From the Mohawk River to Kallang River

Publication Date

Pamela Kustas '90

MAJOR: Economics
CURRENT POSITION: American Dragons Singapore paddle team member

December 2012, Pamela Kustas ’90 joined Bloomberg’s market specialist team as a local hire in Singapore. She had never been to Singapore, knew no one there and would be relocating from Boston, Mass., on her own. To learn about her new home, she did some research.

Pamela Kustas ’90

Pamela Kustas '90 (right)

That included Googling “Americans in Singapore.” Which led her to American Dragons, a paddle club that trains and competes in dragon boat and outrigger canoe races in Singapore and around the world.

A lifelong athlete—competitive runner, triathlete, skier and former Union crew member — Kustas was curious.

“My good friends, Eric ’92 and Alison (Pallotta) Czech ’91, lived in Singapore from 2004 to 2008 with their kids. They were very encouraging about my move and told me I’d probably really like dragon boat paddling,” Kustas said. “It’s a big community there.”

Community is just what she was looking for. When she isn’t working her full-time job as a Southeast Asia equity market specialist with Bloomberg, she trains with American Dragons.

“It’s amazing. There is an entire paddle community in Singapore of people from all over the world. American Dragons has members from over 22 countries— Singapore, China, India, Mexico, Hungary, Ukraine, just to name a few,” Kustas said. “Moving to Singapore without knowing anyone, they became my family. I love being part of team sport.”

And dragon boat racing is a unique team sport.

“With its beginnings centuries ago in Southern China for naval military use, dragon boating today is the fastest growing international team water sport,” Kustas said. “Each year, festivals are held around the world in Asia, Australia, Europe, Canada and the United States—even in East Glenville (N.Y.) on the Mohawk River.”

Outside of Singapore, she has competed in Australia, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia and the Philippines as both a team drummer and a paddler. She has a box full of medals and her team won the 2016 National Championship in Singapore.

“There are 18-20 paddlers per standard dragon boat, plus a drummer and a helm (or steerer),” she explained. “Just like crew at Union, it takes serious commitment from everyone to practice and race together. Typical race distances are 200, 250 or 500 meters. There are longer courses, but to get a general idea, the 500-meter race usually takes about 2.5 minutes.” Whatever the distance, Kustas remains committed.

“At Union, some days we were rowing in the cold rain and strong winds on the Mohawk. In Singapore, we are paddling in ‘equator hot’ temperatures and occasional monsoon rains,” she said. “Knowing your teammates are in it with you, you power through.”

“The crew team was like a family at Union,” she added. “Taking political science and spending a term in Germany were important, too. It was so valuable to live and study abroad. It helped prepare me for life in Singapore and made it easier to adapt to the many different cultures here.”

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