Rowers from all over North America travel to the festival in Nathan Benderson Park.
Paddles dug through the water May 11 timed to drum beats echoing through Nathan Benderson Park. A smile broke out on 22 faces as the head of a dragon pushed its way through the finish line marked by bright orange buoys.
The members of Survivors in Sync, a dragon boat racing crew comprised mostly of breast cancer survivors, had just won their 500-meter heat in the annual Dragon Boat Festival. They pulled up to the dock and made their way through the crowd, giving high-fives and hugs along the way.
But that wasn’t the only race the team won Saturday. In fact, it won every race, earning the gold medal and a berth to the 2020 Club Crew Championship in France.
“The best part about racing is having something to aspire toward,” SIS team captain Angela Long said. “It’s the reason we really come together, and it really drives us.”
Three other local teams got their first taste of dragon boat racing thanks to a program hosted by Nathan Benderson Park and Great White North, a Canadian company which provided boats and helped run the festival.
The program gave beginners the opportunity to receive five dragon boat lesson before competing in the race.
Annely Armstrong-Thorstad coached all three of the NBP teams, which struggled, but built friendships.
“The camaraderie is amazing for sure,” she said. “When you dragon boat race, you instantly have a connection.”