MIDDLETOWN TOWNSHIP >> Competition was fierce as Dragon Boats skimmed across the serene waters of Core Creek Park’s Lake Luxembourg on Saturday hoping for a big finish.
But the big winners on Saturday were the less fortunate of Bucks County.
The festival’s organizer, Bucks County Dragon Boat Association, is again donating the proceeds from the event to support the Bucks County Housing Group and its efforts to address food insecurity in the county and to stock its food banks in Penndel, Doylestown and Milford Square.
“That’s important because in Bucks County we have a lot of families with food insecurities. And the Bucks County Housing Group helps with that,” said Laura Kent of the Bucks County Dragon Boat Association.
As of last year, Kent said the festival had raised an impressive $180,000 over the past four years for the Bucks County Housing Group and is expected to surpass the $200,000 donation mark with this year’s contribution.
More than 48 teams competed in this year’s “Paddling Out Hunger” event, some from as far away as California, Zimbabwe and the Central African Republic, but most from right here in Bucks County and the Delaware Valley.
Throughout the day teams like OTF Langhorne, The Pillagers, Danny Boy, Delta Dragons, Proud Mary’s, Boatylicious, Totally Stroked, The Golden Ticket, Cornerstone’s Buff Dragons, Fire Dragons, Relentless, Morgan Stanley Sea Warriors, Rock the Boat among others competed in races, vying for the title of champion in Community Mixed, Community Women, Youth, Sports Women and Sports Mixed.
Many of the groups use Dragon Boating as a fundraiser, including Newtown-based A Love For Life, the biggest single donor to pancreatic cancer research at Penn Medicine.
Christine Edmonds, who founded A Love For Life following the death of her husband, Kevin, in 2012, said more than 100 team members, family and friends attended and participated in this year’s festival.
“It’s a beautiful day. There’s music. The vendors are great. We’re raising money for our cause,” said Edmonds. “It’s a great day for everyone.”
A Love For Life got involved in Dragon Boat racing seven years ago after a group of Newtown neighbors fielded a team in memory of Kevin. This year, the group entered four teams into the festival, including A Love for Life I, A Love for Life II Waldman's Warriors, A Love for Life III Surround Cycle and A Love for Life Shanteel Yoga.
“It’s been a really fun experience,” said Edmonds, adding that over their seven years of participation, Dragon Boating has not only bonded its supporters together, it has become the organization’s biggest fundraiser of the year.
“We have a bunch of sponsors. Our biggest is WSFS Bank. Surround Cycle is one of our teams. Shanteel Yoga in Perkasie is one of our teams. Our women’s competitive team is Waldman’s Warriors. They are kicking it on the water right now. And a lot of us race in honor of people we have lost,” said Edmonds.
Thanks to Dragon Boating, sponsors, other fundraiser and individual donations, A Love For Life is able to donate about $100,000 a year to Penn, which uses the money to fund research.
“We’re the largest donors to pancreatic research at Penn,” said Edmonds. “No one gives more money to them for that cause than we do.”
In addition to raising money for its cause, A Love for Life had three other big reasons to celebrate following this year's Dragon Boat Festival.
Its Waldman's Warriors team turned in a first place finish in the Community Women's final with a time of 1:13.11. Its Shanteel Yoga team posted second with a time of 1:13.56 in the Community Mixed final. And its A Love for Life III Surround Cycle turned in a third place finish in the Community Mixed final with a time of 1:17.13.
Dragon boat racing - the ultimate team sport - began in ancient China and is now considered one of the fastest growing international team water sports in the world. A typical dragon boat holds up to 20 paddlers in pairs, a drummer and a steersperson.
Twenty paddlers sit two‐by‐two in a 41‐foot long boat. A steersperson stands in the back guiding the boat, and a drummer sits on the bow and beats out the cadence of the strokes. The boat simply will not glide unless the 20 paddlers work together as a team.
“The best part of today are the people and the community,” said Kent. “The dragon boat community is like no other. You can go anywhere in the world and find a dragon boat club to sit in on and they welcome you with open arms. It’s pretty amazing.”
Dragon Boat racing has been skimming across local waterways since 2012 in Bucks County when the Bucks County Dragon Boat Association was founded. Today, the number of teams has exploded, thanks in part to the festival.
“This is amazing for such a young club,” Kent said, referring to the association's organization of such a large festival. “And we just had nine paddlers who were chosen for Team USA and just got back from Thailand. And while they were gone, our other club, Crew, went to Colorado to race in Nationals and they earned a berth in France next year.”