Be it pride, fundraising for a worthy cause or following the lead of the drummer wearing a Viking helmet, every participant in the Mountain States Dragon Boat Festival had some sort of motivation behind their involvement in Saturday’s races.
The competitive streak in Mario Soto drove him to lead a group of fellow students from East Tennessee State University’s Quillen College of Medicine who paddled under the name “Dragon Heart.” The team was ranked sixth out of the 18 finalists and raised just less than $3,000 toward oncology services at Mountain States Health Alliance.
Soto might admit there was a bit of strategy behind their successful 53-second race time.
“The biggest thing is just maintaining a good tempo and having good power with every stroke,” he said. “If you can stay in rhythm you normally have a good time.”
Of course teamwork has a lot to do with it, too. When people who work closely together form a squadron of dragon boat paddlers, it’s hard to go wrong.
“We spend more time together than we do with our families because of the studying, so we’re a pretty tight-knit group of people,” Soto said.
The same can be said for the “Firecrackers,” a team of Mitch Cox employees and family members who won first place for the third consecutive year. Although paddler Tracy Fleenor says there’s no secret to their multiple victories, she is eager to talk about the Firecrackers’ commitment to synergy.
“If you can’t practice, you don’t row on our boat,” she said. “It’s mandatory for everyone to show up because it’s a team effort so if we can work as a team we can win as a team.”
Coming out on top is definitely motivation, but the three-time champions are also encouraged by the cause.
“Cancer goes out to everybody and it’s a real emotional thing for us all and it’s fabulous that we could raise money for that,” Fleenor said.
Axis II, a team of Woodridge Hospital employees, also was proud of its fundraising effort and performance on the water. Team captain Jim Shannon was happy with an 11th-place ranking and said the team received a surge of confidence from their drummer and mascot Amelia Dinwiddie, who dressed as a Viking.
Wearing a helmet, mock-armor and a belt, Dinwiddie pounded the drum viciously to keep Axis II on a steady pace. She gave a thumbs up while talking about the excitement she felt when asked to join the team as drummer instead of supporter and mascot.
“I feel like I’ve been at a concert,” she said. “My throat is raw from yelling.”
The dragon boat races are hard on the vocal chords and the body. After competing in his third contest, Shannon was out of energy.
“I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m wiped,” he said. “It’s a gruelling race. The first time’s a little bit easy and the second time’s a little bit harder and when you get to the semi-finals it’s even that much harder. We’re all breathing a little hard right now, but we’re excited.”
Thirty-six teams took part in the festival. Though final fundraising tallies are still being tabulated, the paddlers alone raised $80,137. The “Cash Me If You Can” team brought in the most cash — $14,000. As for the competition, “Mahoney’s” of Mahoney’s Outfitters came in second place and the “Laughlin Dragons” of Laughlin Hospital, Greeneville, took third.