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Dragon Boat Festival heading for Portage Lakes

6/19/2014 - South Side Leader
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By Sean Patrick

Victory Gallop’s “Horsepower” Team will defend its championship title at the Dragons on the Lake Dragon Boat Festival July 12.
Photo courtesy of Susan Balmert
NEW FRANKLIN — For a second straight year, the Dragon Dream Team is hosting the Dragons on the Lake Dragon Boat Festival.

This year’s festival will take place July 12 at Portage Lakes State Park, 5031 Manchester Road. An “Awakening of the Dragons” Opening Ceremony will begin at 8:30 a.m. and the racing will start at 9 a.m.

According to Dragon Dream Team President-Elect Susan Balmert, proceeds from the event will benefit the Dragon Dream Team organization, which has been in existence for eight years. It is Ohio’s first all breast cancer survivor dragon boat team, according to team officials.

“We are a breast cancer survivor group and we do a number of outreach activities in the community,” said Balmert, a two-time breast cancer survivor. “Things are changing and there is great reason to have hope as a survivor. We can move on and that’s what we’re doing.”

According to Balmert, dragon boating involves a 42-foot-long boat with a colorful dragon head and tail. The boats are powered by 20 paddlers, and the races are typically 2 minutes in length.

Balmert said last year’s event “went really well.”

“It was a bit of a hard sell at the beginning, because people didn’t really know what dragon boating was,” said the Bath resident. “But we convinced them to give it a try, and by the end of the day, they left wanting more.”

Last year, Balmert said, approximately 800 paddlers took part in the event, with another 300 to 400 people participating in the event in other ways.

“After last year’s event, people told us they were definitely in for the next year and that they would get their friends and family to do it as well — and that has pretty much turned out to be the case,” she stated. “I would say that more than half of the people who have committed for this year were participants last year. And many people who were paddlers on somebody else’s boat last year decided to put together their own team this year.”

Eight boats will be on hand at this year’s event, with four boats involved in each race.

“There will be four boats getting loaded up while the other four boats are already racing, so it’s kind of a constant thing,” Balmert said. “We provide all of the equipment. We actually contract with a dragon boat company that goes around the country and does these festivals. They provide all of the equipment — dragon boats, the life vests, paddles — and the main thing we provide are the teams.”

According to Balmert, those who would like to take part in the event do not need any prior experience on a dragon boat.

“That’s kind of the great thing about dragon boating. The sport itself is something that just about anyone can do, and we give all of our teams a 90-minute practice session on the water. That’s all the time you need to figure out the techniques and the basics,” she said. “The key to dragon boating is not power or strength, it’s all about getting 20 paddlers to paddle in sync. That’s why it is very well-suited to a community-type event.”

Most teams are comprised of both men and women, Balmert said, and the minimum age to participate is 15.

“Five of the teams this year will be all breast cancer survivors, and they will be in a category all to themselves,” she said. “We also have a community category and a corporate category, and those are all mixes of men and women.”

Each participant will race multiple times during the day, Balmert said, leading up to a championship race in each category.

“Everybody will race at least twice, and most likely three times, during the day, plus the championship race,” she stated. “They will always race on the same team.”

The cost to participate in the event is $1,000 for a team of 20 people.

“We are registering only teams, not individuals,” Balmert said. “When you break it down, that’s $50 per paddler.”

The maximum number of teams for this year’s event is 40, Balmert said, and more than 30 teams already have signed on.

“I really don’t think we will have any problem filling all 40 team spots,” she said. “People started contacting us as early as February of this year just to make sure we were doing it again. They wanted to send in their deposits just to make sure they had a spot in the race this year.”

Admission is free for spectators. For details on entering a team or event sponsorship, visit the Dragon Dream Team website at www.dragondreamteam.org. The site also includes information about the sport of dragon boating.

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