First Dragon Boat race remembered….somewhat fondly.


By Bill Derby

The annual Dragon Boat Races sponsored by the Mountain States Foundation are moving this year to Warrior’s Path State Park in Kingsport due to the low Boone Lake water levels. It’s the 10th anniversary race and offers exciting action with more than 40 teams participating Saturday, August 29th. The free event will feature the dragon boat races, kids’ paddle, a health fair, art in the park, food trucks and other family fun. It’s a fun event for both participants and attendees.

I rowed in the first race 10 years ago and shared my experience in the column reprinted below. My how time flies.

August 2005….

Last night on NBC Nightly News I saw a story on ‘baby boomers’ trying to keep their bodies looking younger. They said a huge percentage of our age group are signing up at health club centers in record numbers. It also said there has been a tremendous increase in sports related injuries requiring the second largest doctor visits behind the common cold for baby boomers. I suppose too many boomers trying too hard to eliminate ‘droopy drawers.’

I related to that story. It made sense after my first encounter with a dragon boat. A couple of weeks ago I volunteered to participate in “The Dragon Boat Races.” I had experience in whitewater canoes and rafts. How hard could it be rowing with a bunch of other folks?

Our Mountain States Foundation crew gathered Monday for our first practice session. ‘Mien,’ (pronounced Mean), our paddling coach was from Houston. I figured since he was of Asian descent he knew the dragon boat racing sport forwards and backwards since dragon racing originally started in Asia.

‘Mien,’ whose name should have scared us, showed our 21-person crew how to paddle. Our out-of-control group consisted of both men and women. In my opinion, all the women were attractive and the men would be considered exceptionally strong and handsome.

Most of us were meeting for the first time. ‘Mien’ told us that in Dragon Boat racing, “It is most important to work as a team and not individuals.”

That statement went over like a lead paddle.

It was obvious, with my full head of gray hair, I was the oldest rat in the boat. ‘Mien’ put me in the third row with Doug Ledbetter, a strong young man. Four lovely rowers were in front of us.

‘Mien’ shouted, “Pay attention! The first three rows are the counters; the next four rows are the engine room; and the last rows are called the rockets. You will work as a team rowing at the same time generating tremendous power.”

“Yea, right Mien,” I thought. I felt more like a heavy anchor.

Since the last few rows were all women we dubbed them, ‘the rockettes.’ Our male crew members, as men do, shared funny remarks at every opportunity.

‘Mien’ put us through the paces. We started rowing together as a team. It was really a physical challenge, especially for crew members using muscles that have only required touching buttons on a TV remote during the winter months.

In one particularly long stretch of strenuous rowing, crew members huffed and puffed trying to keep in perfect form. Gasping for breath with tired arms and bodies, comments spread throughout our paddlers sounding much like Fletcher Christian’s mutiny crew.

During our second training session we perfected our starting technique. We had a new coach for that session named, Steve, from Toronto. Steve was not impressed. He singled out and pointed to crew members backsliding for forgetting our first training session.

“Hey, you with the red hat sitting in the third row on the left, what’s your name?” Coach Steve yelled.

“Sir, Bill, sir!” I responded.

“You’re lagging mister,” Coach Steve yelled.

“Coach Steve, I was looking straight ahead at one of our cute crew members like Coach Mien said,” I explained.  I thought to myself, “Hey coach quit picking on an old man. She was lagging a little, not me.”

On our way in we raced two other boats in a quick heat race. We beat them by a dragon length. Coach Steve was not impressed. He admonished Karen, an attractive ‘counter rower’ in front of me, for paddle lagging, dragging, and generally not doing what he wanted. Karen, with lake water dripping from her nose, took it all in stride.

We raced the next Saturday morning but got whipped by some strapping 20 somethings who had formed a crew, probably from a local sports bar. As losers with pride, we flailed away with our paddles drenching the sports bar hopping, skinny-waisted, suntanned, blond-haired, blue-eyed, no-count, beer-swigging winners.

But it was fun and you will enjoy the races at the new venue at Warrior’s Path. Be there or be square.


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