Grad student paces her way to dragon boat championships

Rehabilitation science student Noelannah Neubauer one of two Albertans on national dragon boat team competing at world championships.

Caleng Chang - 19 August 2015

(Edmonton) Competing at a national level is no easy task. For Noelannah Neubauer, it seemed natural that she made the national dragon boat team for Canada this past year just after finding out she was accepted into the rehabilitation science PhD program at the University of Alberta.

"It felt equally amazing," says Neubauer, who this fall begins her studies in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine. "This year has been amazing having both opportunities presenting itself. When I found out I made it to the national dragon boat team, it was the icing on top."

Noelannah Neubauer

Neubauer's academic journey is what eventually led her to try out for the national dragon boat team. She earned a bachelor's degree in human kinetics at UBC Okanagan, after which she completed a master's in health and exercise sciences looking at developing a measure that identifies different stages of frailty in older males and females.

"It started four years ago when I was training at a local gym and a personal trainer asked if I wanted to try dragon boat racing," explains Neubauer of a sport with more than 2,000 years of history and tradition in Chinese culture. "I had no idea what it was, so I tried it with a local Kelowna team and did well that year."

That same year, Neubauer's coach got her in contact with a more competitive team, the Edmonton Dragon Boat Racing Club. They competed in the 2013 National Championships in Victoria, B.C., earning their bid to the 2014 Club Crew World Championships in Ravenna, Italy.

"We placed 12th in Italy under the premier mixed-division worldwide," says Neubauer. "And as soon as I came home, my teammates bugged me to try out for the national team. I gave it a shot and ended up making it."

In fall of 2014, Neubauer travelled to Vancouver where training camp took place. There were close to 70 girls trying out, with only half making the cut after testing scores were submitted. The remaining candidates were then invited to a final training camp at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and the final 25 girls were selected to be on the national team. Only seven were from Western Canada, with Neubauer being one of two girls from Alberta.

Noelannah Neubauer practises her rowing technique in preparation for the World Dragon Boat Racing Championships.

Juggling school, training and work is not a walk in the park. But with Neubauer's work ethic, she has been able to balance everything without any complaints. She says her dedication, hard work and commitment from dragon boat racing and graduate studies will help her succeed in the rehabilitation science program.

"Dragon boat trains six days a week, 14 to 15 hours a week," says Neubauer. "On top of the training, I have been working with (research supervisor and Department of Occupational Therapy chair) Lili Liu over the summer, published three papers from my thesis and worked as a personal trainer at Infinite Fitness."

"I looked at other supervisors but what Dr. Liu was doing was interesting, especially the GPS tracking technology for dementia." -Noelannah Neubauer, PhD student

Working with Liu, who investigates the use of technology to help people and families affected by dementia, has been a great learning experience thus far, Neubauer says, adding her interest in dementia and Liu were key factors in her decision to attend the U of A.

"I wanted to switch out of kinesiology and diversify into a new area of gerontology. I looked at Dr. Liu's work and was hooked on it," explains Neubauer. "I looked at other supervisors but what Dr. Liu was doing was interesting, especially the GPS tracking technology for dementia. UBC Okanagan offered a PhD program for me, but my family is in Edmonton and it would be a good opportunity to come back home."

Over the summer, Neubauer worked as a research assistant in Liu's lab, coding qualitative data for the GPS Locator Device Project to help prevent people with dementia from wandering or getting lost. Thanks to funding from AGE-WELL NCE, Neubauer can focus solely on her research for the duration of her studies.

It's a bit of a homecoming for Neubauer after spending her undergrad and graduate studies at UBC Okanagan. Before settling down in Edmonton to focus her new chapter, Neubauer will be competing at the World Dragon Boat Racing Championships in Welland, Ont., from Aug. 18 to 23.