Military rivalry takes stage in Naha Dragon Boat Race

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Army Ladies trail Kadena Lady Shoguns in the second half. Photos by Shoji Kudaka
Army Ladies trail Kadena Lady Shoguns in the second half. Photos by Shoji Kudaka

Military rivalry takes stage in Naha Dragon Boat Race

by: Shoji Kudaka | .
Stripes Okinawa | .
published: May 09, 2017
On May 5, Naha Shinko (Naha New Port) was flooded with 78,000 Okinawans, Americans and tourists. While many lined up the wharf to see heated competitions in the water, some were enjoying food and entertainment ashore. In its 43rd installment, the Naha Dragon Boat Race once again brought huge excitement and fun to the large crowd.
 
Among the 21 heats scheduled that day, which marked the climax of this the three-day event, a heat for women’s competition among Nirai Kanai (U.S. Navy), Kadena Lady Shoguns (U.S. Air Force) and Army Ladies turned out to be a special one. The crowd at the wharf was glued to the intense rivalry between the three branches of service, as soon as the heat started shortly after 1 p.m.

 
The Navy and Army teams led the first half of the race. Both teams charged hard with their strokes well in sync. But it was the Air Force that came up big in the second-half. Making a smooth turn, the Air Force team caught the othe
r two teams, while their rivals struggled with the corner. Once the Shoguns took the lead, they never gave up their edge.
 
The families and friends of the Lady Shoguns went crazy at the wharf as their team finished first in the 2,067 foot competition in 5 minutes 45.06 seconds. It was not an easy win at all. The Air Force beat the Army by just about three seconds and Navy by 13 seconds; all the teams finished in under 6 minutes.
 
“I feel fantastic. Very proud of my team,” said Coach Sherry Sawyer of Kadena Lady Shoguns.
 
When asked about the big rally in the second half, Coach Sawyer said: “We trained for four months - three days a week. We always practiced to be steady and dig deep, save some fuel in the tank so we can make it all the way through. Because dragon boat race is not about who finishes first - it’s about who gives up first. We were never going to give up. We row and row and row. Never giving up. Row with heart. It doesn’t matter falling behind. We are going to catch up and we are going to win.”
 
The match-up between the military teams is now a familiar feature in this traditional event. The victory for the Air Force was cheered by not just Americans but also Okinawans and tourists.