Grizzly Dragon Boat team takes second in annual race

Georgia Gwinnett College returned for its second Dragon Boat race and came away with second place in the 16th annual Hong Kong Dragon Boat Race Festival held Sept. 10 at the Lake Lanier Canoe and Kayak Olympic Venue. The team out-paddled seven other collegiate teams, finishing only two-tenths of a second behind the first place team, the TASA Dragons. Their final time in the 250-meter event was just over one minute, 40 seconds.

Georgia Gwinnett College returned for its second Dragon Boat race and came away with second place in the 16th annual Hong Kong Dragon Boat Race Festival held Sept. 10 at the Lake Lanier Canoe and Kayak Olympic Venue. The team out-paddled seven other collegiate teams, finishing only two-tenths of a second behind the first place team, the TASA Dragons. Their final time in the 250-meter event was just over one minute, 40 seconds.

Last year, GGC competed with only 17 people – three short of a full team – and walked away with an impressive third place finish. Since then, students officially organized the Grizzly Dragon Boat Team club. The team was well-prepared for this year’s race, with 26 members, some of whom alternated between the race’s three heats. 

“The students were highly committed to doing well in this race,” said Rose Gochenaur, GGC’s outdoor adventure recreation coordinator. “They were dedicated to showing up to the four-hour Saturday practices, to working together and to being open to cultural exposure.” Gochenaur served as the team’s drummer, responsible for maintaining the all-important rhythm for the boat’s coordinated paddlers. 

The Dragon Boat Race originates from an ancient Chinese tradition, which is more than 2,000 years old.  The legend tells of a beloved Chinese court official and poet who was banished from the court by jealous and dishonest ministers.  In despair, the poet traveled the countryside and eventually committed suicide by drowning in a river.  The local people raced out in their boats to save the poet, beating their paddles to keep the fish from his body, thus the tradition began and still carries on today.

The boats used for the race are specially crafted in only a handful of Hong Kong boatyards.  The 39-foot boats are made of teakwood or fiberglass and are typically made by three experienced craftsmen in a span of 30 days.  A dragon head and tail is affixed to each boat.  This year, GGC was able to use one of eight brand-new fiberglass Dragon Boats, which the event venue acquired. 

Gochenaur noted that the race enabled students to expand their knowledge of other cultures, as the festival surrounding the race is immersed in Asian traditions containing customary outfits and dances, along with special ceremonies to bless the boats and awaken the dragon’s spirit.

Kaveh Vakili, team captain and a senior majoring in business, said he believes the race is much more than paddling and tradition, and is a way to tie into GGC’s student culture.  One of the team’s original members, he said he credits his overall success at the college to his participation in the race and other outdoor recreational activities.

“I had attended other schools before coming to Georgia Gwinnett College, and I was unsuccessful,” Vakili said. “When I came to GGC, I decided that I was going to have a different approach here.  I made a decision to be involved in as many activities as possible.  As a result, I have done well at GGC, and I am happier here than I have been at any other school. I have the same brain as before, so I know it is because I have gotten involved in events like the Dragon Boat race.”

Vakili had so much fun at last year’s race that he decided to turned the team into a club by following the steps necessary to establish an official student organization at GGC.  These steps are designed to help students consider structure, purpose, leadership and other factors necessary to ensure a club’s success.

“President Kaufman has said that education is not confined to the four walls of a classroom, and I believe that, too,” said Vakili. “I saw my team members grow and become leaders through participating in this club for this race.  These activities allow you to see a side of people you don’t always see in the classroom.”

The Grizzly Dragon Boat Team club will race again next year, and the members have already taken steps toward ensuring victory by holding elections to secure solid leadership for next year. With third and second place finishes behind them, the team is focused on taking first place.

Vakili will graduate by then and plans to attend graduate school, but he said he intends to return to cheer the Grizzlies into the number one spot.

Flickr gallery of Dragon boat race

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