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Dragon Boat Racing Across the Country

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By Wayne Lazarus on August 12th, 2009

Categories: Linda's Travel Articles

With the drums pounding and participants giving it their all, spectators find that their hearts are throbbing as well, even if they don’t know any of the teams. Few sporting events can match the color and excitement of a dragon boat race. One of the fastest growing water sports in the world – and also the oldest, the event is spreading rapidly across the United States.

Said to be 2000 years old, dragon boat racing started in honor of Qu Yuan, a beloved poet who committed suicide to protest his country’s political situation by holding a large rock and jumping into a river. Legend has it that people rushed out to save him in their boats drumming and beating the water to prevent the water dragons from getting him.

Today dragon boat festivals are often held in late summer and early fall and offer the drama of competition, an array of food and other traditional celebrations; even the celebration of cancer survivors. While corporations have been utilizing dragon boat racing teams across the country to help build teamwork, the sport has a special connection to breast cancer. In 1996, Canadian doctor Don McKenzie created a team of breast cancer survivors to test the theory that repetitive upper body exercise did not cause lymphedema in those whose lymph nodes have been removed. The test was a success, and since then, most dragon boat races have specific heats especially for cancer survivors.

The boats are often powered by non-athletes, people who have trained together for sometimes just six weeks or so. In this particular sport, strength is less important than teamwork and synchronicity. The boats, decorated with a colorful dragon head and tail, include a drummer in the bow, a steerer in the stern and 20 or so paddlers. Traditionally festivals are opened by painting the eye on the dragon.

While most large cities like Miami, New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Philadelphia have dragon boat festivals, many smaller towns, even those considered landlocked, are getting into the spirit of this sport, including Irving, TX, Peachtree City, GA, and Grand Marais, MN. Before your next road trip, see if there’s a dragon boat festival in the area.

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