Five Williston dragon boats in competition

Dragonheart Vermont teammates embrace after their dragon boat race. (Observer courtesy photo)
Dragonheart Vermont teammates embrace after their dragon boat race. (Observer courtesy photo)

By Stephanie Choate
Observer staff

Five Williston teams are ready to take up their oars next weekend for the 10th annual Lake Champlain Dragon Boat Festival.
The Vermont Technical College Knight Riders, Windows and Oars by Brownell, the S & S enQuestadors, The Synergy Fitness Psychos and the Survivorship NOW Snowstorm are set to compete in the Aug. 2 event at Burlington’s Waterfront Park.
Each team is made up of 20 paddlers and a drummer, who race 41-foot dragon boats through a 200-meter course.
Fifty community teams and 12 breast cancer survivor teams plan to compete. The races begin at 8:30 a.m. and run through 4 p.m., when the winners are awarded. Spectators are welcome at the free community event.
Since the festival began, it has raised $1.4 million for Vermont cancer programs.
This year, festival proceeds benefit Williston-based Survivorship NOW, as well as Burlington-based breast cancer survivor organization Dragonheart Vermont.
Created by Dragonheart Vermont, Survivorship NOW—which stands for Survivorship Network on Wellness—provides free classes, wellness programs and education to survivors of all types of cancer, men and women. Survivorship NOW works to bridge the gap between treatment and recovery, addressing some of the physical, emotional and psychological needs of cancer survivors, as well as connecting them with people who have gone through the same thing.
“We provide that place you come and get strong again, emotionally and physically and spiritually,” said Penni Cross, executive director of Dragonheart Vermont.
Survivorship NOW held more than 50 classes last month—from exercise to art—and had 248 class visits for the month of June. Approximately 70 people regularly attend Survivorship NOW programs, and some of them have formed the Survivorship NOW Snowstorm dragon boat team.
Cross said the festival can also provide that same empowering space.
“Our goal is for cancer survivors or those with cancer to have the same opportunity to feel empowered, to know wellness and to just experience it, and that’s what the festival can do,” Cross said. “You can’t help but feel all that energy that the festival creates.”
Systems & Software, a software company in the same Industrial Avenue building as Survivorship NOW, is participating for the third year.
“This is something that’s dear to our hearts,” said team captain Sharron Woodworth, a client advocate at the company. “Our team gets more and more excited every year that we do this.”
She said the staff has been selling purple ribbons on which people can write the names of loved ones that are battling or have battled cancer, or that they have lost.
“I think everyone somehow or another has been touched by this disease,” she said, adding that three of her coworkers are cancer survivors, and that everyone has family members or friends who have dealt with the disease.
Windows and Doors by Brownell will field a team for the sixth year.
“It’s an awesome day,” Marketing and Sales Manager April Bolin said. “Just being down on the waterfront, you’re in one of the most beautiful places in the country. The energy surrounding the event is palpable. People are really excited to participate. The staff here just really loves to do it “
She encouraged people to come check out the festival.
“It is pretty amazing to see 21 people working together to move these huge boats,” she said. It’s a really unique sport.”
Beyond supporting a worthy cause, she said it helps the staff come together as a group.
“You all have to work together to make it happen,” she said. “If people aren’t communicating you can feel the boat slow, but when everyone is in unison and all working together and all in time, its pretty amazing to see how fast you can get that boat to go.”
Beth Camp is leading the Vermont Technical College Knight Riders, her second year participating.
“I tried it last year and I just found it really empowering,” she said.
She also encouraged residents to come out and watch the races.
“It’s like an Olympic town with all the tents, and everyone’s decorated and in costume,” she said. “It’s just amazing.”
The weekend kicks off Saturday, Aug. 1 with a new event to celebrate the festival’s 10th anniversary. Dragonheart Vermont is hosting the Paddles Up Party from 6:30-9 p.m. at Waterfront Park. Reverend Ben Donovan and the Congregation will perform in concert.
For concert tickets and information, visit the festival website at .