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Team MacDill competes in Tampa's first Dragon Boat Race

by 2nd Lt. Erin Dorrance
Chief of Internal Information

Skinny, colorfully painted dragon boats were swiftly paddled through Tampa's downtown Garrison Channel Saturday as Team MacDill competed in Tampa's first-ever Dragon Boat Race during Asia Fest.

Team MacDill finished second in the B Division(second highest of seven divisions) in 2:04:21. The Tampa Police Tactical Unit finished first in 2:01:88.

The Air Force team was composed of members from the 310th Airlift Squadron, 91st Air Refueling Squadron, U.S. Central Command, 6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs, 6th AMW Safety and 6th Security Forces Squadron.

Maj. Michael Hamill, 310th AS, was introduced to dragon boat racing six months ago and participates on the Tampa team. He was a natural choice for the team coach.

"I thought MacDill would be perfect for the Asia Fest competition because we have all the right ingredients--precision, cadence and teamwork," said Major Hamill.

Maj. Keith Peloquin, 6th AMW Safety, joined MacDill's team without a second thought.

"It sounded fun," said Major Peloquin. "I really enjoy doing things with the community and this was a chance to do so while representing the Air Force."

Major Peloquin thought the Air Force might have some advantages in the competition.

"From day one in the Air Force, we concentrate on teamwork," he said. "In most jobs, you go to work and then go home. In the Air Force, our squadrons deploy together and live together."

Even though the competition was fun, it was hard work, said Major Peloquin.

"The 400-meter race only takes about two minutes, but your back and arms are definitely burning before you reach the half-way point," he said.

Each 22-person team consists of 20 paddlers, of which eight must be women, one drummer in the bow and a steersperson in the stern. After just three days of practice, Team MacDill was ready to race against 48 competing teams, which ranged from high school sport teams to corporate teams and professional dragon boat racing teams.

Asia Fest has been celebrated in Tampa for 21 years, however, this year's Asia Fest included the first Dragon Boat Race ever. The festival at Cotanchobee Park drew more than 5,000 people.

Marine Max of Tampa Bay sponsored MacDill's team by paying the $1,500 entry fee.

"We thought it would be a terrific opportunity to sponsor the military," said Mike McPherson, Marine Max regional marketing coordinator. "We wanted to do something good for the people who do good for us."

The Dragon Boat Race proceeds went to the H. Lee Moffit Cancer Center & Research Institute and The Florida Aquarium. The success of this year's Asia Fest left city members expecting some 100 teams next year, said Major Hamill.

"This sport is just going to continue to grow," said Major Hamill. "Next year we can hopefully have more military involvement so we could compete for a military cup, which requires at least four teams."

An ancient Chinese legend is the basis of Chinese dragon boat racing today.

Two thousand years ago, Qu Yuan, after being exiled from his home, threw himself in the Milou River. Local fishermen hit their drums and wildly splashed water with their paddles to prevent water dragons and fish from eating his body. Qu Yuan died and the dragon boat races commenced in his honor.

Today the sport has attracted more than 11,000 U.S. competitive and recreational participants, and between two to three million competitive recreational participants worldwide, according to the International Dragon Boat Federation.




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