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Dragon boat races attracts paddlers



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A dragon boat team returns to dock after a brief, albeit intense, race. Photo submitted (click for larger version)
August 08, 2012 - Lake Orion's upcoming festival features food, drink, fun and more, but nothing quite says "Dragon on the Lake" like the Dragon Boat Races.

The Aug. 25 and 26 races, which pit two boats of around 20 paddlers (and a drummer) against each other to cross a span near the eastern Lake Orion shore. The races have gathered attention over the two years the festival has been active and the third year is primed to be better than ever.

The harmony between lake and festival has drawn in a diverse competitions this year and will include racers from as far away as Canada and as old as 76-years-of-age. The sport is growing across the country and the inclusion of all ages and nationalities seems to place Lake Orion high on the list of venues.

"We had kind of tried to do one out of town race a year and we wanted to do one that was close - within a day or so," said Tammy Fleming, founder of the Abreast or Knot, a Windsor-based, breast cancer awareness row team. "We love to come out and show everyone that we can do this, spread the news, get excitement and warn about getting early diagnosis.

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"Windsor had started a team, so some of us started our own team all about breast cancer survivors. The youngest is in her 30s and we have team members in their 70s. Sometimes they have surgeries to come, sometimes their treatment is done, but what we want to spread is that you can still do activities and it helps prevent or limit things like emphysema which a lot of women with breast cancer get. We're kind of a floating support group."

While Fleming might bring the furthest traveling team, the title of oldest member goes to a team based in Lake Orion. Pat Parkin, of the Masterful Methodist's, will be 77 in September, putting her at 76-years-old when the races begin in late August. But despite her age, Parkin said those who know her aren't surprised.

"I'm very active anyway, though some people are pretty surprised when they find out," said Parkin. "I hope it's an inspiration to others because it's fun, it's exercise and it's for a good cause. I love being active and any time I can move a little I'm all for it - I'm trying to stay healthy."

2012 marks the third year Parkin will participate in the races, which started as a fundraiser for the team's church: United Methodist, located on Flint Street in Lake Orion's downtown. The church includes two teams - one for competition and one that is just for fun. The competition team members can be sponsored with church members pledging money to their racers of choice.

The church takes money raised and helps the less fortunate pay bills, purchase food and more.

Yet both teams have the potential to go up against the 2011 winners of the Dragon Boat Races - the Island Bombers. The teams claim to fame, according to Team Captain Hank DeSamper, is going from last place in the 2010 inaugural Dragon on the Lake to first in the 2011 festival. The team, named after their homes on Bellevue and Park Island, got involved, however, because they simply love interacting with the lake.

"Lake Orion is just this crown jewel of our town and the Dragon on the Lake is a celebration of that lake and the town's history," said DeSamper. "We wanted people on our team that embodied that spirit so we got people from Park and Bellevue Islands. We've got most of the same people coming back.

"I just really enjoy all things involved with the lake. I'm on the board of directors for the Lake Orion Lake Association, boat clubs, I live on the lake and I love being part of the community. We motivate people to do all these things with us and we're really looking out for the betterment of the lake."

When asked what made his team champions, DeSamper replied he didn't "want to give away all his secrets." He added that he is also looking forward to the rest of the activities on Dragon on the Lake - in particular the chalk art displays. Finally, coining an old adage, he said he finds living a vacation in Lake Orion.

McLaren Cancer Institute is the title sponsor of the Dragon on the Lake festival.

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