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Paddle in Dragon Boat Challenge 2019, raise money for Special Olympics
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The Hall County Sheriff's Office dragon boat team paddles out to the race course during the Gainesville Hall County Dragon Boat Challenge in Gainesville, on Saturday, June 16, 2018, at Lake Lanier Olympic Park. - photo by David Barnes

The weather is getting warmer, the pollen is starting to wash away and Lake Lanier is back down near its normal level. That means things are shaping up for the Gainesville/Hall Dragon Boat Challenge.

This year marks the sixth for the team-building event that benefits Special Olympics of Hall County. The event is planned for 9 a.m. Saturday, May 4.

“It is just a day of great fun,” said Scott Crain, local coordinator for Special Olympics of Hall County. “That’s exactly what it is and that’s what I tell my folks when I send out all the information for registration. It’s just a great day to come out and have a great time on the water.”

Gainesville/Hall Dragon Boat Challenge

When: 9 a.m. Saturday, May 4

Where: Lake Lanier Olympic Park, 3105 Clarks Bridge Road, Gainesville

How much: $400 for a team of 10 to participate; register

In years past, businesses and organizations in the area have formed teams, with each getting the chance to fill a dragon boat that’s usually used by serious paddlers in official competitions.

Teams of 10 must register with a $400 registration fee, which includes equipment and a one-hour practice. There’s no experience necessary, but that doesn’t mean things don’t get competitive.

“It’s really competitive,” said Lt. Scott Ware, who heads up a team for the Hall County Sheriff’s Office. “It’s crazy competitive, but it’s a good time too, and it’s a great cause.”

Teams compete against each other in different length races — 100 meter, 200 meter and an optional 1,000 meter — with awards also given our for raising the most funds, having the best-dressed drummer, being most enthusiastic and having the best overall theme.

All the money raised by the teams goes to the local chapter of the Special Olympics.

“That’s always a great thing for us,” Crain said. “We have about 900 registered athletes in the county now, and we travel to five different state events. We feed all of our athletes when they’re gone and we put them up in housing, pay registration fees, and we have to raise a great deal of money throughout the year to support the athletes. So any money that we take in is of course greatly appreciated.”

Crain said Special Olympics in Hall County has athletes compete in sports like bocce, basketball, soccer, flag football, swimming, track and field, tennis and kayaking.

The event also gets the organization’s name into the community.

“The awareness in the community of what we do and that we are actually here is important,” Crain said. “There is a huge chapter for Special Olympics in Hall County and we really strive to be one of the best programs in the state.”

And Ware strives to have one of the best teams on the water.

When he got a team of friends together when the event first started, he said he learned quickly what not to do. He found the strongest guys from his gym to compete, and when they subsequently flipped and sank the boat, he realized it’s not all about strength.

Ever since then, the Sheriff’s Office wins frequently.

“I like to win, I’ll be honest,” Ware said. “I’m competitive. But just getting out there and competing, it’s fun. You get to know people and get to know them in a different capacity.”

That’s one of the main points of the event and what many look forward to. Ware said his daughter may even paddle with the Sheriff’s Office team this year.

“I’m excited, and I’m looking forward to it,” Ware said. “It’s a family event. We get our children, wives, family members come out and compete with us, and it’s just a really good family fun event. There’s no down side to any of it.”

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