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Dragonboat Challenge paddles on despite rain
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Cheri Young of the Wayne Farms Clucking Dragons wears a chicken mask during the Annual Dragon Boat Challenge at Lake Lanier Olympic Park on Saturday, May 4, 2019. The challenge brings various organization from around Hall county and beyond for a day of racing. - photo by Austin Steele

Despite some rolling thunder and torrential downpour, the sixth annual Gainesville/Hall Dragonboat Challenge finished ahead of schedule on Saturday, May 4.

The final race had a finish so close that it needed a video review. In the end, The Good Guys walked away with the first-place trophy. Jim O’Dell, dragon boating director for the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club, announced the victors amid a roar of rainfall.

The annual challenge is a six-year partnership between the LCKC and Hall County Special Olympics. The teams’ $400 registration fees are split between the two organizations. The money that teams raise prior to the event, however, goes entirely to Special Olympics. This year, the nonprofit is looking at making close to $5,000.

When the event began at 9 a.m., more people gathered near the tents than by the water. The deluge of rain, beginning around noon, chased many away. Others huddled in the middle of the large tent as strong winds swept spray at exposed faces. But when the storm passed, supporters dragged their chairs away from the drizzle to watch the final races.

Jamie Willis, a youth pastor from Lakewood Baptist Church, sat with his daughter at the edge of the tent’s shelter to watch members of his church participate in the race.

“Even with the rain, it’s still kinda cool,” Willis said.

In the races, teams of ten people paddled long dragon boats around a line of orange buoys on Lake Lanier. The competition had an award for best drummer, which went to Gainesville’s Clucking Dragons.

One of the teams was North Carolina’s Healing Dragons, a group of breast cancer survivors and athletic supporters who travel all over the world to participate in dragon boating competitions.

Team member Wanda Williams said her group mostly competes for fun.

“I encourage everyone to join a team,” she said. “You will make some of the best friends, laugh the hardest you’ve ever laughed.”

The Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club is a premier spot for dragon boating, kayaking, and other flat water sports. The club hosts dragon boating events at least once a month, including the International Canoe Federation’s World Dragon Boat Championship in September.

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