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Local paddlers ready to represent the U.S.
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Jim O’Dell gets excited about the idea of representing the U.S. this summer.

This August, at the International Canoe Federation World Championships in Hungary, O’Dell will be one of approximately 60 paddlers looking to capture a world title in different categories.

He’ll also take part in the opening ceremony, which is similar to the Olympics’ event, but on a smaller scale. And most importantly, he’ll wear our nation’s colors in this dragon boat competition, with boats representing junior, senior and masters boats.

“I’m sure I’ll have a big lump in my throat at the start,” said O’Dell, 49. “I’ll probably have tears more than likely.”

Not only did O’Dell receive the honor of getting to travel to the games for the World Championships, but he’ll also serve as a co-coach in the elaborate races of 20-person boats. Selections for the World Championships were based on qualifying events — the 10th and final of which is being held this weekend at the Lake Lanier Olympic Center on Clarks Bridge Road.

Paddlers with little or no experience are even invited to the trials.

And O’Dell will not be the only member of the Lanier Canoe & Kayak Club representing the U.S. in the World Championships. Also going from the LCKC are Sheaffer Sorrells, 20, and Alejandro Schwedhelm, 24, both of whom will compete in the masters division.

“It’s always an honor to represent our country, family and where we come from,” said Sorrells, who also competed in the 2007 ICF Junior World Championships in the Czech Republic. “It’ll be a new experience to represent the country in a different sport.”

As for Schwedhelm, he is currently paddling internationally with members of the LCKC as part of a training program in Romania.

U.S. dragon boat coach Mike Blundetto organizes qualifying, much like the one in Hall County this weekend, to find the most able paddlers. He main gauge is a Merlin data acquisition paddle, which calculates strength, endurance and body weight to find the most suitable athletes.

O’Dell, who has competed in previous International Regattas, has returned to full strength for the dragon boat after surgery two years ago for a torn labrum, to clean his rotator cuff and remove a cyst. Now, he says, he’s back to full strength.

“Once I got back on the water, I knew I could still do it,” O’Dell said.

Working together in a dragon boat is a different kind of animal. This ancient form of competing on the water, which originated in China, puts a premium on synchronization and efficiency. Members of the LCKC already have prior experience in the event with the annual dragon boat festival held on Lake Lanier.

“In the dragon boat, you all have to work together,” Sorrells said. “It’s the epitome of a team sport.”

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