Dragon Boat competitors hit the water at the beginning of a race at Winged Deer Park on Saturday.
Forty-two teams entered the Dragon Boat Festival race on Boone Lake at Winged Deer Park. But only one team left as the champion.
That champion was the Quillen College of Medicine’s Dragonhearts team. They didn’t only win, they won with the fastest time of the festival, crossing the finish line buoys in 53.95 seconds.
As the announcer, who travels all around to oversee the event, put it at the award ceremony, “This is a time that would win at a lot of Dragon Boat festivals.”
The winning team was comprised of first- and second-year medical students, who, in their pursuit of becoming doctors, spend hours upon hours with each other, something they think gives them an advantage over the dozens of other teams in the competition.
“We’re with each other 8-10 hours a day,” Dragonhearts’ team member Josh Wienczkowski said just after the victory. “We’re just so good at communicating with each other, we’re always in sync.”
Wienczkowski, from Nashville, feels comfortable with his team and stressed how important it was that they all got along so well.
The drummer, or in some cases a gong striker, sits in the front of the Dragon Boat, and pounds a beat and the rowers, whose collective number can reach 20, paddle their oars to the sound. Jane Underdown, the Dragonhearts’ drummer, echoed her teammate’s thoughts on her team.
“I keep the beat, and they paddle to it,” Underdown said in regard to how they won the day. “Today we had the best start we’ve ever had, and we didn’t wobble.”
The VA Vikings brought in a second-place finish behind the Quillen team with a quick time of 56.22, followed by last year’s winner Nuclear Propulsion, who finished in 56.66.
With how competitive the racing was, it was more about the event and the cause. The festival is sponsored by Mountain States Health Alliance, with the sole purpose, aside from splashing around and having fun, of raising money for treatment equipment for regional cancer centers.
Patty Bolton, corporate director of signature events for MSHA, couldn’t have been more pleased with how the event went down on Saturday. The races have been plagued with bad weather for the last few years, and Bolton was proud to feature such an event in warm, sunny weather.
“It has been like a movie script,” Bolton said. “Everything’s gone according to plan. For four years, we’ve had rain. So, we’ve earned this one.”
Bolton said the festival will continue to go on no matter the weather — as long as there’s no lightning.
“This is the best Dragon Boat Festival we’ve had in the eight years we’ve done it,” Bolton said, giving the credit to all 60 volunteers involved in the event. She said the volunteers come from every part of the community.
“We don’t turn anybody away. If they want to help out, they can,” Bolton said. “This is the culmination of a year’s worth of work.”