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When Stefanie Natascha Voelker first moved to Australia in 2017, she discovered the unique and exhilarating sport of dragon boat racing, and has since made lifelong friends within its supportive community.

‘I’d spent 8 years competing in sprint kayaking in Singapore, so I came for a free come-and-try session at the Docklands, fell in love with the community and dragon boating, and the rest was history,’ said Natascha.

Natascha – who lives locally - said being able to train so close to home frees up her time for study, work and social commitments, and allows her to get more out of life.

It increases my general efficiency, allows me to get more sleep at night (always a big plus!), and lets me enjoy a more holistic and greater quality of life because I can fit more into my daily schedule.

In November 2022, Natascha competed at the 14th Asian Dragon Boat Championships in Thailand, supported by a City of Melbourne Inclusive Sport and Recreation Grant.

Having qualified for Australia’s Dragon Boat team – the AurorasNatascha received an Individual Participation Grant to offset international travel costs, so that she could achieve her sporting goal of competing at an elite level.

‘Being a full-time university student, I had quite a tight budget that led to me feeling stressed about the costs associated with travelling, accommodation, training/selection camps, and the team’s uniform,’ Natascha explained.

As well as the honour of representing Australia, Natascha said she really enjoyed connecting with other athletes.

Young woman in activewear smiles at camera

Natascha in her Melbourne University Dragon Boat Club uniform

Group of athletes in yellow and gold uniforms

Natascha (bottom row, third from right) represented Australia at the 14th Asian Dragon Boat Championships in Pattaya-Rayong, Thailand, competing against the Premier Dragon Boat squads from 10 Asian countries

What made this year’s competition extra special was the fact that it was the first one held after the competition hiatus during the pandemic. There was a shared sentiment across all countries that we were all very excited to be there!

When asked what she liked most about dragon boating, Natascha struggled to name just one thing, explaining that it offers athletes the full package; great inclusivity, thrilling competition and a whole range of opportunities for personal and athletic development.

Group of athletes and inflatable kangaroo

Through dragon boat racing Natascha (bottom row, second from left) has made lifelong friends and met inspiring mentors and coaches

Rowers in dragonboat

Dragon boat racing offers athletes a range of opportunities for personal and athletic development

Natascha is keen to raise awareness of dragon boating in the wider community, as she said it’s still relatively unknown outside the sports community.

In 2018, Natascha co-founded the Melbourne University Dragon Boat Club (MUDBC) and is currently Vice President.

The MUDBC was borne out of the dream to expand the youth contingency within dragon boating, to effectively increase the longevity of the sport. At present, MUDBC currently is the only university-affiliated club in Australia,’ said Natascha.

Natascha explained MUDBC has a safe, welcoming, and empowering culture, with a membership base that is highly multicultural and inclusive, and has equal numbers of females and males.

‘MUDBC aims to build individuals into athletes during their formative years, with great focus being placed on character and leadership development, in addition to athletic development.

MUDBC trains at Victoria Harbour, Docklands, on Wednesdays from 6.15pm-8pm and on Sundays from 8.15am-10.45am.

Free one-month pass to try dragon boating

If you’re interested in trying out dragon boat racing, you can access a free one-month Dragon Pass to any club of your choice (including MUDBC) through Dragon Boat Victoria.