Time to start thinking about what you’re doing this Labor Day weekend. Stuff your face with hot dogs and fruit salad? Look through granny’s photo album for the umpteenth time at a family reunion? Or maybe dangle precariously from the horns of a Chinese dragon boat racing perilously down the Grand River? I think we know which of these options sounds most exciting.
This Saturday and Sunday, the second annual Capitol City Dragon Boat Race will pit teams of 23 hopefuls against one another in a series of three timed races that test the boaters’ strength, endurance and teamwork.
“It’s great,” said Rob Flanders, captain and flag catcher of DragonHeart, last year’s winning racing team that finished in 1 minute 40 seconds. “I hook my ankles in the dragon’s horns and lean out of the boat to pull the flag from the water. It’s thrilling.” And you thought your spinning classes were a workout.
Last year’s victory set Flanders on fire. He went from a first-time racer to buying his own personal Taiwan-style dragon boat and traveling across the Midwest to hone his racing skill and technique, which he believes will give his team an edge in this year’s competition.
“You have to give yourself over to everyone else in the boat and it becomes transformative,” Flanders said. “Getting into a Chinese dragon boat and getting all these people to paddle the same way at the same time is an opportunity to be a part of something bigger than just yourself. I fell in love with the sport.”
However, Flanders won’t win the paddle-shaped trophy without opposition. The Lansing Derby Vixens, a team of fiery female skaters, won third place in the race last year, and are returning with double the force and vigor.
“We loved it so much last year we decided to do two teams,” said Tashmica “Mina Firecracker” Torok. “The uniqueness of the event drew us to it, something that was completely outside our comfort zones. And since we were the only all-women boat competing last year, we can bring back that kind of distinction this year.”
Of course, you don’t have to be part of a team to have fun — the event will be a sight for unsuspecting eyes.
“We don’t know what to expect,” said Walt Sorg, media coordinator for the race. “One team is dressing as pirates, but that’s about all we know.” Sorg said there be collection jars for each team to collect money from onlookers for the best theme.
The money will then be used for a foundation that will improve the downtown riverfront area. “It makes for a great ‘staycation,’” Flanders said. “It’s a wonderful family event, and something you really have to experience.”
Capitol City Dragon Boat Race
Sept. 1-2 Saturday: Practice begins at 10 a.m., Ceremony at Mosaic festival 8-8:30 p.m. Sunday: Races begin at 8:30 a.m. Race runs from the Lansing City Market to the Adado Riverfront Park