Guest Column: Dragon Boat Races Bring Laughs and Boost Nonprofits

The team’s firefighters “put out” the competition at the Dragon Boat Races in Grand Lake last weekend.
Tallie Gray/Courtesy Photo

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: my favorite Grand County event is the Grand Lake Dragon Boat Fundraiser Race.

The setting is majestic. Early in the morning, we arrive with the spirits of Grand Lake clinging to the waters and preparing for the skies, gently veiling Mount Baldy and its surroundings. The misty morning sets the stage for Tim Hodsdon, the father of this event, and the many actors who are busy setting up tents, coffee courtesy of Blue Water Bakery and the professional dragon boat team. The Phantom Dragons, who came from Denver with our mighty ships for the fierce but fun competition, are in charge of the races. Thank God. Let the party begin!

I do my best to jump into the mise en place mix. Everyone has their assigned role and they have taken command of their mission. I start taking pictures. The nonprofit teams this event is for are starting to arrive. The costumes are ornate. Nonprofits gather a team of around 10 people, send out pledge pages asking for donations for their worthy cause, and work with each other to best defeat other organizations.

Author Tallie Gray’s dragon boat team, The Grand County Dems.
Tallie Gray/Courtesy Photo

On July 16, there were teams as well as certified Phantom Dragons coaching staff, who shared their expertise with us. Safety is a serious issue, so in addition to the five-minute briefing, an expert dragon boat member joined each team to guide us through a safe but vigorous paddle.

My desperate plan to outrun the intimidating fire crew in their real yellow firefighter uniforms with bright red helmets, is to have a member of Phantom Dragon to be our drummer. I’m in my 50s and 5-foot-2 in Hoka sneakers, so now is not the time to risk a novice drummer keeping us in unison and at a fast, steady pace. These firefighters look exactly what our community wants them to look like, ready for an uphill battle.

The Fraser Valley Hockey Association team raises funds to keep costs to a minimum and wear matching jerseys. I think I hear a robust chant of “Go Eagles”, but my suit covers my ears and drown out much of the noise as I nervously think I should find someone younger and more muscular to take my place.

But I’m up for this challenge, so the chants, uniforms, Viking helmets from the Rocky Mountain Wooden Boat School team that’s running this particular event, and high fashion makeup and costumes Shadowcliff Mountain Lodge team theater professions will not shrink me.

Rocky Mountain Wooden Boat School Board Members Tallie Gray (left) and Tim Hodsdon (right) and Alice Sampson present the prized decorated paddle to the most popular dragon boat team fast during last weekend’s dragon boat races in Grand Lake.
Tallie Gray/Courtesy Photo

Still, the sparkly tutus, outfits and makeup of the Little Sprouts team, surrounded by some of their adorable preschool customers, are definitely distracting. Who wants to beat a team that helps and educates our youngsters? But as a member of the Grand County Dems, who raised $750 for the Upper Colorado Watershed Group, with a mission to promote awareness, conservation and appreciation of lands and waters with events like Today today – well, I take a deep breath and wish everyone else good luck. I won’t throw in the towel, neither will my donkey teammates!

There are three races per team and two teams race at a time. Besides batsman and caller, we are paired, five pairs deep. Hips MUST stay to the side of the boat or you may hear and feel splashing!

Our first race is faultless! We paddle in unison, desperate to jump for joy as we glide past the finish buoy, gaining our heat through a dragon’s nose. But we stay seated and dry until we reach the dock.

Watching the firefighters versus the hockey team is awesome. Wow. Quick. Powerful. The teams to beat. No question.

The Shadowcliff Mountain Lodge team won first place in the costume contest.
Tallie Gray/Courtesy Photo

It’s time for the second race. Sip. We paddle against the firefighters. For much of the race, my sideways gaze seems to understand that we are ahead or at least tied. Could it be? We pull hard. Singing in rhythm with our drummer, who tells me “look straight ahead!

The finish buoy is just within reach. Until… a boat blocks our way. The steering caller nimbly pushes the rudder-shaped paddle. Yet we waver. Then we swing a little more aggressively the other way. Then we overcorrect. My face is a few centimeters above the water. And just like that, I’m a drenched blue ass. Yeah. The 12 of us are fine, laughing as we try to figure out exactly what made us capsize. We swim the mighty dragon boat to shore and begin to refloat what must be half of the Great Lake.

Although we are tired, wet and a little shy, the third leg is going much better. Nobody gets wet. We all agree that this is a fantastic team building event.

As expected, the firefighting team wins first prize, winning a decorated paddle to hang in their station. The Disney-clad Shadowcliff team wins the trophy for best costumes. But really, everyone is a winner. We raised a combined total of over $10,000 for our charities. And we had a great time. It was a win-win day, making every participant and spectator proud to be a resident of the Grand County community.

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