By Heleigh Bostwick
August 1, 2013
On Sunday morning, approximately 1,600 paddlers will head to the Burlington waterfront, jump into their dragon boats and compete in the 8th annual Lake Champlain Dragon Boat Festival.
“It’s the ultimate community event and free to the public,” said Linda Dyer, Executive Director of Dragonheart Vermont, the group behind the festival, which attracts more than 6,000 spectators and paddlers annually. “We have 61 community teams racing dragon boats this year.”
Every four minutes, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., the twenty-two person boats, which resemble dragons—complete with heads and tails—race down the 200-meter course.
“One person steers the boat, one person is a designated drummer who sits on the top of the boat beating out the cadence of the stroke, and 22 people paddle, preferably in unison,” Dyer said.
Three Williston residents, Lynn Bryan, Pamela Fontaine and Donna Teasdale, are participating in the event this year as captains for their respective teams—the Dragon Techs, Jazzin’ Dragons, and Vermont Tech Knight Riders.
Pam Fontaine, owner of Jazzercise Colchester Fitness Center, and her husband, Steve, a colon cancer survivor, have been paddling in the event since 2006. Daughter Taylor, 17, is the drummer for their boat, the Jazzin’ Dragons, this year.
“She’s dressing up as a hippie,” Fontaine laughs, adding that the rest of the team will be wearing black t-shirts with pink dragons wrapped around the team’s name. Jazzercise members will also be performing in “athlete’s village” at 12:30 p.m.
Donna Teasdale is captain of the Vermont Tech Knight Riders. “We’re all first-timers and brand new to paddle boats,” she said of her team. “We had our first and only practice a week ago and it was a blast. The event organizers are so spirited and reassuring, you can’t help but catch the wave of excitement.”
While the competition promises to be fun, friendly, entertaining, and colorful, there’s a more serious side to it as well. Festival proceeds benefit Survivorship NOW.
Survivorship NOW, located in the old Rossignol building on Industrial Avenue in Williston, provides free therapeutic programs, exercise classes, education and networking to help cancer survivors and their caregivers be healthier and live well after their cancer diagnoses.
“We have 25 programs going on every month,” said Dyer.
Over the past seven years, the organization has donated more than $655,000 to critical cancer programs in the state.
Lynn Bryan, captain of the Dragon Techs, works at Fletcher Allen in Laboratory Medicine. Their boat has an “Elvis” theme this year. “The drummer is dressing up as Elvis and we’re wearing pink “Elvis” sunglasses and black “Elvis” wigs,” she chuckled.
“About six years ago, someone at the lab heard about the Dragon Boat Festival so we started doing it and have done it every year since,” she recalled. “I’ve had friends and a couple of relatives who’ve had breast cancer, so the dragon boat racing seemed really appealing.”
The Blue Cross Blue Shield Lake Champlain Dragon Boat Festival is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 4 at Burlington’s Waterfront Park. For more information about the festival visit: www.ridethedragon.org.