Dragon Boat Racing: Strength, Endurance, Teamwork

Dragon boat team practicing

There is no greater feeling of anticipation than sitting in a ready position at the starting line of a dragon boat race. Our paddlers are leaning forward, eyes locked straight ahead, paddles deep in the water waiting for the sound of the air horn to ring through the air. Our steersman is crouched and ready to steer a straight line. Our drummer waits for the signal. "We have alignment! Sterns ready! Attention!" The moment comes: the air horn blares, and everyone paddles hard to the steady beat of the drum. The competing team's drummers are yelling commands and beating their drums, the audience is cheering, and the announcers are stating the boat positions. The race lasts for a few short, hard minutes as the boat glides through the water riding its own wake. The dragon tail crosses the finish line and all paddlers celebrate, looking to see where we placed. The competing teams shout friendly praise as we paddle slowly back to the dock chanting "Team Blue! Team Blue!" This is dragon boat. This is Team Blue.

Dragon boat racing

Dragon boating was founded in China over 2,000 years ago, becoming an international sport in 1976 in Hong Kong. Dragon boating has a worldwide participation base of over 50 million competitors. Dragon boats are fast and powerful, relying on the strength, endurance, and teamwork of the competitors who power the craft with synchronized strokes of their paddles. The crew of a standard dragon boat is comprised of 20 paddlers in pairs facing the bow of the boat, one drummer or caller at the bow facing the paddlers and one sweep standing at the rear of the boat. The drummer, often regarded as the "heartbeat" of the dragon boat, uses a rhythmic drum beat to indicate the cadence of the paddlers' strokes while the sweep aids in steering the boat for a total of 22 crew members. Dragon boat clubs exist throughout the United States, with regional and national competitions taking place annually. The powerful sport of dragon boat has provided athletes with an incredible opportunity to train and compete for centuries.

In 2013, Adaptive Adventures realized the need to provide individuals with physical disabilities and their families the opportunity to experience the joy of dragon boat racing. Adaptive Adventures started the first adaptive dragon boat team in partnership with the Wounded Warrior Project in Chicago, IL. The first season was successful and led Adaptive Adventures to bring on Chris Wiegand, an accomplished paddler and adaptive sport specialist to expand the program. By 2017, the program had grown to include three teams in Colorado and one team in Chicago, with teams planned to launch in Phoenix, AZ and Miami, FL. The program now serves over 120 veterans and civilians with physical disabilities. The program is the first of its kind and Adaptive Adventures is determined to continue educating and training others to start adaptive teams in their communities.

Adaptive Adventures has found the sport of dragon boat to be an excellent tool in achieving our mission. Inherent in the sport of dragon boat is the need to function as a synchronized team, all pulling in the same direction engaging the inner strength of each person to excel at the task at hand. These traits engage a competitor at their core allowing them to fulfill their personal best and be a part of the overall team success. For veterans, dragon boat provides a "new unit" where they can experience the camaraderie, community, and family that they once had in the military.

Dragon boat paddler transferring into the boat

Dragon boat and Adaptive Adventures help create a level playing field for everyone once inside the boat, including those with amputations, visual impairments, and spinal cord injuries. Adaptive Adventures has developed simple systems to accommodate individuals with amputations and spinal cord injuries. Adaptive Adventures is constantly innovating new adaptations to fit a wide range of physical disabilities, as adaptive equipment for dragon boat simply does not exist on the market. Dragon boat has proved a great sport for visually impaired participants, as they are able to stay in sync with the rest of the team through the sound of the drum and specially adapted commands. Dragon boat acts as a catalyst to the many other program opportunities Adaptive Adventures offers. Adaptive Adventures dragon boat teammates participate regularly in cycling, climbing, and kayaking. Many teammates engage further through mentor leader roles and volunteering.

The psycho-social benefits associated with the community that forms around the dragon boat team are truly remarkable. Participants sit side-by-side in a boat for 90-minute training sessions, paddling slow, fast, hard, and light. Moments of rest during training create an opportunity for participants to let their guard down and open up to their seatmate or "battle buddy." Real conversations begin to happen on the water and soon an inclusive community forms through camaraderie and the concentrated focus of training together. Teammates look out for one another, getting together outside of practice and encouraging one another throughout the week.

Dragon boat team on the water

Amy, a Team Blue member with a visual impairment, said:

At the end of my first season, which was in 2016, Chris at our dinner said that we were all athletes and I cried, and I still cry, because I have never ever considered myself an athlete. Even when I tried to be one, I was never an athlete. Throughout most of my life because of my vision, I have been depressed and I tend to stay home and I tend to sleep a lot. Finding Adaptive Adventures and finding dragon boat and rock climbing and cycling, I have been able to realize that there is so much more out there for me. There are people out there who are like me, who have the same fears that are still trying to overcome them and adapt to their own physical disabilities like I have... and it's amazing to me. And I don't know where I would be today without Adaptive Adventures. I'd be at home, in bed, asleep probably and that's not fun. That's not a way to live.

Adaptive Adventures has many ways to get involved with the dragon boat racing and Team Blue. If you are interested in learning more, please contact us at dragonboat@adaptiveadventures.org or call our office at 303-679-2770 to participate, volunteer, or become a sponsor.

About the Author

Chris Wiegand

Chris Wiegand joined Adaptive Adventures in 2014 with more than 25 years' experience in high-level competitive international and Olympic sports as both athlete and coach. He began his athletic career as a competitive long distance runner, adventure racer, and triathlete. In 1998 he took up competitive kayak and canoe, and in a few short years ascended to the top of U.S. Whitewater charts in both C-1 and C-2 for wildwater and slalom disciplines.

As a coach, Chris established a top international youth kayaking club in Colorado, earning recognition as the 2005 Olympic Development Coach of the Year. That same year the Positive Coaching Alliance recognized him as a National Double-Goal Coach. Chris has coached in multiple countries throughout the world, in multiple sports, as well been a member of multiple expeditionary teams, both on mountains and rivers around the world. Chris claims to be the "Champion of Energy Spirit" and brings about huge energy to building community.

After experiencing a traumatic brain injury, Chris leveraged his neuroscience background and shifted his passion for coaching, competition, and problem-solving to survivors of traumatic injury, the physically and developmentally disabled, and others with any adaptive needs.

Chris lives in Erie, Colorado where he finds time to stay active climbing, running, kayaking, paddle boarding, and cycling throughout the front range and beyond with his two songs and wife, Heather.

If you would like to contact Chris Wiegand, please email him at wiegand@adaptiveadventures.org or call the Adaptive Adventures office at 303-679-2770 extension 209.

Most of the stories here on Live Quickie were submitted by readers. Do you have a story to tell? We'd love to hear it. Submit your story here.


Date: 1/30/2018 12:00:00 AM


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