that saw the participation of 18 teams and about 400 competitors. Our local team did very well placing second in the Diamond Event, led by coach, paddler and drummer, Donna James.
This sport has been in existence in Port Alberni since 1999, thanks to James, who had the vision of bringing it to our community by forming the West Coast Dragon Boat Society.
“This idea came to me after watching my son paddle in Vancouver,” says James. “By April of 2000, we had raised enough money for our first boat, which we still use today.”
James has been an avid, sporty person for a number of years. In fact, in addition to her love for dragon boating, she has also been involved in curling, line dancing, golf, walking, paddling, etc. She and Delores Dwolinsky taught line dancing for many years in the Alberni Valley. It is interesting to note that they, along with seven others, made the trip all the way to China where they had the opportunity to dance on the Great Wall! “Never in my wildest dream did I think it would take us that far, but it did. It was a wonderful experience,” she says.
James was born in Donalda, Alta., a small town situated just above the coolies, where, as a young girl she spent many hours playing. Her father operated the local creamery there. Then the family moved to Chipman, a town located about 100 miles east of Edmonton, where he owned and operated a new creamery.
“When I was 20 I came to Vancouver and worked at the Bank of Montreal. The first year here took me some time adjusting to the new environment of the west coast, because I felt cold and clammy, apart from being homesick, but soon after BC became definitely my home,” she states.
While in Vancouver she met and married Jack James. It was there where their first son, Lindsay, was born. And in 1955 the couple and son moved to Powell River and their other two children, Raymond and Sharron, were born. In 1965-66 Donna attended a clinic at the University of Guelph in order to get her coaching certificate and became part of a team coaching the Junior Olympics in track and field.
After 12 years in Powell River, husband Jack was transferred to Cameron Lake Division in Port Alberni. Now Donna, mother of three, began teaching PE at ADSS in 1967, and the following year filling in as a substitute teacher at AW Neill. “I now see some of those students today with their grandchildren of their own. That’s nice!”
Port Alberni has been the site for a number of Vancouver Island, provincial and international sports events. Donna has been actively involved as a volunteer in the majority of them: BC Games, BC Seniors Games, Games for Special Needs athletes, the Under-17 World Hockey Tournament, the visiting Tall Ships, a special sport tournament for the blind and the deaf, etc.
This untiring local figure has, until recently, also been assisting people with special needs by teaching them how to curl, a winter activity the participants have enjoyed.
At age 85, Donna doesn’t seem to slow down, on the contrary, she continues practising and competing as well as leading her favourite sport, dragon boating, while giving her time to the “Friendly Phone Service” for seniors every week.
“Volunteering makes me feel good when I see myself helping others!”
Orlando Delano writes Valley Seniors every month. The column normally runs the last Tuesday of the month.