Upcoming dragon boat races offer fun for all ages

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  Saturday, Aug. 15 will be a sensational day at the river for anyone who enjoys a family outing packed with team races, music, food, and laughter….free admission for spectators! The dragon boat races begin at 9 a.m. at Riverwalk Park and Boardwalk behind Chili’s following the opening ceremony. 

Dragon boat racing is one of the world’s oldest sports, having originated in China about 2,400 years ago. A worldwide revival began about twenty-five years ago, and there are now tens of thousands of participants in about 60 countries.

Each dragon boat team of 24 receives a 90-minute coaching session during the week prior to the race. During this practice all the teams get to know the coaches and often decide on a favorite. Over the last three years, two of many favorites coming to Gadsden with Dynamic Dragon Boats LLC, are Lynne Franks-Meinert and Col. (Ret.) Lee Cerovac.

Lynne Franks-Meinert just returned from Prague with Team USA where they were crowned National Champs. She has been the coach of Pink Steel, a Pittsburgh-based breast cancer survivor team, since 2005. Lynne led to team to victory in 2010 at the U.S. National Championships in Chattanooga, and had one of her paddlers make Team USA in 2011. 

Lynne took up dragon boating in 2003 starting out as a paddler. She made Team USA’s Senior Women’s crew in 2009 and 2011, competing in both World Championships. In addition to coaching Pink Steel, she has also brought her passion and experience to coaching the Steel City Dragon Boat Association’s mixed and youth teams. 

Lynne is known for her “down to business” attitude where she expects paddlers to do their utmost best while in the boat with her. In addition to coaching a majority of the year, Lynne also has been running camps for breast cancer survivors in Pittsburgh since 2006, as well as a fitness series in the off-season. 

Lee Cerovac, “The Colonel” as most call him, says age trumps youth for Team Leathernecks, a group of Florida retirees he regularly paddles with, have paddled their way to a national title. The July victory last year is even more impressive because the team—whose average age is 68—began competing less than two years ago. 

Half the Leathernecks—named after the protective straps that Revolutionary War soldiers wore in sword fights—are former Marines. Together with their spouses and friends, they won the 200-meter sprint in the grand masters division at the U.S. National Dragon Boat Racing Championships in Chattanooga, Tenn. They placed second in the 500-meter and 1,000-meter races. While this division accepts participants age 50 or older, a team with members in their 60s and 70s is unusual.

“We all really push each other,” says captain Lee Cerovac, 66, a retired Lieutenant Colonel who flew F-4 jets during two tours of duty in Vietnam. Everyone lives in The Villages, a retirement community about 50 miles northwest of Orlando. So, does Cerovac find the training schedule draining? “This is great fun,” he says. “Are you kidding?”

Dragon boat racing isn’t only for fierce competition. “At the novice and recreational levels, it’s a great social outlet that fosters team building and promotes an alternative form of exercise,” said Suzanne Scharfenberg, co-chairman of Habitat for Humanity.

For more information and to register your team call, 256-543-1898 or visit www.habitatdragonboat.com. The deadline to register is July 31.

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