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Team of D.C. teens races in national dragon boat competition

The Capital City Dragons, a team that's open to youths ages 12 to 18, practice on the Anacostia River. The boat's dragon head symbolizes success and strength.
The Capital City Dragons, a team that's open to youths ages 12 to 18, practice on the Anacostia River. The boat's dragon head symbolizes success and strength. (Ann Cameron Siegal)
Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Follow the dragon's head for fitness, fun and friendship!

"Bring it home!" rang out as members of the Capital City Dragons made their last sprint on a 500-meter practice course. But they weren't running. They were paddling a 40-foot-long "dragon boat," practicing for an international competition that will be held in Philadelphia later this month.

Dragon boat racing started in China more than 2,000 years ago. Today, more than 60 countries participate in the sport, and major U.S. cities from Washington and Philadelphia to San Francisco have dragon boat teams.

The Capital City Dragons, a team for youths ages 12 to 18, began in 2008. Attiyah Jenkins, 13, of Silver Spring is enjoying her first year on the team. She described a dragon boat as "a long and narrow canoe that seats 20 paddlers in 10 rows." A steersperson navigates the boat from the rear, and a drummer in front, used primarily during competitions, faces the paddlers and helps them keep a steady rhythm with their paddles.

Also, during competitions, boats are "dressed" with dragon heads and tails, because that mythological creature symbolizes success and strength in Chinese lore.

Before getting into the boat, team members exercise to warm up. Once aboard, teamwork is key, because everyone must work as a unit to propel the boat through the water.

Isatu Bangura, 14, of the District said that team members get a full-body workout. Back, shoulder, stomach, leg and arm muscles are all involved as each paddler stretches forward, drives a paddle vertically into the water, then pulls it through the water in one smooth motion parallel to the boat.

Dragon boating is different from rowing. Dragon boaters face forward and paddle on one side of the boat. Rowers face backward and use oars to work both sides at once.

The Capital City Dragons' mixed youth/adult boat placed first in the intergenerational challenge division at last year's Philadelphia festival and 19th overall, out of 149 teams. Not bad for the team's first competition!

-- Ann Cameron Siegal


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