Johnson City, Tenn. - A tradition that began in China a couple of thousand years ago has become a great fund raising event for the Mountain States Health Alliance Foundation.
The annual Dragon Boat Festival is this Saturday at Johnson City's Winged Deer Park along Boone Lake. We went along for the teams first practice session.
There's a little apprehension in the air as first-time dragon boat racers make their way to their boats.
What is a dragon boat, you ask? "The boat you see there on the water is 40 feet long, it is 48 inches wide at its widest and it weighs about 550 pounds. We have 22 people get in it, 20 paddlers," explains Stephen Gallant with Dragon Boats East.
Plus a ceremonial drummer and the steering person, who is also the team coach in this case.
As with anything you try for the first time, practice makes perfect. "Within an hour we can have folks just fresh off the street, 20 new people, paddling together. They feel like they've accomplished something and they feel like they're working together. They get faster and faster and they just love the sport," Gallant said.
After all, it is race and as far as teamwork goes, these teams have already worked together to raise money for the Mountain States Health Alliance Foundation. "It's huge. It's one of our biggest events because it involves so many people. We're trying to make it a festival. This is a regional event. We get people from Virginia, we've had teams from North Carolina. So it is regional involving a lot of people," Patty Bolton with the MSHA Foundation said.
The event is raising a lot of money for the foundation; just one example of the benefit is the Heart Coach. "It was because of dragon boats that you the see the big Heart Coach driving around all over. So it's a true testament of what a lot of people just bringing a little bit of money, how it all goes to make a huge impact," Boton says.
And it's a whole lot of fun too.
The Dragon Boat Festival is an all-day affair, getting underway around 8:30 Saturday morning and lasting until about 4 p.m. There are inflatables for the kids, art, a health fair, and new this year is a farmer's market.