Think "dragon lady" and a certain stereotypical image come to mind – fierce, domineering and mysterious. But for our very own "dragon ladies" - Vanessa Tan from SGH and Sherdyn Teng from NHCS, those qualities could not be further from the truth!


As members of the Singapore National Women's Dragon Boat team, we caught up with the friendly and chatty duo to find out how they got into the sport and their experience as reserve paddlers at the recent Asian Games in Palembang, Indonesia.


No pain no gain


Sherdyn is considered a baby in the sport of dragon boat racing, having only started formal training in late 2016. Although she started much later than her peers, she was selected for the national team this year through sheer grit and plenty of hard work.


Vanessa, who has been paddling for about five years since her university days, shared that there is hardly any lull period when she's training to compete in races and she usually participates in two or three races a year.


"In the days leading up to a major race, I only have one rest day a week," said Vanessa. "After every race, I get a break for about a week or two before training starts again."


Sacrifices are what Vanessa and Sherdyn are used to. Besides sacrificing time spent with their families and friends, they also have to give up their favourite food such as chips, fried spring rolls and youtiao (dough fritters). A typical meal for Sherdyn would include homemade, healthy spread such as steamed egg, tofu and chicken, with fruits, yogurt and soya milk rounding off her meal. Vanessa too, shares a similar diet, with yong tau foo or basil chicken rice as her usual lunch choices.


Of athleticism and determination

A dragon boat, which can carry 10 paddlers, one coxswain and one drummer will weigh about 200 kg by itself. Imagine paddling the boat all by yourself across 300 metres in two minutes. That was what Vanessa and Sherdyn had to do to qualify as part of the national team for the Asian Games.

While Vanessa and Sherdyn were eventually placed as reserve team members in the national team, training was no less intensive. They were also the only two team members who had full time jobs and had to juggle their day jobs with training.


In the month leading up to the Asian Games, Vanessa and Sherdyn's days would start as early as 5am where they would head to Kallang Basin to train together in a kayak before rushing to work. In the evenings, it was another three hours of training with the rest of the crew before hitting the bed at close to midnight. Weekends were not spared either – with a total of seven hours of training on both Saturday and Sunday. All this was followed by two rounds of training camps in Myanmar and Dali, just so that the team could be in top form for the races.


Vanessa (left) and Sherdyn practise on a kayak when they are not training together with the rest of the crew 


The Asian Games 2018

Pitted against traditional powerhouses such as China, Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand, the Singapore team put up a good showing and came in 6th in the Dragon Boat (Women's) Grand Finals at the Asian Games.

Vanessa shared that her team mates found the water condition at Palembang quite different from what they were used to, which increased the difficulty level of the race. The water was shallower with more marine plants, making it tougher to paddle.


Between races, Vanessa and Sherdyn mingled with athletes from other nations. Sherdyn recalled an interesting encounter with athletes representing Unified Korea (North and South Korea). "It is a tradition for athletes to exchange their country flag badges with each other whenever they meet at major sports event", she said, "but the unified Korean team did not because they wanted to keep the badges with the rare 'unification' flag for themselves!"

So what's next for the "dragon ladies"? Vanessa and Sherdyn have their eyes firmly on the 2019 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Philippines.  Stroke by stroke, paddle by paddle, both ladies are aiming to be part of the main crew and make Singapore as well as SingHealth proud. Let's cheer them on and wish them the very best!

The Singapore National Women's Dragon Boat Team
Bottom row (first from the right): Vanessa & bottom row (third from the left): Sherdyn

While not paddling in a dragon boat, Vanessa is a Medical Laboratory Technologist with SGH. Her daily work includes testing blood samples for viruses, such as hepatitis and dengue. Accuracy in conducting these tests is crucial in providing doctors with a firm diagnosis of various medical conditions.

Sherdyn is a Medical Technologist too but her duties include performing heart-related tests such as electrocardiography (ECG) and treadmill tests for patients. Sherdyn is new to healthcare, having joined NHCS in early 2018 after graduation.

Left: Vanessa tests for viruses in blood samples as part of her daily work
Right: Sherdyn performs treadmill tests for patients at NHCS