Dragon boats ready to invade Barker’s IslandThe Rotary Club members in our area are an ambitious group of folks. They are under the radar when it comes to tooting their own horn.
By: By: Lauri Mattson, Duluth Budgeteer News, Superior Telegram
The Rotary Club members in our area are an ambitious group of folks. They are under the radar when it comes to tooting their own horn. The Lake Superior Dragon Boat Festival comes around each August, and the major planning and implementing is done by the Duluth Harbortown Rotary of Duluth, the Superior Rotary and the Superior Sunrise Centennial Rotary Club.
It is organized by an all-volunteer staff of Rotarians, roughly 175 of them. There are no paid personnel. The co-chairs this year are Pat Finney, of the Harbortown Rotary, and Len Campbell, a member of the Superior Rotary Club. They decided to take on this daunting task in order to give back through their organization. All proceeds from the festival belong to the three clubs; they are then donated back into the
Northland communities through the community service committees of each club.
These proceeds are not to be confused with those raised by the clubs’ charitable partner, the SMDC Foundation’s breast program. Team members accept pledges for paddling in the race, and any money the teams raise is then used by the foundation for a special project or cause. This year it is to complete funding for the purchase and installation of a digital mammography machine for SMDC Superior.
Organizing the festival is a 365-day-a-year project and is each club’s largest fundraiser. There are approximately 170 club members among the three clubs and each member is expected to volunteer at some point to organize and/or work during the festival.
The events take place Aug. 27-28. The races will take place in Superior Bay off of Barker’s Island, with four teams in each heat. Nearly 90 teams are entered in the races — just short of the 100-team goal.
It takes a strong back and “full speed ahead” attitude to be a team member. The top two teams in each heat continue on to compete until the four fastest teams race for the gold, middle fastest times for the silver and slower times will vie for the bronze. The teams consist of a manager, a drummer, someone to steer, 20 paddlers and two alternates. The drummer plays a vital role in the race, as it’s the consistent pounding that drives each person to row with the beat, striving to out-paddle competitors. Each team must have at least eight women paddlers.
Teams come from as far away as North Dakota, Iowa and Ontario. Several of the all-female teams should be very competitive this year. On the roster is a team of UMD Lady Bulldog hockey players; the Women on Fire from Thunder Bay; and Wikiwiki Wahine of Duluth, which just competed in — and won — the national dragon boat races in Chattanooga, Tenn., where the heat index was hovering around 110 degrees.
The splendor and strength of the dragon boats draws a huge crowd to Barker’s Island and Superior Bay each August. There is so much for the senses in the way of color, excitement and raw energy.
The air will be filled with fireworks and music. There will be a variety of crafts, music for everyone, magic shows and many food vendors.
“What makes the festival so special is that it caters to families,” stated Finney, who also chaired the event in 2007.
Joni Tauzell has always wanted to be on a dragon boat team, and this year it is becoming a reality. Her team is made up of church members from Cathedral of Christ the King. Father Andrew Ricci is sponsoring their boat, and he and Tauzell are in the Superior Sunrise Rotary club as well. Her team prepares by having meetings and a few practices before the big day.
Shari Swenson and Larry Fortner, co-captains for the “Touch of Grey” team, share why that name was chosen.
“It was the idea of one our past captains, Pete Gravette,” Swenson said. “It was due to the fact that our club has the reputation of being an ‘old man’s club,’ which we know isn’t true. [That] makes it that much sweeter when we compete as the fastest of all service clubs in the races.”
Each practice is always followed by practice analysis, lots of laughter and some serious team bonding. They are very serious when it is race time.
Between races, the team members kick back and enjoy a barbecue cooked by fellow Club 25 Rotarians not racing — though they are still a huge part of the team’s success, as are the participating members’ families and friends.
“After our final race of the day it’s beer tent time!” Swenson joked.
Julie Deters began the Wikiwiki Wahine team in 2006. The name is Hawaiian, meaning “Speedy Women.”
She shared their amazing story: “The primary goal in starting a team was to pull a group of positive women together, to give each other motivation to stay in shape and to have a goal,” she said. “The goals of the team have been simply to do well at dragon boat festivals in Grand Marais and Oshkosh, Wis. [We] always strive to win, of course, but our competition was always experienced mixed teams.
“We really wanted some competition from strong, experienced women’s teams.”
Deters continued by saying that the team’s coach, Ron Deters, looked at the women’s times and those of the top club crew teams in the nation and felt they would have a chance to do well at the national level.
“We decided to go to the national club crew championships last year; [that’s when] the off-season training began,” she said. “We hit the water early with intense intervals and long, distance days in marathon racing canoes. We got in the dragon boat to practice three times to polish our race plan before heading to Chattanooga.”
Nationals were composed of three days of dragon boat racing.
Several teams competed for the right to represent our country at the world level in Hong Kong in 2012.
Only one team in each division earned that right, and Duluth’s Wikiwiki Wahine was one of them.
The team will represent the United States in China in the premiere women’s division in less than two years.
Back home, the festivities will be plentiful during Superior’s big weekend. On Friday, Aug. 27, a rose petal ceremony will be held at 5:20 p.m.
It is a way to honor breast cancer survivors and pay tribute to those who have lost their battles with cancer.
Next up is the parade of teams and opening ceremonies. On the music front, Brandon Scott Sellner will take the stage at 6:30 p.m., followed by the Lamont Cranston Band at 9 p.m.
The first night wraps up with a fireworks display at dusk.
Day Two opens up with an Optimists Club-sponsored pancake breakfast (from 7 to 11 a.m.).
The dragon boat races kick off at 8 a.m. and continue until 5:15 p.m., when the finals are held.
There will also be entertainment throughout the day, culminating with a performance by Two Many Banjos from 7 to 11 p.m.
This year’s Dragon Boat Festival will be held Friday and Saturday, Aug. 27-28, on Barker’s Island in Superior. See www.lakesuperiordragons.com for a full schedule.