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The Story of Adrian Jones

By Rachel Kelly

Photo Courtesy of Anita and Adrian Jones

It’s April in Tampa at the United States Dragon Boat Federation (USDBF) national trials, and Adrian Jones doesn’t stand a chance. “I looked over to see the National Team paddling, and these guys are 60-plus and in incredible shape. In sync. And I have to unseat one of them to get on the team. I didn't have a prayer,” says Adrian, the previous Olympian competitor and National Club Crew champion. So when it came time for the 300-meter timed trial, Adrian was more than a little nervous. He had performed relatively well on the rowing machine test, but not overly so. In the trials, up to this point, he had performed average at best. He needed to be at the top.

It was a different setup for the 300 meter, with a new vessel, and in the last group of the day. Adrian was considerably off kilter. So, when a paddler was late, he took the extra few minutes to do a little practice. When the late-comer arrived, Adrian was far from confident. When the race began, other paddlers were quick to start. They pulled ahead. Adrian started slow and even—and was dead last. It was then that something clicked, and it all fell into place. His vision tunneled, and his body came into sync. Muscle memory and his continuous training kicked in; Adrian was in the zone. Through consistency he held his speed and pulled ahead. Against veteran racers, and current national Dragon Boat team members, Adrian pulled ahead and won by far. The seemingly insurmountable challenges were overcome, and Adrian Jones finished third for overall time.

Adrian has a long history in professional athletics. It took him seven years to qualify for the Olympics in 1980, which unfortunately were in Russia, and therefore boycotted by the United States. He kept himself in good shape throughout the years, as a natural athlete generally does. Then, four years ago, Adrian and his wife Anita moved to Gig Harbor from Vancouver, Washington. He was happily whiling away his retirement golfing four days a week. It was then that he was introduced to members in the community who wanted him to join the local Dragon Boating team, Gig Harbor Dragons. Reluctant to dedicate any time away from golf, he agreed to try it out when he wasn’t on the green. It was love at first try. That day, Adrian went out and bought all the equipment.

Over the past four years, Adrian began to look for greater and greater challenges.

Ramping up his training required him to drop his beloved nightly pint of Ben and Jerry’s! However, the hard work and great sacrifices were to pay off; Adrian joined the WAM (Washington Masters) dragon boat club. With his team he won the National Championships in Colorado, earning a berth in the World Championships in France in 2020. Unfortunately, he was once again denied competition due to COVID cancellations. It was becoming a pattern.

Not yet discouraged, Adrian set his sights on the USDBF Team USA Dragon Boat Team. He was to go to further trials (after April), but it was postponed to August. Now that may not even happen. Hong Kong, the host of this year's races, is still suffering from the impacts of COVID-19. To allow for the races, they are enforcing strong restrictions on their athletes. So much so that the United States may not compete and is looking into the possibility of changing the location of the races. It’s all up in the air.

In the meantime, Adrian continues to train in the firm hope that the races may happen. If they do, he wants to be ready. And if he is once again denied competition? There’s always the WAM Club Crew Nationals in October. Once again, his team, the Gig Harbor Dragons, hope to requalify for the 2022 World Club Crew Championships. Beyond that, Seville in 2023. Barring that, there’s always the drive to stay in shape and live a quality life during his retirement years. Hitting 62, Adrian isn’t getting any younger. If he’s not to do what he loves now, then when? Adrian Jones is living his best life, every day.

Adrian’s stepfather, who just celebrated his 100th birthday, is watching his son in anticipation. Adrian trains for him, so that if he wins his dad is here to see it. He trains for his wife, Anita, a dragon boat coach and loyal support. He trains for his son and daughter-in-law, who live in Gig Harbor. He trains for his team, who have quickly become his adopted family. He trains for his community, whose dragon boating team is fairly new and yet is garnering national attention. Adrian Jones trains for himself and his own health, but more than that, he is training for others. We are what gives him his drive. We are his motivation. We are the reason why he keeps going, regardless of restrictions and cancellations. Adrian Jones is training for us. And at the end of it all, when all the training is done and the games won, there’s always that pint of Ben and Jerry’s as his consolation prize.

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