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What does it take to win a dragon boat race?

July 30, 2014 - By Katie Winkler

Review Staff Writer

Twenty-two people squeezed into a dragon boat, yelling and motivating each other over the bang of rhythmic drumming while rowing 300 meters as fast as they can is how the Dragon on the Lake festival will wrap up on Sunday August 24.

The dragon boat teams have the chance to practice on water the day before the race, accompanied by a professional who provides instruction.

The day of the race 20 rowers, a drummer and a boating professional who steers the craft from the back, load up in the boats and frantically row their way to the finish line. Many of the dragon boat race teams come back every year to compete for a shot at the title and a carved dragon trophy.

Island Bombers

The winners of the last three dragon boat races were the Island Bombers, who represent Bellevue and Park Islands. Captain Hank DeSamper explains that members of their team have been a part of the winning team since the races began in 2009, since their team came together three years ago.

Even though the Island bombers won last year with a somewhat comfortable margin, by the end of the race, DeSamper says their team was "exhausted." "Last year in the finals, I couldn't even breathe at the end of the race. My friend Brandon screamed 'give it everything you got,' and we all gave our last strokes to win the final race. It was just incredible," DeSamper said.

"Last year we had a commanding victory. We won all three of our heats and had the fastest times of the day and in the finals we won by four seconds."

It takes determination, strength and strategy to come out on top.

"The biggest thing is placing the right people in the right positions on the boat," DeSamper confessed, being some of the the Island Bombers' main strategy.

Last year, their team consisted of teammates from ages 14-50: Brandon Beatty, Kim Berkal, Riva Campbell, Lucia DeSamper, Sean Greatrex, Britney Leder, Steve Licht, Heather McMinn, Rob Raymor, Chris Yurgens, Justin Yurgens, David Berkal, Tyler Boase, Christian Dunn, Dave Green, Courtney Leder, Brian McMinn, Maria Phillips, Lisa Wright, Elizabeth Yurgens and Neghib Zindani.

One of the reasons the team was put together was to help the community.

"We thought it was a great fundraising event for our community so we wanted to be a part of it," DeSamper said.

Team Seaward

After finding out that team captain, Natalie Daversa's father-in-law was diagnosed with Lymphoma, Daversa and her husband Lawrence decided to put together a dragon boat team to raise funds for McLaren Cancer Institute.

"We named the team seaward, kind of a double meaning for the "C" word of cancer and seaward paddling a boat. It gave us some motivation to put a boat together," Daversa said.

Team Seaward plans to make a comeback this year, after placing eighth in their first year competing in 2013.

Complete Automation, Orion Pediatrics and Dr. Joseph Mastramateo's dentist office sponsored Seaward last year, helping them raise additional money for the dragon boat foundation, which disperses the raised funds to different organizations, including McLaren.

"Those in our boat had a blast. Just being out together made us happy. Lawrence's dad, John Daversa, was there and he really liked the ceremony how the cancer survivors go out on the lake," Natalie Daversa said.

Although Team Seaward considers themselves "amateurs," according to Daversa, everybody on their team put on their matching T-shirts, puts their oars in the water and worked hard with John Daversa watching.

"I'm thankful Lake Orion hosts this event and brings people together. It is a nice tribute to our father-in-law. He hopes to be on the boat every year but he is not physically ready."

Barbarian Librarians

Since the dragon boat races began, the Orion Township Public Library has been putting together a team of staff members, volunteers and family and friends to participate in the Dragon on the Lake festivities.

"I think the library wanted to be part of the community and have a good time with it," Community Relations Coordinator or dragon boat racer, Becky Bolin said.

While other teams take the races seriously and hope to take home the trophy, the Barbarian Librarians participate to stay in tune with the community.

"It's funny, some of the companies are super competitive but we are just in there to have a good time and represent the community and be a part of the festivities in Lake Orion," Bolin said. "It's all about rowing in sync to the beat of the drum. Someone has to sit in the front and hit the drum to a beat we can actually row to."

With a combination of teamwork and strong rowers, this team pushes through to the finish line with excitement for the community, according to Bolin.

"People get really excited and motivated when they get there and see all these teams and you can't help but get excited to go out there and win," Bolin said. "I think everybody is tired the day after, but when you are in the middle of it. It's just really fun and exciting."

The races begin at 9:30 a.m. on August 24 and continue throughout the day with qualifying rounds. Teams will have time on Saturday, August 23, to practice and learn how to become a dragon boat participant.

Dragon boat teams can still be formed and can sign up online at dragononthelake.com.

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