The Joy of Racing


Jane Crawford ’74 finds success and balance in dragon boat competitions

As the owner of a retail startup, Jane Crawford ’74 worked at a frantic pace for years. Her days were devoted to growing her business, which meant no vacations, no socializing, and 12-hour work days. Crawford knew her life needed balance, she just didn’t have the time to find it. “My second diagnosis of breast cancer in 2005 was a wake-up call that life could be cut short.”

Crawford says the “silver lining” to her diagnosis came after her recovery in 2007 when, at the age of 50, she started paddling with GoPink!DC, a Washington-based Dragon Boat Racing Club for breast cancer survivors. Rooted in ancient Chinese culture, dragon boat racing consists of 20 people in a 40-foot boat paddling in unison to the beat of a drum. “When I go out paddling, and pull away from the dock or shore, I leave all my worries and problems behind,” she said.

What started 12 years ago as recreational sport and an outlet for Crawford has become competitive. Very competitive. Crawford is vying for a spot at the 2019 World Nations Championships in Thailand in August. “I am competing for a seat against an amazing field of roughly 120 women athletes who, in most cases, have the advantage of several years!” But given Crawford’s past success, her goal is not out of reach. In 2017, Crawford competed with Team USA in both the women’s and mixed boats for the Worlds in China. She brought home one gold, two silver, and five bronze medals. In 2015, she competed in the Worlds in Canada. Last fall, Crawford won gold with her D.C. team at the Eastern Region Nationals. And this March, she won three golds and one bronze at the Pan American Dragon Boat Championships in Tobago. “The conditions I most love are when I am with experienced, strong paddlers who paddle together as a well-oiled machine,” she said. “It is a rush!”

Crawford races with three different teams—Washington, Florida and Team USA—and fills in with other crews when asked. “I have a couple dresser drawers stuffed with medals from local, regional, national, and international races,” she said. “While the hardware is nice, I get the most satisfaction from competitions where we execute all that we practiced, doing the best we could possibly do.”

Crawford arrived at Williston as a boarder in 1971. She credits a school-sponsored outdoors program with teaching her the importance of teamwork and helping her develop self-reliance. Crawford’s hard work has paid off, both on the water and in business. After 25 years of growing her retail store of American-themed products from a single store in Alexandria, Virginia, to 33 stores in the D.C. area and six airports, Crawford sold the business in 2014. She now splits her time between Virginia and Florida, training in both locations. “No question, paddling is a big piece of my life now,” she said. But it’s more than just a sport—it’s balance. “A strong dragon boat club becomes a family,” she says.