A world champion dragon boat racer and a member of the Canadian men's volleyball team have been selected as the national winners of the 2005 Tom Longboat Award.
Toronto's Marisha Roman, who helped Canada win five medals (three gold, two silver) at last year's world dragon boat championships in Germany, was chosen as the national female recipient. Dallas Soonias, who hails from Red Deer, Alta., was named as the male winner of the award for his performances with the national team as well as with the University of Alberta squad.
The Tom Longboat Award, named in honor of the legendary Native runner, annually recognizes Aboriginal athletes in Canada who demonstrate a balance between athletics, commitment to healthy living and contributions to the Aboriginal community.
Each year there is a varying number of regional Tom Longboat Award winners representing different provinces or territories. The national winners are then selected from this group.
Roman, 39, is obviously thrilled at winning the award, especially because of the criteria recipients must meet.
"I don't paddle the boat by myself though," Roman said. "So I have some mixed feeling about that."
A dragon boat racing team usually consists of 20 paddlers, a drummer and a sternperson.
Roman is hoping her award win will bring some additional recognition to dragon boat racing.
"Any kind of raising awareness about the sport is good," said Roman, a lawyer who works as the Aboriginal Issues Coordinator for the Law Society of Upper Canada.
Roman, whose mother Patricia is Ojibway, has been participating in dragon boat races since the mid-1990s.
Last year she was a member of the Canadian contingent that competed at the International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF) world championships in Berlin.
The Canadian women's side won gold in all three of its races, in the 200-metre, 500-metre and 1,000-metre events.
Roman was also part of the Canadian mixed (women and men) squad that won silver medals in its 200-metre and 500-metre races.
For Roman, it marked the fourth time she had competed in the IDBF world finals. She had also won medals at her previous three global meets.
Roman first competed at the IDBF world championships in 2001 in Philadelphia.
The world meet is supposed to be held every two years. The '03 event was originally scheduled to be held in China, but it was moved to Poland due to the worrisome SARS outbreak.
Since China was still keen on playing host to the IDBF world meet, officials opted not to wait two years between events and allowed the Chinese to have the '04 championships.
The 2005 Germany meet still went ahead as planned. The world championships are now back on a two-year cycle. The '07 event will be held in Australia.
As for Soonias, he's won his share of awards in recent years, but said none have been bigger than this latest accolade.
"I'd say this is the award I feel most proud of," Soonias said of his Longboat Award. "When I look at the people who've won the award and when people congratulate me, I just want to push harder with my sport."
The 22-year-old Soonias is 6-foot-8 and has been a member of the national men's volleyball squad since 2004. Prior to that he was on the Canadian junior men's national club from 2002-03.
In '05 he helped the Alberta Golden Bears win the Canadian Interuniversity Sport championship.
Soonias is also hoping to be a good role model for Native youth.
"Even though I forget about it time to time when things get really busy or upsetting, I'm trying to set something like a good example for younger people starting to take sport more seriously," he said.