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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 21, 2006

There is an 'i' in Team Bradley

By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer

The makeup of Team Bradley forces its paddlers to work out on their own before coming together as a crew, as they'll do Sunday.

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WHAT: 41-mile outrigger canoe race for women.

WHEN: Sunday, 7:30 a.m. start; first finishers expected around 1 p.m.

WHERE: Start at Hale O Lono Harbor, Moloka'i; finish at Duke Kahanamoku Beach, Waikiki.

WHO: Approximately 70 crews from around the world competing in various divisions (open, masters 40-older, masters 50-older, koa canoe).

FORMAT: Open crews can rotate 10 paddlers into six seats of the canoe throughout the race; masters crews can rotate 12 paddlers.

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Even after receiving a sponsorship from Coffees of Hawai'i, Team Bradley has not taken any coffee breaks since winning last year's Na Wahine O Ke Kai.

Team Bradley is considered the top seed for Sunday's 41-mile outrigger canoe race for women. The race from Hale O Lono Harbor, Moloka'i, to Duke Kahanamoku Beach, Waikiki, is considered the world championship of long-distance canoe paddling for women's teams.

"The good thing about this group is that they all work hard," Team Bradley coach John Puakea said. "Even though they won it last year, they were all motivated to improve."

The proof has come in the results. Team Bradley won all four of the "warm-up" races it entered over the past six weeks.

Making it more impressive, the team has found success through individual workouts.

Team Bradley, which is named after canoe-builder Sonny Bradley, features nine paddlers from Hawai'i and one from Australia.

Lauren Bartlett, Theresa Felgate, Margie Kawaiaea and Dane Ward are from Maui; Denise Darval-Chang, Kelly Fey and Mahealani Lum are from O'ahu.; Cherisse Keli'i is from the Big Island; Darcie Gray is from Kaua'i; Shelley Wilding-Oates is from Australia.

Because of the unique composition of the crew, team practices are virtually impossible.

"We see each other the day before a race and we usually get a practice run in," Kawaiaea said. "And then, somehow, we make it work when it comes time for the race."

It is not quite that simple.

Each paddler is required to fulfill an individual workout schedule prescribed by Puakea. A typical weekly schedule involves eight to nine hours of paddling on a one-person canoe, two to three hours of weight training, and two to three hours of running or swimming.

"It's basically what a lot of other (paddlers) are doing, just that we do it on one-mans," Ward said. "There's no secret sauce to it."

The good part is the paddlers can complete their workouts whenever they want during a day.

"It's nice to have that camaraderie when you practice together with a crew," Ward said. "But it's also nice to fit in your workouts on your own time. I try to get a lot of my training done in the morning so I can have time for my kids later in the day."

The key ingredients are the paddlers. All 10 of the paddlers in the crew are considered elite solo competitors.

For example, Bartlett, Fey and Ward have all won solo world championships. Bartlett represented the United States at the 2004 Olympics in the flat-water kayaking competition.

"The bottom line is that these are all solid paddlers," Puakea said. "They're good individual athletes and good waterwomen. If you don't have that, a program like this doesn't work."

But Puakea has also made a difference. Team Bradley has been in existence since 1997, and won the Na Wahine O Ke Kai in 1999 (the team was known as Wailua Kayak & Canoe back then). However, it did not use a coach until 2005, when Puakea guided them to last year's win.

"We were training hard in the past years, but I don't think we were training the right way," Kawaiaea said. "Having a coach like John really turned things around. Since he's come into the picture, we've all raised our level of paddling."

But Team Bradley is not using the same paddlers as years past. Most significant, steerswoman and captain Noelani Auger is on a maternity break this year.

Darval-Chang was brought in from Hui Nalu Canoe Club to replace Auger in the steering position.

"I consider it a privilege," Darval-Chang said. "I paddled with some of these girls before at World Sprints, so I know how good they are."

Darval-Chang said she realized how much work she had to complete after her first race with Team Bradley in August.

"It wasn't a good experience for me, steering-wise, because I wasn't used to the (canoe)," she said. "But I could feel the power of the girls right away. I knew I had a lot of catching up to do."

Darval-Chang and Lum are the new paddlers in the crew this year. The other eight were on last year's championship crew.

Other teams have described Team Bradley as "all-stars," but it is a term the paddlers are not comfortable with. Ward pointed out that the core of the crew has been together since 2000.

"People who don't know our history think we're just picking up the best one-man paddlers," Ward said. "But we've all been friends for years. Every team feels like a family and we're no different."

Reach Dayton Morinaga at dmorinaga@honoluluadvertiser.com.