Photos by OHventures
When I was asked to compete in the annual Dragon Boat Festival at Portage Lakes on July 12 in Summit County, I blindly and excitedly agreed. I had no clue as to what I was getting myself into, but I knew that it would be a challenge I couldn't turn down! My good friend Chelsie was recruiting friends and family to join her corporate team, Morgan Stanley, in the competition. My fellow coworker Craig happens to be Chelsie's husband, and the two of us proudly joined Team Morgan Stanley.
What I soon learned was that the Dragon Boat Festival consisted of teams of twenty individuals (including at least 8 females in this particular event) who all sit facing forward in pairs within a single dragon boat, which is a long, sleek lightweight watercraft decorated with a dragon head and dragon tail. Team members each use a single oar on the side of the boat in which they are seated and paddle in unison in order to power the boat.
One additional teammate sits at the head of the boat on a small chair and serves as the drummer, who keeps rowers in pace with one another by beating on it in a rhythmic fashion. There is a non-team member who stands at the back of the boat and steers the vessel when needed (for instance, when the team needs to make their way to the starting line).
A circle of breast cancer survivors gathering on Turkeyfoot Beach
This particular dragon boat race - officially dubbed the Dragons On The Lake Dragon Boat Festival - was for an amazing cause. The event is hosted by the Dragon Dream Team, Ohio's first all breast cancer survivor dragon boat team. Through paddling and other activities, the members embrace the motto of celebrating life after breast cancer. Through the Boatloads of Hope Community Outreach Program, the Dragon Dream Team delivers a silk pashmina, along with a powerful message of hope to other breast cancer survivors. This program currently exists in 7 area hospitals.
There were 3 classifications of teams at the Dragon Boat Festival: survivor teams (made up completely of breast cancer survivors), community teams, and corporate teams.
With our Morgan Stanley Team Captain Chelsie
As a corporate team, we would be going up against 12 other corporate teams. Since not all of us actually work at Morgan Stanley, we had our first opportunity to meet our fellow rowers at our very first practice, which took place a couple of weeks before the actual event.
At practice (and the day of the race), we found that this was a rather technical and high-skill water sport that relies heavily on teamwork and synchronicity. Some tips we discovered were:
- Keep your hips as close to the gully as possible. Do NOT lean out of the boat.
- Keep your oar straight up and down, and close to the side of the boat when paddling.
- Paddle in sync with the rest of your team. Do so by putting the oar in the water each time the drum strikes. Keep your eyes on the person up 2 and to the left.
- Lean your body forward and dig your oar deep into the water.
- Count out loud along with the rest of the team to keep together.
It is a lot easier than it looks or sounds! On race day, our team met for the very first time as a whole unit, which was a major disadvantage. But the team captain, Chelsie, was full of encouragement and enthusiasm that helped our morale. When we found our spot on Turkeyfoot Beach, we practiced counting and moving in sync while on land.
Me and my teammate Craig taking a break with a game of cornhole.
Then, at 8:00 AM, the festival began and the first heat (out of three heats total) took place. The heats were made up of three boats (not necessarily all of the same category). We paddle to the "starting line" where we all have to reach alignment. Once alignment is achieved, the horn blows, and you fly out of the gates as fast as possible! Our first heat was less than stellar, as the front of the boat was way out of sync with the back of the boat. However, we still managed to get 2nd place out of the 3 teams and cross the finish buoys with a respectable time.
In each heat, we took what went wrong and remedied it so that we could do better in the next heat. Our three times were approximately 1 minute 15 seconds, 1 minute 13 seconds, and 1 minute 12 seconds. After much anticipation, it was revealed that these times were enough to take us to the FINALS!
Team Morgan Stanley ready to take on the competition!
The final round in the corporate division consisted of our team (Morgan Stanley) versus Vorys Legal Counsel and Merrill Lynch (who happened to be our friendly rivals the whole day!). The final round took place at 3:30 PM. We lined up and paddled our asses off! Unfortunately, Merrill Lynch smoked our boat. But we came neck and neck with Vorys. The final times were soon announced, and we sadly lost to Vorys by only 0.12 seconds! The good news is, we improved our time once again with a time of 1 minute 11 seconds. And, even though we took home the bronze, we were just happy to have made it as far as we did.
It was exhilerating to take part in such a different kind of race than I am used to, to meet lots of new people, and to help the fight against breast cancer.