Three North East competitors hope to be in the Czech Republic with a paddle as part of the GB team challenging Europe’s elite dragon boat crews this summer.

Apart from their gruelling training routine ahead of the European Nations Dragon Boat Championships (DBC), the trio now also face a demanding funding challenge to be able take part in their sporting trip of a lifetime, in July.

Iain Wilby, Jess Fogarty and Matthew Oliver are all members of the Durham-based Three Rivers Serpents Dragon Boat Club, the oldest in the country.

The Northern Echo: Durham dragon boat trio, l - r, Matthew Oliver, Jess Fogarty and  Iain Wilby, each selected for GB

They successfully emerged from the two-day national trials, at Milton Keynes, by each earning a call-up to the GB crew for dragon boat racing’s equivalent of the Euros.

Mr Wilby, a senior teacher at Bowburn Primary School, who lives in Bishop Auckland, Ms Fogarty, a Newcastle University accountant, and Mr Oliver, an Openreach broadband engineer, from Spennymoor, can regularly be seen training with their Serpents’ crew mates on the River Wear, in Durham.

Apart from the domestic competition calendar this summer, they will each be preparing to take part in the premier events at the 15th European DBC Championships, in Prague, in July.

Their prior off-water challenge is to raise £2,000 each to simply be able to compete, as well as covering the costs of five two-day preparatory training sessions with the rest of the national squad at Loughborough, in Leicestershire, and at St Neots, in Cambridgeshire, ahead of the Prague trip.

Each premier crew is made up of 20 paddlers, a drummer reinforcing the rhythm of the front pairing and a specialist at the helm.

They face competition from rival crews from 22 countries across the continent and seek to achieve perfect timing in fierce sprint races over a six-lane course at the Labe Arena.

The Northern Echo: European Nations Dragon Boat Racing Championship 2024

Mr Wilby and Mr Oliver are the stroke pair in pole position at the front of the lead Durham dragon boat and, both, coincidentally, are trained scuba divers.

Over recent years they have also cultivated a second long-standing partnership, taking part in fight scenes before audiences of up to 8,000 at Kynren’s award-winning historical summertime battle re-enactments in the shadow of Auckland Castle.

Fifteen other Kynren volunteers are also Durham boat crew members.

The Northern Echo:

Both of the duo have been Serpents’ members for several years, while Ms Fogarty’s interest in the historic Chinese water sport was fired while living in Hong Kong.

The Durham club has successfully competed across the country in events organised by the British Dragon Boat Association and one of their more notable accolades came last year when they were crowned the country’s most improved team.

Despite their successes, the trio have stepped up their personal training regime to meet the high fitness levels demanded by the British selectors.

Mr Oliver said: “The Durham crew has provided individual members for the British team in the past, but this is the first time three have been invited to take part in an international competition at the same time and in the premier division.

“We are all excited by the challenge of facing Europe’s best and the opportunity it offers.”

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Ms Fogarty added: “The club has lately been growing in size and strength and we are often able to put two crews on the river in Durham at the same time, which gives training a sharper edge.

“It also underlines our collective commitment and determination which has been reflected in our successes.”

Racice 24, as the European championships are known this year, takes place at the Czech National Olympic Centre Regatta Course, at the Labe Arena, from July 4 to 7.