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WEDNESDAY, Sept. 18 –– A meteorologist couldn’t have predicted the rain showers that covered Lansing Sunday morning. Instead, they should’ve consulted a Chinese historian, knowledgeable of the 2,000-year-old history of the dragon and its auspicious water powers.
The annual Capital City Dragon Boat Race raised approximately $14,000 for the Women’s Center of Greater Lansing. The charity event honors survivors and those who have died from cancer, suicide and domestic violence.
AmyJo Howe races year after year in the city’s dragon boat races to experience the magic created when 15 to 20 strangers work together to meet a common goal.
“It’s a bunch for strangers, for one day, coming together,” said Howe. “We don’t have that anymore.”
Howe, 47, the co-captain of Team Unity, an LGBTQ-centered team, is a certified dragon boat coach. She said recruiting for all the teams is done “solely by word of mouth,” meaning race day is often the first time teammates meet.
Wayne State University and MSU’s Confucius Institute assist dragon boat organizers to provide cultural and historical context for the ancient Chinese sport. Jia Hang Li, a member of the Confucius Institute, said the “generally accepted” narrative of the sport’s origins is that the boats were created to honor Qu Yuan, a famous Chinese poet and politician who lived during the Warring States period, was exiled and died by suicide in the Miluo River in 278 B.C.
The park’s open fields proliferated with pop-up tents where groups of people donning their team colors gathered to dance, share food and of course, race.
Josh Flath, a South Haven native and founder of 4 the 22, said he brought members of his organization to the race “to raise awareness for the 22 veterans who commit suicide every day,” a tragedy he wanted to fight after being stationed in Hawaii with the U.S. Navy for four years.
“Moving back here, I wanted to bring the surf culture to people in this area and incorporate a team aspect to it,” he said. “Just being on the water is so therapeutic.”
At the opening ceremony, a woman on a megaphone called for “cancer survivors” to meet at the boat launch. About 10 people paddled in a single boat to the center of the lake and tossed carnations into the water.
“I have family members and friends who have either passed on or survived cancer,” said Jennifer Summerville, who tossed carnations in the ceremony. “I have a friend who is scheduling a double mastectomy, so I am thinking of her.”
Summerville paddled for Team Global Oars – a group drawn from MSU’s International Studies employees.
After the ceremony, the first team of 20 marched down to the beach to paddle about 250 yards in unison.