GOLD: Tom McKenna, who won four gold medals at the Pan Pacific Masters Games.
GOLD: Tom McKenna, who won four gold medals at the Pan Pacific Masters Games. Adam Hourigan

Dragon Boaters ride golden crest at PanPac games

DRAGON BOATS: There are a couple of dates which stick out in Tom McKenna's mind from the past two years.

January 3, 2015 - the first time he tried dragon boat racing - and last month, when the gold kept coming at the Pan Pacific Masters Games on the Gold Coast.

McKenna brought home four gold medals from the competition, two in the grand masters opens 200m and 500m races, as part of the NSW Motley Crew.

The other two medals were earned in the cancer survivors' opens paddles, in the NSW All Comers team.

To top it off, the 63-year-old was also named Paddler of the Carnival at the presentation night - not bad for a cancer survivor who was introduced to dragon boat racing less than two years ago.

"I was eating my tucker at the awards thinking, are they talking about me? and then they said 'there he is, get up here',” he said.

"I've only been paddling 18 months, and out of 154 paddlers they singled me out. I was rapt.”

Other members of the Grafton Dragon Boat Club also held their own at the games, with Deb Adams taking two gold and a silver, Sharon Williams nabbing a gold in the women's mixed event, and Tracey Starr and Pete Webster also taking home medals.

"There were eight representatives from the Clarence/Grafton team and between us we got seven gold, five silver, and one bronze,” McKenna said.

"I was lucky that both Tracey and myself have now been picked in the opens team to represent the northern region at the state titles in Penrith in February.”

What makes McKenna's strides more amazing is when he was 38, doctors gave the former police officer only a couple of months to live after he was diagnosed with throat and stomach cancer.

"It was very nasty, they didn't expect me to pull through but with the support of my family from 1989 - 1992 I got through it,” he said.

"I've got a whole new lease on life now, and it was great to paddle with the other survivors at (the Pan Pacific Games).

"They were all talking about what they had had, and I think we helped each other. We devoted the first race to each other and the next one to the people who supported us, and then had one race for the people who weren't there.”

As well as steering him towards new friendships, dragon boat racing has also helped McKenna improve his fitness.

Since September, he has dropped 15kg through training with the club and the group's participation in cerebral palsy fundraiser Steptember.

"(Dragon boat racing) most definitely got me motivated to really get into fitness,” McKenna said.

"I'm really committed to it. People seem to think it's a sport for people recovering from breast cancer or women but it's not and you can do anything.

"Now that I've made the regional zone team I'm right into it. I'm also going to world masters in New Zealand in April.”

Grafton Dragon Boat Club president Robin Smith said it was good for the competition and for the club to have so many team members coming home with medals.

"It's a good achievement,” he said. "Tommy's fairly new to the sport so he's developing all the time.”

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