‘Dedication and passion’ key to dragon boat team’s success

Photo by Iwaishi Kesuke
Photo by Iwaishi Kesuke

‘Dedication and passion’ key to dragon boat team’s success

by Meaghan Howard
Summer Dragons

Fishing is a huge part of life for many Okinawans, and an integral part of fishing culture here is haarii, or dragon boat racing. Most fishing ports along the coastline host a race each summer, and the big kahuna, (or perhaps the big tuna), is the Nago City Mayor’s Cup, the Okinawan championship of dragon boat races.

This year, the Summer Dragons, the U.S. Navy women’s summer boat team, once again took the prize for the women’s division at the championship in August. While this is the 2nd time the team has taken the prize flag and tuna, the team, which has been competing since 2007, is no stranger to the effort required for winning another championship.

Veteran paddler Ginny Connor called the race the “Super Bowl of races,” and prepared ahead to race against “super tough competitors.”

In order to prepare for their next win, hours of training— and some sacrificing of free time— were required. Amongst the team’s ten paddlers and steersman, three were active-duty sailors, one an active duty JMSDF member, another was a spouse in mid-PCS, and two others had deployed spouses. In spite of the challenges of having to juggle schedules and care for their families (14 children altogether), every team member trained at every practice leading up to the Summer Dragons’ big win.

“Everyone continues to inspire me with her fierce dedication and passion to this amazing sport,” first-year paddler Marilyn Bonzo said.  “I love the support and positive encouragement that every lady shared with this team.”

The Okinawa community and other local teams have embraced the Summer Dragons, helping the team learn the sport and with practices. The Japanese Navy EOD team based at White Beach has also been a key partner in the success of the team.

“History, loyalty, championships, and a true cultural experience with our local brother team! No one comes close to that,” explained former paddler Laura Leigh Gottula.

Every year the team changes, due to the nature of the military, and former members span the globe. Heading into Nago, the team was supported from Europe and all the way to Richmond, Virginia, where former members suited up from home to cheer on the Summer Dragons.

In the end, all of the hard work dedication and support from their Okinawan family and former members paid off.  After their win, the Summer Dragons paddled through the winner’s beer parade, a tradition where winners are congratulated by having beer sprayed on them.

Coach Vikki Hill expressed her pride in the team and its win: “This team knows how to work hard, play hard, and best of all we have heart!”

Join the Summer Dragons
All women 18+ are welcome. Practices for the 2020 season start in February.  
Email: usnavydragonboatteam@gmail.com 
URL: https://www.facebook.com/usnavydragonboatteam/

Photo by Fealofani Peau

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