Lake Superior dragon boat races yield fun and fundraisingOne hundred one teams participated in the Lake Superior Dragon Boat Festival races on Saturday at Barker's Island in Superior and raised thousands of dollars for charities.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Kathy Sutton’s normal avocation might seem like a far cry from paddling a dragon boat.
“I compete withdressage,” the South Range woman said. “It’s the English style of riding (horses) that never makes it on TV.”
It was about noon on Saturday and Sutton had competed in her first-ever dragon boat race as part of the Paddling Asphalt squad. The team, representing Inter City Asphalt of Superior, was competing for the first time in the Lake Superior Dragon Boat Festival, which was in its 11th year at Barker’s Island in Superior.
The team of 22 employees, family members and friends got together for the first time on Aug. 11 and only had two practice sessions, said Sutton, a friend of an employee. Chatting underneath the group’s tent, Sutton, 38, seemed pleased and a little surprised by how well the team had done in its first heat — edging a more experienced team for first place by less than a second.
She still seemed excited as she recounted the close finish. “You’re surprised at how competitive you get,” Sutton said.
The skills she gains from competitive horse-riding helped her on the water, she said.
“There’s discipline,” she said. “The discipline and the teamwork, whether it’s teamwork with my horse or teamwork with a group of people, it’s still teamwork with another living being.”
Paddling Asphalt was one of 101 teams competing in the festival, a record number, said Jim Kehoe, publicity chairman for the event that’s put on by Twin Ports Rotary Clubs. Other records were falling as well on Saturday. The Optimists Club served more than 600 people at its pancake breakfast, the most ever.
Ed Anderson, festival co-chairman and a member of the Superior Rotary Club, said between 300 and 400 volunteers were involved. Because the event is free, he didn’t have an attendance count, except to estimate that it was in the thousands.
The Rotary Clubs raise money from the $800 entrance fee each team pays. Money raised after expenses goes to various local charities the clubs support, Kehoe said.
Beyond the entry fee, teams have the option to raise money for the festival’s charity partner, Essentia Health Foundation. The foundation raised about $500,000 total over the eight previous years it was involved in the festival, said Charity Rupp, the foundation’s director of annual giving and special events. By noon on Saturday, it already had raised $60,000 from this year’s festival.
All of the money raised in the past was used for breast cancer support, Rupp said. This year, that was expanded to all forms of cancer. In past years, money has gone toward an additional mammography machine for Essentia Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Superior, and to hire a “breast cancer navigator” to guide individuals through the process of dealing with the disease, Rupp said.
Fighting breast cancer was a particular concern of several teams that consisted entirely of breast cancer survivors.
Kathryn Plewa, 52, of Cloquet was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2011 and learned about the opportunity to join a team called Survivor Sistership through a support group at St. Luke’s hospital.
“My name came up because I’m pretty vocal and I’m pretty ambitious,” Plewa said.
She was one of 22 paddlers on the team. Each group also provided a drummer to provide the rhythm, and each boat received a steersman courtesy of the Duluth Boat Club.
Survivor Sistership finished fourth in its first heat but was pleased by their time, Plewa said. The race itself reminded her of the battle against cancer.
“It’s like there’s some kind of surge in you to do well and to just keep pushing yourself to keep going, just like you do when you’re going through treatments and everything else for breast cancer,” she said. “You want to survive. You want to push, and you want to do your best.”
Most significantly, Survivor Sistership had raised about $5,000 for the Essentia Health Foundation.
There just might be an element of competition even when it comes to raising money.
“We were the second (leading) fundraiser last year,” said John Lohse, 58, equipment department manager for Lakehead Constructors. “But we’re going to be the first this year. I think. I’m hoping.”
Lakehead Constructors was one of several Superior companies with a presence in the festival, and it just might have been the most enthusiastic. About 100 company employees were involved in the event. Lohse, a Superior Rotary Club member, was responsible for setting up the entire site. “Lakehead supports it so well that I just send a crew down here with equipment,” he said.
Over the years, Lakehead Constructors has been responsible for $100,000 of the money raised for Essentia Health Foundation, Lohse said. On Friday, the company presented a check for $18,000 to the cause. But Lohse said, with a twinkle in his eye, that there would be more coming.
“We have a little reserve fund,” he said. “We’d like to be No. 1.”
Why be involved?
“We use this to build good will among employees, community and our vendors,” Lohse said. “We invite our vendors to come. I have one vendor here from Seattle.”
That would be Anna Thomas, 52, who is in customer service support for Spider, which distributes safety equipment.
Thomas had been invited by a friend who works in the company’s Minnesota branch and had raved about the Dragon Boat Festival. Thomas used vacation time to make her first visit to the Upper Midwest.
After having participated in a practice run in the dragon boat, she admitted being a little jealous of those who actually got to race. Otherwise, she was having a great time.
“I have to tell you that we have lots of festivals in Seattle,” Thomas said. “And this is everything she told me it would be. It’s so well-organized. People are willing to help you everywhere. It is amazing. I’ve already told my daughter if I come back next year, she has to come with me.”