Dragon boat races usually are reserved for professional paddlers.
Saturday, a mix of pro and amateur paddlers took to Lake Lanier, racing for cause in the inaugural Gainesville/Hall Dragon Boat Challenge at the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue.
The race featured nine teams paying entry fees of $600 each. Some of the money raised went to the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club, the majority to the Hall County chapter of Special Olympics Georgia. Another portion was raised through parking proceeds.
“The first-ever event went very, very well,” said Jim O’Dell, co-organizer of Saturday’s race. “We had one boat that took on an awful lot of water. It didn’t capsize, but it took a little while to bail it out.”
The 20-seat boats traveled through a course 200 meters in length, and at the start of every race, enthusiastic fans watching leaped to their feet, cheering on the different boats.
Local companies made up a majority of the teams. Special Olympics fielded a boat, too, using some of the teachers from around the county schools, parents and the members of the kayak team.
“The enthusiasm in the crowd, the paddlers, the companies and community groups that were here, was beyond my wildest expectations,” O’Dell explained. “It is so neat to see everyone come out for the (Special Olympic) athletes.
“They (Special Olympic athletes) are out here paddling and working, just like everyone else.”
O’Dell added that he looks at Saturday as a springboard for growth in the future.
“We are a very caring community. We really are,” he said. “There are all kinds of people who have nothing to do with the teams here, but they are here to see it and maybe they will have a team next year.”
Scott Crain, parent-elect of Hall County Special Olympics and a participant, said the LCKC board “embraced” the idea of helping the HCSO with a fundraising activity.
When they brainstormed for the idea of what event to have, he said they chose dragon boat racing because it is a team sport and about putting team effort together to make things happen.
“I don’t know that we really set a dollar figure, as far as what our goal was,” Crain said. “I think our goal was to get things off the ground this year and to see how things went. We are always pleased and appreciative with any money that is donated our way because we have to raise all the money we have to meet the needs of our athletes.”
Janessa King, 18, paddled as part of the Special Olympics team and said racing the dragon boats was fun. She also won a gold medal with organization’s soccer team, said her mom Debbie King.
Lori Bunting’s husband competed in the dragon boat race as part of one of the company teams and she said it was her first time ever seeing a race like it.
“The Special Olympics is a great cause,” she said. “This was really. It was fun to watch.”